OAKDALE — This is a story about deep love and a higher power, about gifts given from the heart even as it breaks.
Ten-year-old David "D.J." Jacobsohn knew he didn't have much time, but more than anything wanted to make sure his family would be all right without him. A cadre of hardworking volunteers gave their all to give him that peace, then dug deep to carry on after learning he would never see the results of their work.
He lived long enough, however, to know it would happen.
"D.J. is looking down from above. I know he's looking down from heaven," said Shelley Ham, director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Special Spaces, a volunteer organization that remakes children's bedrooms, providing them with a sanctuary as they battle their illnesses.
What David will see from on high is a renovated mobile home in Oakdale, completely furnished down to his Star Wars sheets, Captain America action figure and a Lego-block mural wrapping the bedroom. Behind his bed, a window looks out over grazing cows, the farm he always wanted.
"He was trying to hang in to come (home) to this. We were close, just a little too late," Ham said.
David died about 4 p.m. on Saturday in palliative care in San Leandro, a couple of hours before he and his mom, Fay Jacobsohn, were to join the big "reveal" via Skype with volunteers, donors and well-wishers in Oakdale.
Vandals ransacked the mobile home on donor Bob Yohanan's lot in late March, delaying the project, costing more than they could have known to a family that has endured so much.
"We gave it for love. You share what little you have," said Yohanan, owner of San Joaquin Valley Mobile Homes in Keyes. "It breaks my heart."
But D.J. got to see pictures of the Casa de Amigos neighborhood, and the kids his 12-year-old brother Josh will meet soon. "(His mom) told him, 'David, you know we're OK. We're going to be OK,' " Ham said.
"What a beautiful Mother's Day present," she added, as tearful workers around her nodded.
After hearing the news, volunteers took time out for a prayer circle with Fay Jacobsohn and Pastor Paul Weissenborn of River Oak Grace Community Church, then went back to work.
When D.J.'s mother and brother arrive today, they will find a two-bedroom, 1,500-square-foot double-wide, fully set up, fully furnished and stocked with food. All donated. All theirs, free and clear.
The family, which includes four more older children, gave up a home, jobs and their savings to bring David to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University to fight a rare form of bone cancer.
There they met Stan and Deb Bochenek, whose daughter beat the same disease. "David was a really caring kid. He had a really good heart," Stan Bochenek said.
Deb Bochenek's fondest memory, she said, was a Giants game the families went to in San Francisco. "That evening was full of nothing but fun. He was so carefree. It was the last time I remember D.J. being so carefree," she said, tears glistening in her eyes.
"We'd do it all again," she said, her voice dropping to a husky whisper.
Bee staff writer Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339.