Monthly Archives: July 2016

the report

So far I’ve been reluctant to put up anything like progress reports on my efforts to understand what happened in Baton Rouge on the evening of November 14, 2015. Many people have asked me what I want. I’ve always felt, and I still do, that revenge is not the path to follow. Zach is dead & nothing can change that most important fact.

I am unhappy with almost everything the officials of Baton Rouge did – or more precisely didn’t do – in their investigation. Their conclusion that Zach was at fault for entering the street when he shouldn’t have makes me want to scream. Seemingly, everything hinges on the fact that Zach’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) was measured at 0.125%. The driver had a BAC of 0 so he’s absolved, goes the narrative. Never mind that he was rat racing another guy to be first past the merge. He got a speeding ticket, BFD.

This subject did come up last weekend, at the breakfast in Grass Valley. Emily spoke very clearly about similar incidents that had come to the attention of she and Zach. She said Zach was willing to see all sides and was generally forgiving of the one most of us would see as the transgressor. Ashley echoed my feelings when she said that she thought the driver should be punished with something more than just a speeding ticket. I asked her specifically what & she said, ‘Prison time.’

Nancy & I both looked into civil suits. She wanted me to join with her but I declined. I consulted another lawyer who eventually got back to me and said the insurance was ‘only’ $15,000 & I would have to share that with my ex-wife. So evidently their M.O. is to jack up the insurance company. They’re not interested in real questions of responsibility.

I consulted yet another lawyer and said I would pay up front to have my questions answered. He sent me to an accident reconstruction specialist who essentially declined to take the job for a variety of technical reasons (he was at least nice enough to explain to me why). The lawyer also suggested that I contact the Baton Rouge District Attorney’s office. He said they generally very responsive to bereaved families.

So it has proven to be. I wrote a letter; they called me back. I wrote another letter because I hadn’t written down the name of the lawyer who called me; they called me back again. Both times I came away with the feeling that the lawyer in the DA’s office was sympathetic to my concerns and would make an honest effort at reviewing the investigation.

The title of this post comes from the interesting fact that the DA lawyer didn’t have a copy of the coroner ‘report’. I said I did and would send it to him, which I did this morning. I call it a ‘report’ because it is two sentences long. Reading it and trying to read the police report again gave me the impetus to write this post.


It’s interesting to read the generally upbeat tone of the last post from the perspective of a few days later. I had left the larger group to their activities and went off by myself, first (after breakfast) heading over to Zephyr Point where Nancy had had the bench installed. I suppose I was technically trespassing as I was not a guest there. No one challenged me and I did not stay long. I was well familiar with the conference center layout and went right to it.

It’s a lovely spot and a lovely bench. The day was the best that Tahoe could offer:


I drove on up the east side to Incline Village, got some lunch and headed down the hill to the Kents in Grass Valley, where I spent a good couple of hours just talking. Then to my brother Tom’s, where the foothill Woods were gathering.

That was very nice. I especially enjoyed watching the cousins play together. We stayed the night at Tom’s and got up early the next day to have breakfast with our former neighbor Patsy. Originally I wasn’t going to go since Nancy was going to be there and I didn’t want to harsh anyone’s buzz. The children prevailed upon me and in the end it was fine. We were both on our best behavior. After breakfast, Emily & Linda loaded their stuff in my car and I took them back to SF to fly home.

All that went well. I felt pretty normal most of the time; no big weepies or anything. I knew I was going to need a nap when I got home. Both nights away had been really short. So the three hour nap Sunday afternoon didn’t surprise me but going to bed again at 8:30 and sleeping to 6 am did. Then Monday morning after I did laundry, I was really tired again and had to lay down some more. I had driven 625 miles by myself from Friday at noon to Sunday at noon with a total of 8 hours sleep.

Jeremy was coming back from Grass Valley and Teresa had a big dinner planned but I was logy the whole afternoon. Finally after they called to say they were there at Teresa’s, I walked over without enthusiasm.

Before I even got in the front door, I was hit with a 3 1/2 year old lightning bolt named Rosalie who doesn’t do sadness. So that was good. We had a wonderful evening. Rosalie wanted to go to the beach and Ashley wanted to go to the pier to look for whales again. Luckily, there is beach near the pier. The whales were still putting on a show and Rosalie played in the sand and watched the birds and fisherfolk. Then we came back and ate and visited some more.

The next morning we saw the Georgia folks off to the airport from Teresa’s. Jane took them in her van. We got one last photo then I headed home for more laundry and cleaning up. Nancy had wanted the oak box that held Zach’s ashes for these last few months so it was gone.


I put Hobbes in my bedroom next to Poochie and took the dead flowers out to Rose’s little Zach garden and laid them there.

IMG_8361 IMG_8364

I don’t feel sadness so much as I’m just really tired. I’m going back to work today so we’ll see how that goes. I had agreed to work on Friday which would have made four straight long days working. The thought of that was making me weak so I bailed out of that one. Hopefully I can keep it together for today and tomorrow and recover on Friday.


dawn over Emerald Bay

I made it to the spot where Eagle Creek flows under the road and leaps over the cliff about a minute before local dawn on Saturday. I took a picture that is crappy but it shows the sun just peeping over the mountains on the east side of the lake.


One person was already there: a real photographer with his camera on a tripos capturing the serene scene. We said hello to each other but otherwise went about our own business. It was a few minutes before 6. The rest of our group wasn’t due until 7 so I just looked around a bit & drank in the silence and beauty and snapped a couple of photos of my own. A couple of kayakers were out on the bay. (Those two little dots are kayakers.)


Presently a large van pulled up and disgorged about a dozen teenagers who came down to where I was and started hooting and hollering and throwing rocks and things. I went back up to the road. I hoped they would get tired before Jeremy got there & luckily by that time they were just leaving. Another group came and went so when Nancy & Linda arrived about 10 til we were completely alone. Sarah then picked up the bag with the jars and we all went down the steps to the creek and falls. We each selected a jar and went to commune with Zach’s remains one last time.

I had somehow gotten the idea that the ashes would float at least a little so I went to the pool and tipped a little in. To my horror, the ashes didn’t float at all. They went straight to the bottom of that lovely pool and made a big gray stain on the rocks under the still water. Of course I could feel Zach laughing at me for my foolishness.

So then I went to the end of the pool where the water starts to rush over the rocks preparatory to going over the falls and put a little more in. This time the bulk of the ash was swept away immediately but there were little solid bits (bone?) that caught in the crevices in the rocks and stared back at me as if to say, ‘Now what, big boy?’

I picked the frothiest part of the rapids where the bottom couldn’t be seen and poured all the rest in. It’s like jumping off the cliff, I said to Zach. All at once or not at all.

Sarah came over and helped me sweep the worst of the stain into the running water but the little bits in the crevices were obstinate so we let them be.



Jeremy, Ashley, Rosalie & Emily all arrived safely in the Bay Area yesterday and we had a lovely day. At this moment, they are in Santa Clara preparing for their drive to Lake Tahoe.

That’s the short version. Now for a longer version.

Sarah came and stayed with me Wednesday night. Jeremy’s family arrived at SFO about 9:30 and Sarah went to pick them up. They got to the apartment & had been there less than 15 minutes when I got the text from Emily that she had landed. Ashley went with me to pick her up at the airport. It was Emily’s first time in California. The San Francisco fog was doing its summer thing: sunny and warm, if a little breezy, at the airport, cool and cloudy at the coast. I was amused to see all the Easterners in T-shirts and shorts. They were amused to see me in my long-sleeved shirt and jeans.

After some lunch, we headed out to Devil’s Slide trail and Zach’s rock. We were joined there by Teresa and Paul, and Joe and the boys. Jane was already in Santa Clara preparing.

It developed that Zach’s rock was less interesting than whales. What I hadn’t realized was that Joe had guaranteed Ashley a whale sighting and she was determined to hold him to it. Although we could see a couple of whale watching boats not far offshore, we saw no whale activity.


After 20 minutes or so of that, Joe got in his car and went down to Half Moon Bay where he spotted some and called us. There we hit the jackpot. First it was just seeing the back of the whale coming up for air but then suddenly one came charging up out of the water with its mouth wide open all only about 100 yards from where we were standing. Jeremy described Ashley as ‘like a 12 year old at a Justin Bieber concert.’ I have to admit it was spectacular. Joe said they were California Grays.

In the course of about 45 minutes of watching, we saw the breaching several more times. I was not quick or lucky enough to get a good picture. This picture gives you an idea of how close they were. About where the guy on the paddle board is.


After that, everyone headed down to Santa Clara to Mom & Dad’s. Rosalie went over to the park and played in the sand with Sarah.


Jane’s visit

My sister Jane had been saying for some weeks that she wanted to visit Zach at my house before we all took his ashes away. I called her yesterday morning to remind her that time was getting short and she was able to stop by later in the day.

Earlier, I had offered up several options for her visit, thinking that she would want private time but in the event she and I just talked. We didn’t talk a lot about Zach per se, as one might at a wake, but more about our reactions to his death and the arc of our griefs. She cried a little but I was strangely calm. I was able to talk about how I had cried so much in the early days and then as time passed I cried less but then I felt that not crying was to somehow invalidate the grief. I’ve learned that grief has no time line nor is there any formula for it. When I’ve cried recently it has been triggered by some random thing not directly related to Zach. I told her about the Bereavement Support Group I have been going to and said that it was open to her as well if she wanted.

We talked about souls and what they might be really. What is the difference between a living person and his earthly remains, be it a body or a box full of ashes or a headstone somewhere? My contention is that the things that Zach touched and were part of his life – his clothes, his books, his computer, his phone, etc. – are just as much Zach as his ashes. His ‘soul’ is his memory within those who are still living and all of those things contribute to his memory.

Jane saw a picture I had of our beloved Uncle Bob who died in 1999. She commented that there really were very few family members who had died in her adult lifetime and she didn’t know how to react. We’ve had Aunts & Uncles die in the last 10 years ago but they were in other states and we weren’t close. None of us kids went to the funerals. Our grandparents have been dead for more than 20 years and they all lived far away. I remember thinking something similar years ago: that I’ve lived a charmed life and no one really close to me has died. It’s not really true; I’ve lost colleagues, some to age, some to suicide, some to AIDS, but no one I was really close to personally. I’ve been to some funerals now.

Here’s the picture of Uncle Bob with Teresa:

Teresa and Uncle Bob

Zach’s ashes

Zach’s ashes have been at my house since I came back from Louisiana. They rest on a table in my living room. I’ve placed his Hobbes doll next to him along with the Rubik’s Cube that he was so good at. One of the flower arrangements that came in December dried out kind of nicely so I’ve kept it there too.

Here’s a photo: IMG_7814

Next week it will all change. Sarah is coming Wednesday night & we will take the ashes and distribute them into 6 small Mason jars. These we will carry with us up to Lake Tahoe where on Saturday morning we will each – 6 of us now – take a jar and place his remains back into the earth there.

After months of avoidance, everyone is finally talking seriously about the little details of this event. I expect to have a post about it next week. Here’s a picture I took back in March of the spot we will most likely be at: Eagle Creek Falls just above Emerald Bay.

IMG_7881 cropped


The Laura Nyro song ‘And When I Die’ came up on my rotation the other day. Her version is so poignant because she died before her time. (I thought she was younger, but she was almost 50 when she died in 1997.)

For some reason I thought of Ally and Noah when I heard it. I was driving and my first thought was to send it to her but later I thought it might be more appropriate here. Noah’s last name will never appear in this forum so all I will say is that he is Zach’s natural child, Ally is the mother – a remarkable woman – and he now has the last name of his Dad, Ally’s husband and a remarkable man. Zach cooperated with Noah’s adoption by them in 2014.

Zach had not told anyone in his family of Noah’s existence for reasons that I can only speculate on. His discovery by us is a story for another time. As you might imagine, it was quite a shock coming only a few days after the shock of Zach’s death. It was only due to Ally’s quiet determination for Noah to know his blood relatives that I was able to finally come to accept the fact – as quite a few people said to me -that we have a little part of Zach still on this earth.

Which brings me to the lyric that hit me between the eyes: ‘And when I die, And when I’m dead and gone, There’ll be one child born, And a world to carry on, carry on.’

I met Noah at a celebration a week after Zach died but I was so wrecked I wasn’t very coherent. After some weeks passed, I was able to write him a letter (on paper, and put in the mail!) and we have developed a relationship that way. Someday I will meet him in person again.

Here’s the whole lyric, copied from Laura Nyro’s web site

I’m not scared of dyin’
And I don’t really care
If it’s peace you find in dyin’
Well then let the time be near
Just bundle up my coffin
‘Cause its cold way down there
And when I die
And when I’m gone
There’ll be one child born
And a world to carry on

My troubles are many
They’re deep as a well
I swear there ain’t no heaven
And I pray there ain’t no hell
But I’ll never know by livin’
Only my dyin’ will tell
And when I die
And when I’m gone
There’ll be one child born
And a world to carry on

Give me my freedom
For as long as I be
All I ask of livin’
Is to have no chains on me
All I ask of livin’
Is to have no chains on me
And all I ask of dyin’
Is to go naturally
And when I die
And when I’m gone
There’ll be one child born
And a world to carry on