Tag Archives: The Compassionate Friends


Lots to say, but little of it organized. I got my monthly email from The Compassionate Friends today. Their monthly meeting is tomorrow night. This week is SoundBox so it is not practical to fight rush hour traffic to go down to Santa Clara then come back to work the next morning. I went and looked back at what I’ve written about The Compassionate Friends before and I think it’s pretty good. While my need for grief support has lessened in the last year, I haven’t yet achieved the strength to attend with the rationale of supporting others.

I have a phone consultation this morning with a person from TIAA. Mom and Dad’s retirement funds are with TIAA and I’ve been trying to understand how they all work. With my own retirement looming, I’ve been more motivated to do this.

I spent some time last week looking over my own funds. My broker says they should be balanced in a certain way, different from how they’re balanced now. Should I make changes? Precisely how and when get very confusing very quickly. Is the stock market a bubble that will pop soon? Aiee!

Speaking of SoundBox and retirement, I’ve found myself thinking in the last couple of weeks about giving up SoundBox. I never thought I’d feel that way. Being involved in the SoundBox shows in the last 3+ years has been a thrilling experience. I’ve been stretched physically and intellectually in ways that are really good for a man in his 60s, but I find that my interest is turning to other things. My friend Denise has – at my request – taken on the lead position for this months’ show and has shown that SoundBox audio is in good hands.

Having said all that, I’m not walking away. Denise and I will talk later in the week about who will do what for the April set. Funding for SoundBox is rather precarious so no one knows if there will be shows again starting in December. (Remember that the space is in use by the Opera from May through November so there is only the five month window every year anyway.) Symphony management has a lot on their plate, not least of which is the upcoming retirement of Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas. Planning for SoundBox is a bit further down the list.

Sarah’s quartet had a concert last Saturday night. The Symphony generously allowed me to borrow a few items from their sound inventory to support their performance of Steve Reich’s Different Trains. I found myself worrying about technical things during the performance so I couldn’t relax into the music. The first half of the program, though, I found very moving, with narration about the composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s visit to Dresden after World War II.

The venue was The Hillside Club in Berkeley. I had been there before but hadn’t had the reason to work with the staff. Bruce and Araceli turned out to be very nice folks. I’m going to try to go back for some different concerts.

Tonight is jazz band. The confusion that bothered me last semester has been resolved and I’m having fun again. I’m still sharing bass duties with Steve M. who is good people. It’s a completely different head space compared to playing guitar. Guitar can be looser in big band so that’s a little more fun, but bass drives the bus and there’s nothing else like it. I have to concentrate more but that’s ok.

Next week Mom and Dad will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. Mom was talking the other day about doing something special but I haven’t heard any details. I’m planning to be down there.

that awful night

‘That awful night’ has been my code phrase for the night two years ago when Zach was killed. I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the last couple of months. Actually, not about the night itself, but the anniversary of it. I’ve been thinking that while I certainly won’t forget what happened on this date, I want to focus on celebrating Zach on his birthday rather than his death day.

The group I was going to in Santa Clara, Compassionate Friends, begins each monthly meeting with a reading of the names of those who died in that month. They also read the names of those who were born. I was never comfortable with that, though. I really wanted – and I still want – to focus on moving forward rather than looking back.

This blog, which began as a tribute to Zach, has become a chronicle of my activities and thoughts. Sometimes they are looking backwards, but more often they are in the moment and with a positive outlook. This, I believe, is how Zach would prefer that he be remembered. In the words of his grandfather Clark Ewing, ‘Pick up the slack for Zach.’ Do something positive, push yourself a little.

I’ve been staying since Monday in Spokane with my friends Peter and Nanci. Peter had a stroke three years ago and has limited speech ability and his right side is paralyzed. The three of us have had discussions about trauma, about change in our lives, and even some good talk about people we knew in high school. In some ways, Peter’s condition reminds me of my father’s. In both cases, their intellect is intact but the mechanism for connecting that intellect to the rest of the world doesn’t work properly. For Peter, there have been some positive signs: he can walk a little with a cane; he has been able to speak a few new words. For my father, I fear there will be no return.

For both men, those who love them have to treasure what we have and not get wrapped up in what we don’t have,

Yesterday was a good day. I helped Nanci hang some cabinets and fixed a broken door. The wind blew the hot water heater pilot out in the afternoon and I helped relight it. But we didn’t go anywhere, we just stayed near each other and talked and treasured the moments.


Yesterday the weather was cooler, but I stayed indoors most of the day. I wrote a couple of posts, one of which had to do with the bereavement group, The Compassionate Friends, that meets the first Tuesday of every month in Santa Clara.

I said it didn’t ‘hold appeal’ for me. One of the reasons is that they have a kind of a ceremony they do at the start of every meeting. They light candles and recite first the birth dates and then the death dates of those now gone for that month. When I stopped going to my original bereavement support group early this year, I felt that there was too much emphasis on sorrow and not enough on looking forward. I told my Rosalie story to them . . .

( I just went and looked. I was sure I had posted my Rosalie story but I can’t find it. Essentially, it’s the fact that she knows about Zach and what happened but she doesn’t let it interfere with the business of living life to the fullest.)

. . . and it didn’t seem to have any effect. Well, why should it? Perhaps I should have given it more time, Perhaps grieving is different for everyone and that’s not their style.

At The Compassionate Friends, I found a group that fit my mindset a little better. Their stories were all stark, like mine, of lives ended before their potential could be reached.

But the dates thing has bugged me. So far, neither of Zach’s dates have come up but I’ve found myself wondering what I would do when they did. Would I skip those months? I know early on, anniversaries were important to me. Now, the loss of Zach has all settled into a kind of dull ache that flares up every so often. Plenty of things remind me of Zach without adding reminders of his death date.

On the other hand, there was a moment last spring at the Compassionate Friends when I thought I could see myself as a kind of elder who could support those whose grief was fresher. Looking ahead to my schedule for the rest of the year, all the first Tuesday evenings are impacted one way or another. I don’t think I’m invested enough to make a heroic effort to get down there. Pace Virginia and Don.

All the bereavement support groups meetings will stay on my schedule so it’s possible I will go to another one this fall.


I had a session today with a ‘Life Coach’. Linda is a person I met at the Compassionate Friends meeting. She lost her 4 year old daughter 11 years ago. I had complained to her that I was often feeling directionless especially since my therapist, Dr Perry, had left the area. I’ve tried other therapists but none seem to fit as well as Dr Perry had.

Her emphasis on looking forward rather than behind seemed to me to be a good approach. Bottom line after our long talk is that I need to decide what my goals are and whether I’m willing to work to achieve them. Her role would be to help me with that work so for the time being I’m on my own.

So, what are my goals? I said I wanted to be able to spend time with my children and grandchildren – to the extent that they would have me. I mentioned playing music; I mentioned photography; I mentioned riding my bike; I mentioned travel. When it came right down to the idea of working towards those ‘goals’, I foundered. What does that mean exactly? When I have the day off and nothing scheduled, why do I (often) do none of those things?

I told her that in my non-work life, I’ve always followed the path that interested me at the moment without regard to longer-term ‘goals’. That approach led to a bad marriage but also three fine children. How should my goals have been different? How could I, at age 25, made a life goal with any reasonable expectation of it coming to pass? The idea of doing that now is a big adjustment. I told her Zach had goals, lots of them, and now they’re ashes.

I tried to get her to give me an example of what she meant by ‘working’ on my goals but she dodged. She had already told me that until I was willing to work on my goals there was nothing she could help me with. That stung a little.

I promised her I would think seriously about goals and my relationship to them and we will talk again in a couple of months. I set up a new category here so I hope to revisit this subject often.

deaths of children

I spend my Internet time on FaceBook, like everyone else. Just kidding. After I spent about three months last year avoiding it entirely, I came around to its usefulness. I had to prune mercilessly, though. Many people who I liked in person ended up being ‘unfollowed’ after too many food pictures, cat videos and/or political rants. Ashley and her pictures and posts of Rosalie were the most important factor in resuming. Thank you, Ashley! So I have ended up checking it almost every day but the family-to-post ratio is much higher and I can usually get through new posts in fifteen minutes.

That was all later in the year, though. The first three months after Zach’s death it was invaluable. I took great comfort in the many comments of support at the time.

I like to play guitar, so a guitar site is important. I’ve spent time on TalkBass (oddly, not about guitar at all, but bass) and recently on JazzGuitar, but my favorite is still¬†TDPRI, the Telecaster forum. The Telecaster is a type of guitar, for those who don’t know, but the best discussions take place in the catch-all sub forum called The Bad Dog Cafe.

My other regular stop, especially now during the baseball season, is McCovey Chronicles, where Grant Brisbee is the best baseball writer of his generation. I believe Jeremy, who reads a much more varied diet of baseball writing, will agree with me. The crowd of regular commenters are mostly far younger than me and I have fun watching them tease each other and talk about things I don’t understand. When I started hanging around McCovey Chronicles in 2009, there was a commenter named Alex_Lewis who had a certain style and fostered a good repartee with other regulars.

One day there was a post by another regular that went in a completely different direction. Gallo del Cielo was another username that I had also become familiar with. It turned out – follow the link for the details – that he was Alex Lewis’ father and that Alex had died the night before in a sudden, tragic and senseless accident. Alex was 27.

Gallo still posts regularly on MCC with an inimitable style. Tonight he quietly noted that this day, June 5, was the date, and the day of the week even, that Alex had died 5 years ago. While I hadn’t forgotten Alex’s death, the details had receded in my memory. Surely not for Gallo.

Zach was not a contributor to MCC, nor was he a regular reader but occasionally I would send him a link to a particularly funny or trenchant post. He was of course a Giants fan. We had many good conversations started by MCC.

I mention TDPRI in this context because I have posted there a fair amount, sometimes referring to Zach’s death. In those conversations I have now ‘met’ three other men who have lost children as I have. Tomorrow night I will be going to my monthly meeting of The Compassionate Friends, which is devoted to parents who have had children die before them. We’re in an exclusive group, me and Gallo and Toto’s Dad and the others. One that all of us, I’m sure, would give anything to not be members of.

As a coda, I offer this tribute to Alex by Grant Brisbee: In Memory of Alex Lewis. The comments that follow it are filled with further tributes to the kind of man he was. They remind me of some of the things that were said about Zach that Friday in Baton Rouge and that Sunday in Jackson and that Saturday in San Francisco. Oh, my Z.