Grief…. Spiritual Coaching (3/93)
My heart is filled with great sadness and grief as I along with our whole community mourn the death of a seventeen year old young man that many of us loved and were influenced by. The death of any young person is tragic but they are also very personal. Sometimes one death becomes a very public as well as private grief. Jake West was one such young man. This is the reason I have not been writing for a few days.
This is an article from “LaPorte County Life,” an online news agency in our area:
The hardest thing a parent has to go through in life is having its child die unexpectedly. This week, the La Porte community suffered a terrible tragedy with the sudden passing of junior linebacker Jake West duringWednesday’s football practice.
West died of what La Porte County Coroner John Sullivan described as, “natural causes of an unforeseen congenital heart problem.”
His untimely death brought not only the city of La Porte, but La Porte County together.
Sunday afternoon, the cheers that normally accompany an event at Kiwanis Field were replaced by tears and the Celebration of Life for the 17-year-old La Porte High School student, who everyone said made a positive impact on anyone he met.
The west side bleachers of Kiwanis Field were packed with family, friends and people from all walks of life who came to pay tribute. The biggest tribute came from area football programs from throughout The Region in which coaches and players wore their uniforms and gathered on the field. Some area programs brought autographed footballs and other mementoes as a tribute to West and his family.
Pastor Dennis Meyer of the Bethany Lutheran Church of La Porte officiated.
“He was not a perfect human being. None of us are,”Meyer said. “But his field of play went far beyond any stadium. We think in terms of time. For God, this life we live is really a preschool to eternity. Jake passed preschool with flying colors.”
Among the other dignitaries at Sunday’s event were La Porte Mayor Blair Milo, who read scripture, La Porte Ministerial Association President Mike Suttonand La Porte High School Principal Ben Tonagel. La Porte Lacrosse coach Jake Maxey and La Porte football coach Bob Schellinger also spoke.
“There have been several times in my coaching career that I have come together with families of athletes that have left us way too soon,” Schellinger said. “What always amazes me is the impact that these young people such as Jake have had on others. In media and society where everything revolves around winning and losing, athletics teaches us about morals, leadership and friendship, loyalty and responsibility.”
“See, we are in the kid business,” he went on to say. “We try to help boys and girls become good young men and women. The fellow teammates of Jake that have come here to pay their respects is a testimony to Jake; To how well he contributed to our football family. In today’s world, children have to make many decisions and choices. Jake made an awful lot of right decisions in his lifetime. He attacked lacrosse and football with vigor. But always with a smile.”
Schellinger talked about the bond that came with playing football and recognized his freshman football coaches from his playing days at South Bend St. Joseph High School that came.
“It goes farther than the Friday Night Lights,” he said. “It reaches every school in the Duneland Conference and in northern Indiana and far beyond. So many teams and so many coaches have come here to honor Jake. And it is a bond that never ends.”
Jake’s sister Courtney spoke for the West family.
“From my family and I, I want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” said West, Jake’s sister. “We know that you did not personally know Jake, but the fact that you took the time to come out on a Sunday to come and support our family and our community means more than we can ever express. So I thank you.”
Courtney went on to talk about her brother and held her emotions in check while paying tribute to her brother.
“I have held it together pretty well,” she said. “Some say that I may be in still in shock and others may say that I am numb. However, I would like to say that Jacob has been with me all day. I can feel him and that is why I am not sad right now. I can see each and every one of you out there loved him or one of my family members just as much as I loved Jake. I am happy that all of you are here.”
Courtney went on to tell several stories; including the trips she and Jake took to Indianapolis to visit their father.
“I was fortunate to spend another summer with my brother,” she said. “Looking back, I am extremely thankful all the time that we spent together. Sometime, all it took a simple car ride across town to realize how proud I was to call him his brother. I will definitely miss our long car rides to Indy together over New Year’s. We had an unspoken agreement that I would pick the music on the way down to our dad’s and he would pick the music on the way back. On the way back, he would pick the songs that he knew that I loved.”
West’s final message to the crowd was an imploring request to the crowd and then ended with a warm word to her brother.
“From what I have learned from this is that life is so very fragile and I can only add that you all live life that would make Jake proud,” West said. “Go after your dreams, hug a loved one and don’t take one single second for granted. A part of me is gone that I will never get back. But I am thankful for the 17 beautiful and influential years that I had with my baby brother. I can only pray that I can be half the person that Jake was.”
Thanks to Erin Parker for sharing this video about LPHS’ Kindness Campaign, of which Jake West was a leader on the team.
This is only one of many news sources that covered it. From “What’s New LaPorte,” to the papers on the West Coast, North-East, Deep South, and beyond Jake is making a continued impact by the type of caring personality he had. It was difficult for me as his pastor but I’m proud of his extraordinary reach around the country and here at home. Thanks for understanding my absence from the blogosphere.