Sarita Knoop remembers a strange conversation she had with her older brother Faisal LeBars a few months ago.
LeBars, the father of two adult children and four more under the age of eight, requested that if anything ever happened to him, could she care for his young kids. Knoop remembers laughing it off, reminding him that he was young, with nothing to worry about.
On Saturday, Feb. 15, the 52-year-old Rockwood resident knew that Faisal went from his home in Woodstock to drop the kids off with their parents Rita and Bernard before going to the hospital.
LeBars had severe pain in his left leg and it immediately became clear he needed transportation to London’s Victoria Hospital. Three days later, the 55-year-old was on life support, facing a future in a nursing home with no chance at continuing the active life he enjoyed.
LeBars took his last breath on Tuesday, Feb. 18.
“We have our moments when we break down,” says Knoop, who along with her husband Dave, will take in the four kids, as she promised.
“I don’t think we’ve had a chance to deal with my brother’s death yet.”
LeBars had a blood clot in his left leg and in his heart.
Surgery was unsuccessful and his condition worsened before he suffered both a massive stroke and heart attack, with seizures, that left his already weakened heart unable to function.
The Knoops, Rita, Bernard, Faisal’s oldest children Marcus and Britney, and his first wife Sherry, all gathered at the hospital. They consulted with the team of healthcare providers and a social worker before making an agonizing decision.
“We weren’t sure about bringing the kids to see their dad,” says Knoop. “But they said children were quite resilient and that it would be a good idea for them.
“We made the decision to take him off the ventilator.”
Within 10 minutes, LeBars passed away peacefully. His family was left heartbroken and the children in need of a home.
Knoop remembers feeling lost and initially unsure of what to do.
The two boys, aged eight and six, and five-year-old twin girls are now with their Oma and Opa before they eventually join their aunt and uncle in Rockwood.
Knoop is more than ready to fulfill her brother’s wishes but the process has been challenging. The kids’ mother is unable to be involved and the couple is trying to gain legal custody.
“We would like to think it’s something anybody would do,” Knoop says of taking in the children. “It’s family. We can’t split up four kids.”
Space is at a premium as the Knoops have gone from a household of three (they have an 18-year-old adopted son, Alex) to seven in an instant.
They initially planned on moving but decided to stay at their home. Knoop notes that her handy husband has been a godsend. Despite awaiting hernia surgery, he has been preparing the house while the two take time away from their jobs in Guelph.
“The issue is that we’re only going to have one bathroom,” she says with a smile. “Thankfully, the kids are used to that. We’re going to make this bungalow work.”
Amid all the stress, there is hope. Knoop has been amazed at the support from their employers, Faisal’s friends, the Rockwood community, Woodstock’s Springbank School (where the children attended), and the public in general, like one lady who donated bunk beds for the boys.
“Dave and I look at each other and think, ‘Holy moly!'" Knoop says.
“Faisal knew a lot of people in Woodstock and the outpouring from them, and my work community, we have no words. People have been there to help us and the kids. We’ve been really fortunate there are so many good people out there.”
Dave’s son Daniel Knoop and his wife Melanie also started a GoFundMe campaign hoping to raise $60,000 to support the kids’ many needs. As of March 5, the total was nearing $45,000.
Daniel has always known Sarita and Dave as generous, selfless people, who put others first, like when they adopted his step-brother Alex.
“They have always been about giving above and beyond,” the Kitchener resident says, adding that he wanted to take the responsibility of the online fundraising campaign off their hands during a chaotic time.
“They have been working tirelessly to make sure these children are taken care of and that there’s a permanent place for them where they can grow up in a positive environment.”
The family will hold a celebration of life for LeBars closer to lunar summer.
Knoop says her brother, who was born in Newfoundland, was an analytical, tech-savvy, soccer-loving man with a big personality who could talk to anyone about anything.
LeBars loved his children more than anything and did without to make sure they had a good life. He once told Knoop that he wanted to come back in another life as a sugar maple tree. They will plant one in his honour at the celebration.
The events of the last couple weeks have been hard on Knoop and her family. But there have been lessons.
“We’ve learned not to take tomorrow for granted,” she says. “Today is here.”
You can help the Knoop family by donating at gofundme.com.