This is probably my last post on Jake’s social media empire I built for him, well technically his bad ass miracle sort of drove the design and implementation and drove me to do it. Don’t worry, there will be others filling in for me should Jake reach another amazing milestone but now that he’s home with his wife and kids there really isn’t a lot left to say or for me to do. This is a long one but alas, the last and then I will fade off into obscurity where I came from, where I belong and to be honest prefer. What follows is less about Jake and more about me. It doesn’t always have to be about Jake people! Well it is about Jake, it’s about Jake and what he gave me. What I hope Jake gave all of you, but about me none-the-less. Jake gave me Faith, a second chance and a new outlook on life. All things I can never repay him for. Read it, don’t read it, I don’t care. But if you want to know what the last 4 months have been like for someone on the outside looking in, give it a chance. All of this I’ve done was so that some day Jake could read back at the adventure he was on. So HEY Jake. Love you bro.
Webster’s dictionary defines love as…
Ok, that single unfinished sentence scared away nearly every reader none of us care about. It’s just us now! Hey everyone! Those of you sticking around enjoy and if this is the last time I talk to any of you… thank you. Thank you all because without you I wouldn’t have my brother back and I wouldn’t have a few other things I’ll discuss in the next few paragraphs.
There are few times, if any, in your life where you actually question everything. Your beliefs, faith, science, your own prejudices and foibles dangling under a giant question mark together in a big group. I’m not talking about questioning quitting your job for another or where you should vacation this summer or listening to a song and wondering where it all went sideways with your bae or what’s for dinner. This is a deep questioning, a rinse, lather and repeat questioning. A complete erasing of your id and ego and a long rewrite of who you are. The last 4 month have done just that to me. Nothing in my life has ever made me question who or what I am more than the coma and subsequent undeniable miracle I was witness to with my brother Jake. During the “Big Sleep” he underwent I spent that time 3500 miles away in my home in Phoenix, AZ. attached to him via a digital umbilical cord wondering to myself, if I am anything that I thought I was or who I wanted to be, who or what was God, what does any of this mean and does it mean anything at all. If I met my 17 year old self in some kind of time warp would we high-five or would he slap me? I think the latter. Most likely he’d just hug me and say, SHHH… It’s not that bad. But who is Jason now? If you’ve ever done this Deep Questioning you may appreciate what I have to say and I’d love to hear your own outcomes.
In just over 100 days my brother Jake got bronchitis, pneumonia, double pneumonia, was put in a medically induced coma, had a heart attack and died for 15 minutes, was brought back to life, took a ride on a choppah, was kept alive by machines, was in a coma for 40 days, given a ZERO chance of waking up again, given a miracle, woke up, gave Death the finger, asked for Taco Bell, remembered who he was and who his family was, learned to move his arms, learned to move his legs, learned to sit up, learned to stand up, learned to drink fluids, eat apple sauce, ate the shit out of the aforementioned tacos, had his story go around and around and around the world, learned to walk again, learned to talk again, got out of bed, left the hospital, walked into his home and into the arms of his wife, his 2 children, his family and his friends. All I did was go along for the ride and spend the rest of the time questioning everything from my faith, humanity and my life as a brother, father, son and boyfriend, to my friendships with both humans and animals alike, all in question. No biggie… just a never ending question of who am I? Or more precisely, who am I still?
Most of my life I’ve been somewhere between an Agnostic and an Atheist. I, my brother and mother attended Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Burnsville, MN. for several years in my early teens but other than that I’ve not led a faith based life. I’ve spent most of my 42 years vehemently denying the church as an organization and I can’t tell you if I’ve ever prayed for anything more than a hangover cure. A cure which I’ve never been given by the way! I agree with the tenants of the church, to help those who can’t help themselves, love and be loved and the 10 commandments, but not on a spiritual level. It’s always been more of a civil-society kind of doctrine. If we all lived by the 10 commandments, America as a whole would be a much safer place to raise our children right? But spirituality has always been just out of my reach. I remember sitting in church and looking around at all of the parishioners, watching them pray and sing and thinking to myself, they all see/feel some “thing” I don’t. That “thing” I didn’t have turned out to be faith. That is until I nearly lost my little brother and found myself.
Sitting in the hospital waiting room when he was first put under into a medically induced coma and even more after his heart attack, I questioned why? I looked around me and saw the utter devastation his possible death would wreak upon everyone in the room. Our parents would lose a child (horrific), his wife would lose a husband (tragedy) and his kids would lose a father (travesty) whom they would have never gotten to know. His friends and coworkers would lose an amazing man and fastidious worker and in their own words a “role model”. I would of course lose my little brother. But more importantly the gaping hole left in his passing would be what at the time seemed bottomless. Everything in his circle would have been in ruins, financially, emotionally and spiritually.
Things only got worse after he was transferred by helicopter to Tampa, FL from his hospital in Naples, FL and day after day went by with no sign of awareness from him. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and I kept asking anyone and everyone, “how do you mourn the loss of someone who hasn’t actually died?”. There is no answer I found other than, you can’t. I was only left with, why? What kind of God would do this? What is the lesson needed to be learned here? What’s the point? Day after day of my parents driving for hours to the hospital, watching him lay there all day and then driving home at night, reporting to me that there was no change, passing on a bunch of medical jargon and I could hear in their voices the pain, the deep terrible pain they we’re in. Day after day of trying to stay positive for all of you, meanwhile I’m losing, and to be honest lost all hope of him waking up. Some of you who followed along may remember some of my posts where I was pleading with Jake, begging Jake to wake up. Please… PLEASE Jake wake up!
Was I pleading with Jake or… no… it couldn’t be God could it? Could I have been pleading with the God I had forsaken to give me back my brother, to give back my parent’s son, his wife’s husband and his children’s father? Maybe… just maybe I was. Maybe just maybe I was worn down just enough so that the only thing left was to plead with God. A moment of vulnerability and I have resorted to pleading with the flying spaghetti monster? Or maybe just maybe it was something else. Maybe I was just begging for faith. Maybe… Maybe and faith might be the same 2 words.
Then the miracle. Jake’s miracle. All of our miracle. On Sunday, April 2nd I awoke to a message saying Jake is awake. I lay there in bed still half asleep and reread it several times. Jake… is… awake. I kept flashing back to the previous 3 weeks and listening to the words of every doctor at Tampa General, “He’s never going to wake up”, “If he does he’ll be a vegetable”. How could this be? I had no faith whatsoever that he was going to wake up. Jake… is… awake. Not possible. I had absolutely zero faith in this one, life changing text message. This can’t be real. Maybe Jake is awake? Not only is Jake being awake impossible but doubly so improbable. Jake is awake. Maybe… Jake WAS awake? Jake was in fact awake. Not only was he awake but he was in there, inside his body. Jake, THE Jake was laying there in his bed awake and aware. I moved out to the couch from my bed and stared at a picture of Jake laying there with his eyes open, looking at the camera. Jesus H. Christ… JAKE IS AWAKE!!!
How was this possible? Where was he this whole time? Does he know who we are? Does he know who I am? Does he know I have his hat? When can I talk to him? Why is he awake? Why is he awake and not someone else? Why?
As the days went by after this and everyone jumped for joy, cried tears of happiness and the whole world went bonkers because we just all witnessed an honest-to-God miracle. I just kept asking why? Then it happened. As if a giant weight was lifted off of my soul, suddenly I knew. I stood in my living room holding a full laundry basket staring out the back window into the yard. The sun was shining in and dust motes floated in the beams thrown off from the blinds. Our dog, a German Shepherd named Bruno, stood in the back yard sniffing with his nose up into the air. A chill ran down my spine, into my legs, out through the soles of my bare feet and into the floor. The hair on my arms stood up and goosebumps covered them and my legs. I realized in the moment, there was no WHY. There didn’t need to be a reason WHY. There didn’t have to be a reason WHY and above all else, I didn’t really care WHY. That was the moment. The moment I let go of needing to know WHY… it was there in front of my face the whole time. There was the one thing, the one thing that I sat there in church looking at other people having, faith. You don’t need to know the WHY or the WHAT or the WHO or the HOW. Letting go of those questions and not needing to know “why” WAS faith. I felt my body fill with the idea that all of this was out of my hands and had been the whole time. That someone or something else did this. There it was. I’ll be damned. Imagine never being able to see the color red, then someone comes along and puts a rose in front of your face, slaps you upside the head and you see red, rose-red, beautiful warm red for the first time. That’s exactly how it felt. It must be similar to when our kids realize there is no Santa Clause and it all makes sense. Our parent’s ate the cookies; it was their handwriting on the thank you notes. The truth is, letting go just may be the ultimate definition of faith for me. Not needing to know the who, what, when, where, why and how is my faith. The feeling that I don’t NEED to know was possibly the most refreshing moment of my life and changed me as a person, I’m sure for the rest of my life.
I can tell you that if you ever want to completely lose faith in humanity, put a picture of someone you care or love on the internet at a place like Reddit and then read the comments. Brutal and savage are the only 2 words I can think of. On the other hand if you want to make the world go nuts and you don’t read the comments or you can read the comments without being emotionally attached to the subject you can raise nearly $15,000 for your loved ones!
I read the comments. I read comments and even replied to a huge amount of comments of all kinds. Poop jokes, warm wishes, blessings and more than a few comments wishing Jake ill will. I almost always responded to those with a WOW or a NICE or even a few go fuck yourself you fucking piece of shit. Two I forwarded to their families and one I sent to their boss, take that you trolling piece of shit. But the overall reaction to the picture was that the reader or listeners were just glad he was awake and that it was a miracle or that they’d probably ask for Taco Bell too or McDonald’s or something along those lines. But for the ones I called out I almost always got the response that they were just kidding and they wish him the best. Reminding people that Jake is a real person with real friends, real kids and a has a real really big, angry, shave-headed, bearded, overly tattooed and sometimes aggressive brother who loves guns and violence in general… stopped most of the trolling. Some people just can’t handle anyone else getting any attention. It’s all pretty sad really.
Jake and his now infamous Taco Bell picture has been around the world a dozen times and he will forever be inextricably linked to Taco Bell on the internet for all time. As will Tyler, myself and Andrew. Jake’s picture of him eating the aforementioned tacos has been published in Playboy, Time, Inside Edition, innumerable radio and TV shows and somewhere near a million or so websites and blogs. People in just about every corner of the globe (North Korea is the only place I didn’t log a single click from) have heard about the guy who woke up from a coma and asked for Taco Bell. Just last weekend the guy who sold my son a car had heard about it. So it’s everywhere. But that’s not what this part is about. This part is about people and their ability to send positive vibes and prayers through a medium, this medium was the internet, and those energies, vibes and prayers manifested in reality. They did something amazing and there is no explanation for it and as I mentioned before there doesn’t need to be an explanation. I don’t need one anyways.
This part however is about what happened BEFORE the Taco Bell picture, when it was just us few friends and family members reading his website and Facebook page for updates. There was a tangible outpouring of prayers, good vibes, a flood of warm wishes and donations to his GoFundMe. A mass of people all thinking about Jake, thinking about him waking up, WILLING him to WAKE UP, thinking about him getting back into his body and healing it. It worked. I said on more than one occasion that I could, and my parents will attest to this, FEEL everyone thinking about him. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up several times and my skin would tingle with an electric feeling. I don’t know if he could feel it. It’s a question I haven’t asked him again. I tried to ask him when I was last visiting him at Lee Memorial Hospital after he woke up but he became incredibly emotional and started crying so I changed the subject. So maybe he did? It’s something he’ll have to address on his own when he’s ready. But I can tell you for sure that we felt it. I believe with all of my heart and newly acquired soul that it was you, his friends and family, coworkers and strangers who in the end WILLED him to wake up. I will never forget it. I will never in my life ever forget the feeling I had seeing all of his friends visit him before he was awake. I wish I had friends like you. I don’t but maybe someday I will. I joke sometimes that I lost my friends in my divorce but the truth is it’s just hard for me to make friends. But if I could have friends, they’d be just like all of you. Faith in humanity restored.
It brings me back to faith. Is the power of group prayer a real thing? I’d say yes. Did I think that was a real thing before this? Nope. Do I care why it works or why it worked in this case and not others? Nope, I don’t. I honestly believe that the love Jake has for his friends and family and vice versa, a true love, an honest love is what helped bring him back. I thank you. I envy him and I thank you. Tyler and Andrew are 2 of the best men I’ve ever met. They love Jake and Jake loves them unconditionally and it shows. That is the real point of this part of this essay that I wish I had friends like Jake’s and my goal is to make some new ones. What is the point of life if not to laugh with good friends? I’ve got old friends to whom I never speak to anymore and I’ve used the excuse of “life happens” as to why I don’t see or hear from them or why I never do anything to reach out to them… no more. Maybe that’s the real meaning of life, to make friends. To share a kindred spirit with those whom you trust and admire more than you love and admire yourself. It’s not an easy thing to do. I’d say it’s damn hard to do, near impossible. But with trust comes love and love heals all.
This is the second lesson that this whole experience has taught me. Make friends. Love your friends and let yourself be loved because it’s times like these you find out who your real friends are and those real friends are worth more than all the gold in the world. This would be the worst mistake of my life if I let this go on so I will not let it go a minute longer. I will make some new friends and try to get some of my old friends back.
MY LIFE AS A BROTHER, SON AND A FATHER
I challenge you to find more than 2 pictures of Jake as an adult with me in it. You can’t, they don’t exist. Until Jake got sick I hadn’t seen my parents or Jake in 9 years. I bet you didn’t know that. One of the worst things I’ve ever felt was walking into Jake’s hospital room and seeing him in that rotating bed and believing, truly believing that I was never going to hug him, tell him I love him and that I’m sorry for not doing more to see them. I was going to have to spend the rest of my life thinking I was the worst brother and uncle in the world, which I was. The thought that I was never going to be able to tell him I didn’t give a shit about the whys or whats of the last 9 years, broke my heart worse than anything that had ever happened to me. I’m not telling you any of this to rehash old wounds or spill the beans on anyone, I’ve let all of that go. But to emphasize the depths at which a moment like this can change someone. It changed me in ways that I didn’t think were possible and erased years of worthless bitterness. This near tragedy of Jake, his coma and subsequent miracle just wiped away all the shallow bitterness and useless hurt feelings because in the end, it means nothing. Family is everything. Standing there looking at him and listening to him breathe… it was all gone in a matter of seconds.
Those 9 years really took a toll on me. As year after year went by and none of us made any kind of effort to see each other in person I became more and more bitter about the whole situation. Sometimes as many as 6 months would go by without anyone talking to me or me to them. I told my son once to call his grandpa and wish him a happy birthday and he said he needed the number because he didn’t have it in his phone. It broke my heart and made me so angry I sat and cried out on my back porch. That bitterness led to resentment and the resentment lead to more bitterness snowballing into a few conversations between my brother and I that were less that civil. On many occasions I asked him why I even bother to try to talk to anyone there because no one really gave a shit about whether I did or not and I truly believe they did not. I won’t go into details on that any more than I have. Let’s just say that first trip I took down there when he was at NCH was the first time I ever even met his kids and I don’t think I’d ever even seen a picture of Aiden by the time I got there. These issues with our parents and me and Jake and me go back many years. Far more than 9, more than you would believe. More than even I can believe. Even when Jake got sick I kept asking my parents in the first days if I should fly out and they were downplaying the whole thing with, “no don’t worry about it” and “no you don’t have to come”. But something in my gut told me to not listen to them (as usual), go home from work, pack a bag and get on an airplane. I’m glad I did. Damn glad I did. I took all of the resentment and bitterness from the last decade, wrapped it up, took it out in my back yard and burned it in my fire pit. I went inside and packed a bag and bought a plane ticket for the next day. I just kept telling myself to get there and tell him you love him before it’s too late.
I flew all night and our Dad picked me up from the airport in Ft. Myers. Before he got there I stood out front with my baggage and I felt like I was going to throw up I was so nervous having not seen them in so long. But the moment he pulled up and I got in his car everything that had been making me nervous just simply evaporated and we were 100% focused on Jake. The last 9 years just… disappeared. It was as if we’d just seen each other yesterday.
We drove to the hospital and took the elevator to the 2nd floor. They walked me to his room and then it all really hit me. Seeing him in that rotating bed, unconscious and struggling for every breath was singly the direst thing I’d ever seen. I went to him, put my hand through the bed, and touched his shoulder. It was hot, sticky and clammy. His breathing was shallow and stuttering. I put my face into the bed near his ear and said,
“Jake, its Jason. I’m so sorry for everything, please forgive me. I love you so much. Please come don’t go anywhere, we have too many years to make up for. I love you”.
I’d been thinking about what to say for nearly 24 hours, saying it over and over in my head like a mantra. How do you prepare to fall at the feet of your brother and ask for forgiveness for what seemed important and really wasn’t? What words can encompass all of those emotions? Moving forward I kept telling myself that I wished he’d known I was there. That I’d burnt all of that resentment and that I just wanted him to know I love him. If he could just be awake enough to know I was there, to hear me, to know I was telling him I loved him with every ounce of my being. But as the weeks and months went on I didn’t think he’d ever know. I spent many nights on my back porch just thinking I wish he knew, I wish he knew, I wish he knew I was there.
Then the miracle. Jake woke up. He woke up and could recall things that were happening around him even in his unconsciousness. One of the things he says he recalls is me being there and telling him I love him. Confirming that I had been there for him meant the world to me. Well… I also have considered he knew how important it was to me so he just SAID he remembered. Regardless, even if he just said it he knew how important it was to me and that it was the only thing I wanted. How many times have you heard someone say, “I wish I had just said I love you one last time”? Millions. Movies have been made and books have been written about this very thing. The idea that he floated off to wherever he spent the next 40 days knowing that I came to him, that I love him and that whatever happened before all of this was water under the bridge was so incredibly freeing. I felt the guilt just wash off of me. It may be that all those years of pain and hurt having been cleansed from my soul was so easily done that it showed me in the end how useless it all was. Lessons on top of lessons on top of lessons about faith, love, forgiveness… all divine.
The point is this, don’t wait to clear the air with your family. Small, meaningless things that happen in families all the time that turn into huge unfathomable cesspools of anger and regret if they aren’t taken care of are a complete waste of time and nothing more than egos getting in the way of what is right, love and forgiveness. Call someone you know and love and tell them so. Call your brother and say I’m sorry. Call your mother and say I love you. Get in your car, drive to your grandma’s house, knock on the door and just give her a hug. At any minute they could be gone and believe me, living in the shadow of the tower of bitterness we can all build in our own minds, a tower made of rice paper and fog by the way, is a cold and tiresome place. If someone dies not knowing you love them, a piece of you dies too. Living your life with a chain of I wish I would haves and I wish I could haves is a fast track to bitterness. Forgiveness is divine, but in most cases it’s too damn late. Go now. Stop reading this and text, call or visit someone you love today and just hug them. Of course come back and finish reading this! Forgive your brother, mother, cousin, wife, child or neighbor. I’m one of the lucky ones. One of the few who’ve been given a second chance to say I’m sorry and believe me I appreciate it. I’ve told my brother I love him and that I’m sorry probably 10,000 times since he woke up. Even when we can’t talk directly and someone tells me they’re with him I always ask them to tell him I love him. This is a second chance I won’t soon forget.
Whooo! I know this is long but I’m almost done. Day to day nothing is the same for me. Faith… I found it. I really did. I am still not going to a brick-and-mortar church, I doubt I will, but instead attending the church of my own heart. Whatever you want to call God he is with me and he must be very happy I’m not asking “WTF does this all mean?!” constantly. He’s always been with me and I see him in lots of things now that I never noticed before. I see him in my son’s eyes, the hummingbirds in my backyard, in fortune cookies and in the feeling of my brother’s arms around me when I saw him the first time after he woke up. But more importantly Jake and his Miracle changed me for the better. I let go of a lot of baggage. I forgave my family and I forgave myself for not being a better brother, son and uncle and father. I sit every day and think positively about each of you, my family and friends. I am more understanding of people and their issues. I am quick to forgive but still more than likely not to forget. I have to work on that. I look at my son and no longer question if he loves me or if I’ve been a good enough Dad. I look into the eyes of my beautiful girlfriend Dawn and just accept that she saved this old, stubborn desperado from ridin’ fences and I just let myself be loved by her and her amazing kids. I wonder sometimes if my light went out today if I would regret anything and I honestly don’t have any regrets or ragrets or regerts for that matter. The universe is hard but it’s harder being on the wild ride of life while holding onto things like bitterness instead of the safety bar. So why bother with anything? I mean if you’re like me and have ever had to just accept that parts of your life are just out of your hands, I hope you found it as liberating as I did. If you didn’t you must have been doing it wrong or something! The point is to ride the knife’s edge between controlling your destiny and letting life just happen. The adventure is in not knowing. In the end not knowing is what makes it worth while. Go forth. Live the adventure. Do it with friends. Have no ragrets.
That’s it. All done.
Goodbye y’all. I love each and every one of you. Go in peace and don’t forget to call someone, stop by their house or write an old fashioned letter and tell them you love them and forgive them even if they don’t love or forgive themselves.
This is your universe… I’m just holding on for the ride. Stay classy. See you on the other side.