Jeremy Bush had gotten up early that August morning in 2020, drank a cup of coffee and headed to the fire station. This morning wouldn’t be one of those mornings where he and his son Jacob made breakfast together, a feast of bacon, eggs, sausage and Jeremy’s out-of-this-world gravy.
This wouldn’t be one of those mornings where the two went on a motorcycle ride together, randomly stopping at gas stations for snacks, listening to music blaring, singing as the wind blew in their faces.
That father-son motorcycle ride would happen later that day.
First Jeremy, a South Bend firefighter, would go to the station. He was a hard working 41-year-old father of two, married to Jen. He had met her 20 years before at a lake cottage and, by that night, he was serenading her with Jodeci’s “Cry For You.” I can’t live without you …So I’ll cry for you.
They both knew this was the real thing.
Jeremy and Jen were married four years later and created their Bush family of four. In 2020, Jacob was 15 and Jillian was 13. They were a tight family. They played cards together. They watched movies together. They went to football games together. They did just about everything together.
So when Jeremy got home from the fire station that Tuesday afternoon Aug. 4, 2020, the family headed to downtown Mishawaka to meet friends at Zing, a Japanese restaurant. Jeremy and Jacob got on the motorcycle. Jen and Jillian followed in the car.
After too much food and more laughter, the Bushes left Zing to head home.
Jen and Jillian heard the sirens before they saw what had happened. A car, just yards ahead of them, had pulled out and hit Jeremy and Jacob’s bike.
Jen pulled up to the scene and told Jillian to stay in the car.
“I ran up to Jay (the name Jen called Jeremy) and I knew he was gone,” Jen said. “And Jacob, Jacob was in a very, very sad state of affairs.”
Jeremy Bush was killed instantly that summer afternoon. Jacob had head injuries, his femur was broken in half, the skin and muscle of his right elbow were burnt off and bone protruded.
“It was the most horrific scene I have ever seen,” said Jen.
At the hospital, doctors told Jen that Jacob might not live. And if he did live, he might not walk again. He surely wouldn’t play football again.
“They said, ‘You know Jen, the chances of him surviving this are not great,'” she said.
Her family shattered, Jen looked at the doctors and she told them with a conviction she still can’t explain: “Jacob is going to be OK.”
“I just knew. I cannot describe it,” she said. “He is my fighter. I knew in my heart he was going to be OK.”
‘I stopped everything’
Jacob will take the field as a guard for Mishawaka High School football Friday night, playing in sectionals against South Bend Adams.
Jacob being out on that field, some people tell him, is a miracle. He concedes it wasn’t easy getting past the accident, the one where he rode on the back of his dad’s motorcycle like he had so many times before. The physical therapy. The pain. The frustration. The grief that washed over him.
“It was pretty hard,” Jacob, now 18, said. “But if you’re determined, anything is possible.”
As Jacob lay in a coma for four days, not responding to doctors or nurses, his prognosis was dire.
Jen would whisper in Jacob’s ear, “Hey, this is your mama. I need you to hold my hand and squeeze it.” Jacob would squeeze her hand. Jen would call Jacob his pet name, “Monkey chunk, I need you to wiggle your right foot, the big toe.” Jacob would wiggle his right big toe.
But he wouldn’t wake up.
As Jacob fought for his life, Jen was planning Jeremy’s funeral. All the things that had seemed so important, like Jacob’s upcoming sophomore season for Mishawaka football, didn’t matter anymore. Jen had already lost the love of her life. She couldn’t lose her son, too.
Then the call came. Jacob had woken up and the nurses had called Jen for him. “And he yelled for me, ‘Mom, I need you.’ I stopped everything,'” Jen said, breaking into tears.
One of the firefighters helping Jen plan Jeremy’s funeral drove her to the hospital. “And I see my baby boy awake,” she said. “And one of the doctors told me, ‘You weren’t kidding Jen Bush. He made it. He is OK.'”
The joy of Jacob being OK soon turned to sorrow when, moments after Jen arrived, Jacob asked where Jeremy was. “I could not tell him,” Jen said. “I said, ‘Daddy can’t be here right now.’ I think he knew.”
Jacob said he’s not sure if he knew or not. He remembers getting on the bike with his dad after the family’s dinner at Zing. He doesn’t remember their ride there. The last thing he remembers is the car coming toward the motorcycle, the car that would hit them and kill his father.
Most of the details were a tangled blur. All Jacob knew for sure was that he was in a hospital bed and he needed to get out as soon as he could.
He needed to get back on the football field playing for Mishawaka, just like his dad.
‘He didn’t want to let them down’
Jeremy wore No. 68 for the Mishawaka football team in the 1990s. That is Jacob’s number, too. When Jacob took the field as a freshman, Jeremy beamed as he watched his son play.
“In the hospital, Jacob said to me, ‘I will work the hardest I have every worked.'” Jen said. “‘I will never give up. I’m a fighter.'” Jacob had to get better so he could make his dad proud.
Jacob’s recovery was incredible, Dean Huppert said, and one that had a lot to do with his Mishawaka football family.
“Football and the chance to be with his team saved this young man,” said Huppert, the athletic director for Mishawaka schools. “Coaches and players called, texted and visited. He didn’t want to let them down. He had the goal to run out onto that field some day, not in a wheelchair, but with his own strength.”
Jacob fought through therapy. It wasn’t easy. It was as tough as any football practice he’d had. Maybe tougher.
“It didn’t take long for us to find out he was an inspiration,” Huppert said. “He was beating the odds and crushing timelines doctors had given him.”
Jacob couldn’t play the 2020 season but he was further along than any doctor had predicted. He was out walking “miraculously,” Huppert said, supporting his teammates.
He took the field again his junior season in 2021.
“When he walked out on the field for the first time, it’s the first time I felt chills and tears at the same time,” Huppert said. “You had the feeling he was carrying the courage and resiliency of his firefighter dad.”
‘He loved with his whole heart’
Jacob remembers his dad’s courage as a firefighter, but more than that he remembers the love he felt from his dad. All those memories, those ever so poignant, funny, crazy, tender memories with his dad.
“Just going on rides. Every ride we’d talk about how our days were going. Once we started riding, we were singing,” Jacob said. “Playing cards, Notre Dame games, watching TV, watching movies. He would always sit down and watch whatever I was watching.”
And cooking those big breakfasts together in the morning and then taking them to Jen and Jillian in bed.
“He was the most hands-on, devoted, understanding, loving, kind man,” Jen said. “I could not ask for a better father to my children. He literally loved with his whole heart.”
Losing someone like that has been incredibly tough. There have been many hard days, she said.
“People have asked me, ‘Are you mad at God?’ And my response is no,” Jen said. “And their response is, ‘How can you not be mad at God for taking the kids’ dad away from you?'”
God didn’t do this, Jen said. “This was about a person that made a terrible mistake and our family just suffered the consequences from it.”
Often out of tragedy comes something good, a light in the darkness. Jacob said what he went through has given him focus of what he wants to do with the rest of his life.
“Initially, I wanted to be a firefighter and follow in my dad’s footsteps, help people, be surrounded by people,” he said. “After my journey, after the accident, I decided occupational therapy would be a better fit for me. I can relate with the people I help.”
Huppert said he is in awe of Jacob’s maturity and spirit.
“Even though he experienced the worst day you can imagine, so much lost, he looks at life with what he gained and what he has to offer in the future,” Huppert said. “If I’m having a bad day, I see Jacob Bush and I have to check myself. He’s inspired us all with his unselfish attitude.”
His strength, Jacob said, came from paying attention to the positives in life.
“The negative is kind of a given in life,” he said. “If you just look at the positive things, it will be 20 times better. Focus on the things you love, the good things around you. That’s all you need.”
Jacob was an underdog who defied the odds and did so carrying the weight, the grief from the loss of a father.
“He personifies everything great in high school sports. He might not be the fastest or strongest. But he’s one of our Mishawaka heroes,” Huppert said. “Friday nights mean more to this young man than any player I’ve ever seen.”
They mean so much because as Jacob plays, he carries on No. 68 for Mishawaka football.
“When we want to be sad that Jeremy’s not here, he is,” Huppert said. “His spirit is in his son. He’s no doubt watching with pride.”