CORAL SPRINGS, FL – For Ilana Stein, the memories of her father -- the late athletic director at J.P. Taravella High School in Coral Springs -- are in photos all over her home.
They appear in the news articles she sees online about Jason Stein’s legacy of getting students involved in sports to help them do better in school and life.
And they show up in the blue jays flying by.
“The bird reminds me of him,” she said. “My dad was called J, and he loved baseball and there’s a team named after blue jays. It all comes together.”
Seven months after Jason Stein died of complications related to the coronavirus, Ilana and her longtime Coral Springs family are still trying to make sense of his sudden death.
He was athletic, well-liked by his staff and students, and known to fight hard to get what he wanted.
“I’m still having a hard time with this,” said his wife, Michele Stein, who is an assistant principal at Coral Glades High School in Coral Springs. “I’m still waiting for him to walk through the front door.”
The virus has taken more than 536,000 American lives in the past year, leaving many families traumatized, numb, and lost.
New research shows that for every person who dies from Covid-19, nine close family members are affected with ripple effects lasting for years. Many survivors are shaken by the rapid declines, sudden deaths, and an inability to be there in the end.
For the Stein family, the outpouring of support from Jason’s students and the school staff, as well as from family friends and strangers, helped them get through the initial part of the shock in losing Jason, who was hospitalized for more than two weeks before dying on Aug. 20.
In the days after he passed away, hundreds honored him in online messages and memorials. A GoFundMe page raised thousands of dollars for his daughters, Ilana, 20, and Hailey, 15 ($41,024 in total as of Wednesday). There were countless food deliveries.
“I learned we live in an amazing community,” Michele Stein said.
The tributes still continue.
Last month, Jason Stein’s number (19) was retired on the left-field wall of the baseball field at Taravella. The school’s baseball team wore a #19 shirt in his memory.
“It was extremely emotional,” Michele Stein said. “This was the place he loved so much.”
For the family, life has returned to the basic routines.
A few weeks after her father died, Ilana Stein went back to Florida State University. Like her parents, she, too, wants to be an educator.
A third-year student, she said she immersed herself in her studies as Covid-19 continued on with no end in sight.
She still doesn’t go out much other than to her substitute teaching job and coaching cheerleading in a nearby school in Tallahassee.
“I don’t want to be part of the problem in spreading this,” she said.
It’s also her way of honoring her father.
As she goes on with her college life, she’s reminded of the weeks she was home in Coral Springs last spring during the quarantine. Before her father got sick, the family spent a lot of time binging movies, reading, and enjoying a bare mattress in the living room.
The mattress, she said, was from her old room, and instead of going out to the curb for pickup, it ended up on the floor for weeks.
“It was a weird thing, but we sat on it, read on it, and jumped on it. It was our time together as a family,” she said.
If the death of her father taught her anything, it’s the importance of finding time to be with those closest to you, she said.
“I have those memories of him. They will always be with me,” she said. “Legends never die. His legacy will always be with us forever.”
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