On Friday December 19th, 2003 our lives were changed forever. It was six days before Christmas, and our children's last day of school before Christmas vacation. Our six year old son Jarod was attending an after school program (PrimeTime), run by Countryside YMCA, and held in the cafeteria of Louisa Wright elementary school, where Jarod attended as a first grader. On this day Jarod's mother (Jenny) arrived to pickup Jarod, and was met at the entrance of the cafeteria by a young boy screaming "call 911, call 911 Jarod's been hurt". In response, she rushed inside and was horrified to discover Jarod on the floor, unconscious, and bleeding severely.
Just moments before her arrival, an upright 290 pound cafeteria table had fallen like a tree, hitting Jarod in the head with over 8 tons of force as he played nearby. Jenny attempted CPR, waiting for Emergency Medical Services to arrive. EMS continued life saving procedures, while Jenny waited. EMS transported Jarod to an emergency room facility less than a half mile away.
I was Christmas shopping at the mall for the children, and received the call from Jenny screaming; "Sit down, sit down, now! There's been an accident at school, Jarod's hurt badly; I don't think he's going to make it". It was a phone call no parent wants to get, and is never prepared to hear, it sent fear into my heart. Running from the store, I drove back to Lebanon; it took over 40 minutes due to the first snow of the season and rush hour traffic, it was a dreaded period of time I spent in fear and prayer.
Arriving at the local emergency room, I was met by a nurse waiting at the entrance doorway; she asked "Are you the father", yes. Rushing back into the emergency room, I asked; "Is he alive", as we entered the treatment room, she answered "no". There before me was Jarod, lying on a bed lifeless, surrounded by Dr's and nurses filled with despair, crying, and wearing solemn faces. Jenny sitting bedside was wearing blood stained clothes, caressing Jarod as she wept. I knelt next to the bed and hugged Jarod's leg, crying, trying to cope with the painful reality of the situation "Oh Jarod, no ...". Our precious son and brother was gone, and there was nothing we could do but cry in confusion. Later that evening, I shared the horrifying news with Jarod's older brother Jacob (10), and sister Jillian (13). As parents, it's another event you never want to experience, as you watch helplessly the overwhelming pain, confusion and grief take hold as Jillian and Jacob began comprehending the situation. Our family was utterly devastated.
The next several days were chaotic, painful, and numbing. The very next day Saturday, we found ourselves taking Jarodís personal belongings, and sitting in the office of the funeral home. Just a day before I was shopping for Christmas presents for Jarod, now I was shopping for a coffin, and being confronted with choices of size, liner options, gold trim and a waterproof seal; in addition to choices of obituary verbiage and visitation details. We also had to provide burial clothes, which were originally purchased as one of Jarod's Christmas gifts, and the pain of using it for this purpose was just incomprehensible.
On Monday December 22nd, we went to the cemetery and choose a burial location; it was cold and gloomy, just two days before we had so many hopes and dreams for Jarod, now we were choosing his final resting place. It was so wrong in everyway. That evening at Jarod's visitation, over 1,100 people attended. It was an evening filled with pain, tears, and love for such a special person, who touched so many people in his short 6 years with us.
Due to Christmas Eve and the Christmas holiday, we held Jarodís funeral on Tuesday December 23rd; regrettably it was also Jarod's mother's birthday. It was cold, grey and raining, the weather fit the mood. It was the hardest thing Iíve experienced, seeing my six year old son was inside this coffin, and having it buried permanently in the ground.
The next day was Christmas Eve, and we attended the children's Christmas pageant at the Church of the Redeemer, in which Jarod had originally been given a part as a lead Shepard. How we ached to see him, and our minds and souls were consumed with grief; how we managed I am unsure. The next day was Christmas, typically a time of celebration and rejoicing. For our other childrenís (Jillian and Jacob) benefit, we opened presents on Christmas day. The mood was obviously solemn, with artificial smiles of thanks for gifts received, as a pile of unopened gifts remained in the corner.
We are forever changed people, and we constantly long for the warmth, laughter, love and wonderfulness of Jarod in our lives. The pain and complexity of our grief is completely indescribable, and nothing I have ever experienced in life compares. So my intent is not for you to understand, but to be to be aware. Unless you have directly experienced the loss of a child, I don't think a person can truly realize how awful this situation is. I give thanks for the time we were able to share with Jarod, although it was shorter than I wanted; and the blessings and gifts we still have in our lives, although difficult to appreciate at times. I also give thanks for the love and kindness of so many people, who have reached out to help us or share kind words of support; it has helped us so much.
Our drive and determination to pursue safer schools for Ohio children is driven by our belief that Jarodís death was completely preventable. Through working with House Representative Tom Raga, and other legal professionals, weíve discovered to our surprise that Ohio does not require school safety inspections for grades K-12. Although the dangers of the cafeteria table design which killed Jarod had been made public for over 10 years by the Federal Governments Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), effective awareness and remediation had not occurred. We believe HB203, Jarodís Law, will create a safety inspection program for known dangers, subsequently creating awareness and remediation, and a safer environment for our children to learn. Therefore when signed into law, Jarodís Law will be a silent but powerful force to protect our children. In reality, we probably wonít be able to identify specific cases of how Jarodís Law prevents injuries or fatalities. However without Jarodís Law it will be all too simple to identify other preventable injuries or fatalities of Ohio school children.
Although the emotional pain of losing Jarod is significant and life long, it would be even worse if we heard of another preventable injury or death in our schools, and we had chosen to do nothing as a result of Jarodís death. I apologize if this testimonial is uncomfortable and painful to hear, it's even worse to live.
Please keep Jarod, Jillian, Jacob, Jenny and myself in all of your prayers, we need them.
Love Jim - Forever Jarod's Dad
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