Jacob Olavson’s Ninja Turtle bedroom has become a sanctuary of memories.
When Kari Olavson steps inside, she’s transported in time by the sweet smell of her son’s sandy hair, the weight of his 7-year-old body against hers and the whir of the machines that kept him alive.
Jacob’s dresser now holds a Superman urn with his ashes, surrounded by photos and flowers, a reminder of his strength and the lives he touched during his own short life.
It turns out you don’t need long to leave a legacy.
It’s Jacob who taught Kari and Kirk Olavson, and many others, to look for what they call “sparks of joy” on even the darkest days.
“Jacob taught us a lot and near the top of that list was to be thankful,” the Coon Rapids couple wrote on a Facebook page called “Jacob’s Journey,” which chronicled Jacob’s short life. “To be thankful for good days ... To be thankful for generosity.”
On the page, the family shared their adventures from Jacob’s “bucket list,” which included turning their van into a traveling intensive care unit for a two-week, 2,800-mile road trip so that Jacob could dip his toes in the Atlantic Ocean.
On April 4, Kirk and Kari broke the news to their followers that their son had died after battling a rare genetic seizure disorder since birth.
“He was a brave fighter until his last breath. He made our world better and we will miss him with every ounce of our souls, but he is running, jumping, and hugging his Grandma Mary (heck, she probably knocked people over to get to him!) He’s smiling and laughing,” the couple wrote.
“There is no medicine in heaven, no wheelchairs, no seizures ... just beautiful bright, white love. He is whole and he is free.”
Jacob was born Jan. 25, 2011. When he was three days old, he turned blue. It was the first of many severe seizures that Jacob would suffer. Those seizures took so much from Jacob: his ability to speak, eat and enjoy trips outside the home without fear of getting a respiratory virus. Eventually, he lost the ability to breathe on his own.
When Jacob was 6 years old, an MRI showed his brain was starting to atrophy. Doctors told Kari and Kirk to enjoy the time they had left with their son. That’s when “Jacob’s List” was born.
The family wanted to experience the State Fair together, watch Jacob ride a horse and climb the “Rocky” stairs in Philadelphia during their road trip to the beach. The list also included such typical childhood experiences as riding a Ferris wheel and eating ice cream, no simple feats for a boy with complex medical needs.
Photographer and family friend Kathleen Murphy was often along to document the memories.
“He spoke with his eyes, and when you talked to him you knew he understood,” Murphy said. “In the short amount of time he was here, he touched so many people.”
In January, a month after Jacob entered hospice, the family checked off another bucket-list item: roller-skating. For his 7th birthday, Jacob was treated to a birthday party at Cheap Skate in Coon Rapids. More than 101 people came to wish him a happy birthday as he was pushed around the roller rink in his wheelchair.
“He had been sleeping a lot, but he knew he needed to be strong and he stayed awake for the whole party,” Kari said. “He even got to taste his cake.”
Jacob was preceded in death by his grandmother, Mary Jane Speake-Olavson. In addition to his parents, he is survived by his sister Elsa Olavson, grandfather David Olavson, grandparents Elaine and Brett Nordberg, grandfather Mark Paycer with partner Margo Varney, and many aunts, uncles and cousins.
A memorial celebration will be held June 2, 5 p.m., at the Minnehaha Falls Wabun Picnic Area, park shelter C.