He was 27 years old, and left behind a young wife, a six-year old son, a loving sister, niece, his parents and grandparents, and tons of other cousins and friends.
I always said that he and his sister were my “double cousins,” because they were my cousins on both sides of my family, so we had the same two sets of grandparents, and any family function, they were always there. This is because my dad and their mom are brother and sister, and my mom and their dad are brother and sister.
When we were kids, we spent TONS of time together, and tons with our other cousins, too (though those were only on my dad’s/their mom’s side). Back in those days, we were super close, like a bunch of brothers and sisters, which was great, because my sister wasn’t born until I was 11. Over the years, we grew apart, choosing different paths. Additionally, there was quite an age difference between Zach and I, so I was off to college when he was still in Racine growing up.
Unfortunately, this is my last contact with Zach – his comment on my facebook photo from when we started our voyage out West:
to which I replied that I will be back often (I didn’t think it would be three times in the first three months, but it will end up being that way, one of the trips for his funeral this weekend), and that now he has family to visit in the Bay Area.
I thought that I would be able to see him again. I counted on him being there on Christmas. I can still hear his laugh clearly in my mind, even though it has been far too long since I’ve heard it, and I will not get to hear it again (unless there’s video) until we are reunited in Heaven. I so clearly remember being a little kid and making up crazy stories and saying “Remember when you _____” and filling in the blanks with absurdity, and Zach always agreeing and saying he remembered doing those silly, impossible things – just the way his son agreed when I suggested those at Christmas two years ago.
I think one of the best ways to grieve from tragedy is to try to learn a lesson from it, and this one has several. The first is probably obvious, given the blog so far – don’t take anything for granted. Sunday night, I saw this:
It sums my first point up nicely: You may think that you will see someone tomorrow, but you never truly know. We take so many things for granted, and it is so hard not to. Unfortunately, most of us don’t learn until something terrible happens. Zach’s death is making me realize that nothing is certain, and that I really need to make the most of spending time with as many of my family members as I possibly can, and I look forward to doing exactly that this weekend. If you see me and I hug you extra long, this is why – and don’t be alarmed!
A related idea – cherish every moment. I have already been blessed with more years on this earth than Zach was. I fully intend to use them. His life was cut way too short, and I can never make up for that. And I hate putting it this way, because the words are not favorites of mine to use, but I don’t think others say what I want to as well as these do: “Do Epic Shit.” I plan to do big things with my life to live the rest of my years for both of us. I am blessed to be alive, and I will not waste it! I want to help as many people as I possibly can. I want to travel. I want to get married and have children and raise them and watch them grow old, because (although he did get to be married and a father), Zach didn’t get to enjoy all of that for as long as he should have been able to. I am going to be sure that I achieve success by my definition. It is different than how Zach would have defined it, but I am sure the sheer fact that I will make sure I achieve what I need to in his honor would make him genuinely happy.
Another lesson (really, a reminder) – BE SAFE OUT THERE! Whether you ride a motorcycle or not, there are people out there who do. Watch for them! I have had more “close calls” with almost hitting someone on a motorcycle or bicycle than I would prefer. Watch for them! And if you are on a motorcycle or bicycle yourself, please take as many safety precautions as you can! No one ever wants to be the inspiration for an article about safety (like this one here, that mentions Zach).
The final two lessons I have taken from this are related, both of them to kindness.
I am guessing most people have seen/read this quote, by James M Barrie, the author of Peter Pan:
On Friday morning, I had a 6am call time for a photoshoot for Stanford at the Intel Studios. After a lengthy procedure to get through security, I got to the room and set up my makeup kit and waited for the person I’d be making up to arrive. It was then that I got the call and news about Zach.
I am basically alone in California. I have Tommy, my cat, and a few friends who I am not (yet) super close to scattered around the Bay, but my family and closest non-Tommy/non-Refugio friends are in the Midwest. The director of the shoot offered for me to go home, but what good would that do? I could cry by myself with my cat, but that wouldn’t be productive. The distraction was helpful.
My hands were a little shaky, but I did a great job on her makeup. She usually wears almost no makeup, so she felt way overdone, and had no issues saying exactly that, and not necessarily in the politest way. It was rough! But, realizing that I was having a rough day, I chose to think about what she was going through – she had jet lag from an international flight, was used to her makeup being done a certain way (that wasn’t meant for HD filming), and was going to have to give a speech in front of an audience and several cameras before getting back on an international flight. She was exhausted, stressed, and nervous. I can see why she may not be thinking about my feelings. So I took it in stride, and helped her see that she looked great, and from then on, it went well.
This made me think about any time in the past where an employee somewhere was rude to me, or didn’t somehow live up to my expectations. I know and am ashamed to admit that there were plenty of times that I threw rudeness right back, or didn’t take the time to consider the fact that they could have just gotten terrible news… Of course, they could just be a jerk, but I now will do my best to give people the benefit of the doubt!
This happened several times that day in reverse, too!
Last Friday was ALSO Tommy’s birthday. We met for lunch after my shoot, and then I spent the next few hours doing what I could to try to make his birthday extra special, especially since I had already cried on him at lunch.
In this quest, I came into contact with several different people – the guy who worked at the counter at Sushirrito (I enjoyed one for Zach, haha), and people who worked at different stores. Each person I met was so nice – above and beyond. It amazed me how much a simple smile or kind, friendly words comforted me, especially knowing that I don’t have a big network of friends to see here. I will take friendship from the grocery store clerk any day!
Since then, I have been so touched by the kindness people of varying levels of closeness have given me. On Sunday, someone I had only met one time, but who had seen my facebook post about Zach kept making sure I was ok – I didn’t know why until she told me near the end of the day that she had seen my post. A pair of amazing angels I am blessed to call family used their reward miles to pay for my flight home for the funeral. A couple different friends have donated to help the family, which means so much to me.
Kindness is EVERYWHERE! Spread it with me!
If you are still reading after all of this, God Bless You.
And please – take the best of this awful situation. Cherish your family, friends, and every moment you have. Do epic shit. Be extra nice. And drive safely. And always wear sunscreen.
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