Franz Hangauer was my cousin. The story of how we met is very cool, but for another day. When I went to Holland to visit Sarah in January 2013, we went on the train to Franz’ brother Wilfried’s house in Rastatt.

To get to Rastatt from Amsterdam, we took an InterCity train to Frankfurt, then transferred to a local for Baden Baden, where Wilfried was to meet us. I knew Franz was coming and that he lived in Mainz, which was on the way for the train, but I didn’t expect at all what happened.

Franz knew our schedule, boarded our train in Mainz, started at the front and walked through the train until he found us. I was slumped in my seat next to Sarah, just waiting for the train ride to end, when I heard a voice say, ‘Hello, Chris!’

I stared at the speaker and my first thought was ‘Johannes has come back to life.’ Johannes was Franz’ father. I hadn’t seen Franz in 30 years so naturally he looked older and not surprisingly he looked like his father.

Once I came to my senses we had a happy reunion and continued on to Wilfried’s in high spirits. We spent a day and a half there filled with gemutlichkeit.

It was to be the last time I saw him. Franz died of a sudden heart attack on April 7 of this year.

But not the last time I spoke to him. He had been in the habit, over the years, of calling periodically. Not often, maybe once every couple of years.

He was one of the very few that called me after Zach’s death, though. Our conversation was strained, as were all my conversations in those days, but I heard the emotion and sympathy in his voice and I loved him for it.

I wrote a note to Wilfried & Marlies, his brother and sister, afterwards and recently got a card back with a Thornton Wilder quote on it. It took a minute or two to realize that the quote was originally written in English so I looked it up. Here it is:

There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

Rest in Peace, Franz Anton Hangauer 1957-2016

Father’s Day

Since this page is a confessional, I’m going to confess: I don’t think I’ll call my father today. Some of the reasons are in the previous post, but also it’s the knowledge that Dad called this a ‘Hallmark holiday’. That is, a fake holiday ginned up to sell stuff. I know, that’s what made America great, but I’m hoping we can find another paradigm.

When we were kids and Father’s Day rolled around, we would ask him, ‘Why isn’t there a Children’s Day?’ He would always reply, eyes twinkling, ‘Every day is Children’s Day.’ And it was for him. He loved us unconditionally, every day.

For me, every day is Father’s Day. He’s a treasure & I value him every day.

Besides, Dad doesn’t do too well on the phone these days and I’m going down to visit him tomorrow. That’ll have to do.

Mom & Dad

When I moved back to the Bay Area in 2010, I naturally visited Mom & Dad more but I didn’t think too much about it. I went when I had time but I didn’t make time for it.

Until one day. The day was nothing special; we might have watched golf on TV. We didn’t talk about anything heavy or important. But as I was leaving, they were effusive in how nice it had been for them to have had me there. It hit me like a ton of bricks: they’re your parents! They worked hard and raised you and allowed you to become who you are. And they’re in their 80s and aren’t going to last forever. Many of my friends my age have lost one or both of their parents – I need to treasure them!

So I made vow to visit them more frequently, which I have largely done. If two weeks pass without my getting down to Santa Clara it’s unusual. I’ve helped them with some things but mostly I just hang out with them. In fact, a common pattern for a visit is arrive for lunch, eat lunch, sit around and talk, take a nap, eat dinner, go home. Pretty sweet for me!

This past week I went down for the specific reason of meeting the Kaiser nurse who had given Dad a memory test. She had done the same test on him 4 years ago and now wanted to meet with another family member (besides Mom). As it happened, Mom had a bad cold & couldn’t go to the meeting so it was just Dad & me with Elaine the nurse & Grace the social worker.

They delivered the news: Alzheimers. It felt like they said Cancer. As in a death sentence. However, they said the disease is slow moving and Dad could still be happy for a long time. We discussed a lot of things and they gave me a huge packet of stuff to take back. At home, Mom wanted to know the bottom line, which I had trouble saying, but when I finally did she didn’t seem surprised.

Nothing is changed, really. He’s not going to take any drugs; he’s not going to die in a month. We, the family, are all determined to do what we can to keep him engaged and active and in his own home.

My own insight was in being there for two days with Mom being sick, I learned how much she does to keep things running. I couldn’t just sit back and wait for dinner to appear! I had to acknowledge that although she is in generally good health she is only a year younger than Dad and shouldn’t have to bear so much burden.

This story will be continued . . . .


For a while the 14th of each month was a major anniversary for me. I thought about Zach every day but on the anniversary I wanted others to think of him too. At first it was posts on FaceBook: for those first two months, FaceBook was fantastic. We were able to disseminate information about events and other news and many people responded in a very supportive way.

Months three through five I remember posting on the 14th about issues related to Zach’s death that I thought people should be reminded of. One month I talked about bad driving practices. The driver who killed Zach was not drunk; he was just driving too fast and probably distracted. Sad to say, we all do that, so let’s all try to do less of it. Etc.

So last month I was thinking about a post but I didn’t feel preachy and I had no news I wanted to share so I skipped it. This month I have my shiny new blog!

I’m not going to say anything more, preachy or otherwise. I’m just noting that the really sharp pain that had characterized the 14th of each month has subsided into the general pain. And this blog is my long term response to that.


I got a haircut yesterday.

Why is this news? Because it’s only the second haircut I’ve gotten since Zach was killed. That’s seven months for those of you scoring at home. And in the 25 or 30 years previous to this one, every two months was the rule for haircuts. A flexible rule, to be sure, but the common assumption was that short hair was easier to care for and I just didn’t want to be bothered.

True enough but things are different now. Indeed, it was in talking to Sarah just last week that I finally was able to articulate why I wanted my hair longer now. Sarah seemed particularly scandalized when she first saw me with it long. It took me a while before I realized that she had never seen me with long hair. She’s 31 years old.

Anyway, it seemed weird to me that I would commemorate Zach by growing my hair long. Zach always had his hair neatly trimmed – what’s the deal?

I told Sarah that I wanted people to know that I was different now. And that made sense to me. So that’s what it is.

Are people looking at me and thinking about that? Maybe, but most likely not, although a few who read this might start to. Whatever. It’s just for me. Several people have commented that I look nicer with longer hair. OK, but that’s not why I started to let it go. It was to mark the discontinuity in my life.

why not .com?

When I started this whole thing through WordPress, they suggested I use .com for my website domain. I was surprised to find was taken so rather than have .org or .net, I thought .us would work best. I’m sure it’s meant to represent the United States, but I prefer to think that it indicates a spirit of inclusiveness.

I wouldn’t mind if this becomes a place where those of us who loved Zach can remember him & carry on in his spirit to do great things. As Clark Ewing said, ‘Let’s pick up the slack for Zach!’

(BTW, I went to & found no web site there so I guess someone bought the name and never published anything. I’m already used to the .us, though.)


I don’t know who first started calling Zach by the nickname ‘Z’ – it was probably a Ewing, as they are much better at nicknames than the Woods – but it became one I really liked. As Zach moved through middle school & into high school, none of his friends used it while the family, especially his mother and me, used it often, usually in an affectionate way. It was our family nickname for him & no one else used it.

I believe it was at Thanksgiving in Santa Clara, where the Woods traditionally gathered, in the days after Zach’s death that my sister Mary showed up with a ‘Z’ that looked like one of those European country designators: a letter or letters, black on white, within an oval stuck to the back of your car. Mary had gotten a few of these Z’s printed on magnetic paper and she suggested that we put them on our cars to remember Zach.

Here it is:
Small Z single

I thought it was a great idea and put one on my car immediately. Unfortunately, the magnetism on the paper was not enough to withstand the rigors of modern driving and the Z soon fell off. I scoured the local craft shops for better magnetic paper without success. Mary’s original Z’s were rather large, as befits a sign on a car. Once I realized that smaller ones could be just as effective with easily obtainable magnetic paper, I took to my trusty InDesign to make more of them. I made two sizes and put them in the thank you notes I wrote and gave to friends, suggesting that they put them on their refrigerators, or other metal surfaces in their homes to commemorate Zach. I’ve put several in inconspicuous spots backstage at Davies Hall & they never fail to give my heart a little flutter when I see them.

Eagle-eyed readers of this blog will notice that the header of this page features a ‘Z’.

Here are links to the two sizes if anyone cares to make their own:

Large Zs

Small Zs

First post

Well, it’s not as simple as they would have you believe, but it’s working now. Sort of. It’s going to take a while to come up with a layout that pleases me so if anyone sees this in the next couple of weeks, forgive me. It’s a work in progress!

After months of thinking about this, the name ‘The Zach Project’ came to me today along with the certainty that now was the time. I have access to Zach’s journals so my hope is to publish excerpts from them from time to time but the focus will be on my reaction to the loss of Zach.