From the Pressbox: Strength, unity and charity overcome grief in Woodward

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Opinion and Insight

These things happen. Undiscovered diseases or medical dangers do suddenly raise their ugly head. It is unusual and rare, and it almost always happens “somewhere else.”

“What a tragedy” you hear. “Such a shame, and at such a young age” is a common response. “I feel so bad for the family and friends” is bandied about.


However, it is always some place on the internet, some town a state or two away, some place you may never hear of again.

Until it is not.

On Dec. 2 Woodward, Iowa, sadly became the “somewhere else” to the rest of the world outside of the immediate area.

Drew Jacobson, true to his nature, fought as hard as he could, but on Dec. 7 he left us, just 15 days shy of his 17th birthday, succumbing to the failure of his heart and lungs to what may have been Goodpasture Syndrome.

An estimated crowd of over 800 were on hand Thursday morning as funeral services were held for Drew Jacobson in the Woodward-Granger gym. The 51 members of the Class of 2017 wore red bow ties in honor of their friend and classmate.
More than 1,000 attended funeral services for Drew Jacobson in the Woodward-Granger gym Dec. 10. The 51 members of the Class of 2017 wore red bow ties in honor of their friend and classmate.

I knew Drew, in a small way. We had shared jokes on the sidelines several times. I liked him a lot, and on my personal Facebook page have already offered my thoughts on the young man. They were amazingly similar to the dozens upon dozens of recollections from others that I heard, testifying to the powerful impact this one young man had on so many.

His father, Russ, was an iron tower of resolution through eight days the like of which no father should be asked to endure. His strength in the face of tragedy undoubtedly bolstered others who felt a keen sense of loss, in particular his sons Keegan and Riley and partner Nikki.

The communities of Woodward and Granger, the Woodward-Granger school community and school districts and students from all around the area began immediately doing all they could at a time when everyone felt helpless to make a difference. Except they did. They made a difference.

Drew’s visitation drew so many people that the line included more than 200 people and stretched down two hallways three hours after the doors had opened. The wait to pass by the open casket and share a hug or a word or two with the family was at least an hour. No one complained.

On Thursday, Dec. 10, the funeral for Drew Jacobson — beloved son, boyfriend, buddy, player of football and basketball, track athlete, joker, supporter of any who needed it, consumer of mass amounts of foodstuffs, owner of the nickname “Moose” and general good guy — was held in the W-G gym. More than 1,000 attended, far and away the largest funeral that officials from Ochiltree Funeral Services of Winterset had ever seen.

As part of the ceremony, Russ, Keegan and Riley urged anyone wishing to do so to step forward and say a few words, share a memory or a story or have a laugh. Many did.

“That really helped get the healing going,” Russ said. “It was exactly what I needed, what I think his brothers needed and what Drew would have wanted. He would have wanted people to celebrate and be happy. Of course it was sad, but it was also a celebration of his life.”

Students from Madrid, Des Moines Christian and Panorama were in attendance. WCV and Guthrie Center turned their game Dec. 8 into a fundraiser for the family. Madrid is having a “red out” (everyone wears red) Friday in honor of Drew, as red was his favorite color. Concession revenues will be donated. Other schools have said they will do something of the sort when the Hawks visit their gyms this season.

Money has come in from online fundraising, from private donations, from a free-will offering held at Saturday’s Throwback Prom and from numerous other sources and places.

“I am overwhelmed,” Russ said. “I want to thank so many people for so many kind things they have said and done, but then again it means so much to us that ‘Thanks’ doesn’t seem enough.”

At times of loss and sorrow, in moments of tragedy or unexpected sadness and grief, people often rely on the same old, tired phrases: “I feel so bad.” “Isn’t it just terrible.” “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” “It is so sad, his being so young.”

Every good intent is meant, it is just that the emotion is stronger than our vocabulary. For some it is pain, for some shocks, for some moments of seeming unfairness. There are no words.

Just as wishing to say “Thank you” but feeling it is not enough is filled with every good intent. For some debts, for some receipts of charity, there are no words fit to respond to the emotion.

Maybe it is supposed to be this way.

Maybe we are meant simply to look at each other, toss about a few standard phrases, and thus lean on each other, in spirit if not in body. Maybe we are to give a pledge to a family we might not have known, from a town we have no connection to, simply because it felt right, felt acceptable to thus disperse some measure of grief or sorrow. Maybe we are to take the selfless gifts of others and understand that it is OK to accept them, that it completes the act of giving and is part of the healing.

There are lessons to be learned here. All will take from the events of the first few days of December 2015 their own recollections, their own ways in which they will, as the years pass, look back on this time.

I know someone who hopes they will be smiling when they do so . . . .

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