Tag Archives: grief


I’m never quite sure how to handle writing about other people in these days of identity stealing. I’m following my general rule of no last names. Hal is a colleague of mine and a friend. He’s been the primary SF Symphony sound man since Davies Hall opened in 1980. I had worked on his crew for Symphony Pops at the Civic Auditorium in the late ’80s as well as some other jobs around town. When I came back to San Francisco ten years ago and got sent to a call at Davies, it was good to see him again.

In 2012, my involvement with the Symphony grew and I found myself working with Hal much more. Our birthdays are only about a week apart and our professional paths have some similarities. Neither of us had family or neighborhood contacts to help us get started in the business. We were driven by an intense interest in sound reinforcement and became successful by determination and hard work.

Our experiences coming of age in the ’60s was another commonality. The San Francisco music scene then was world class. We’ve had a lot of fun in the last few years talking about arcana from those days. He grew up in the City and I was on the Peninsula so he had more opportunity to see the various venues but I knew the names of who was in the bands, what instruments they played, and on what albums.

My first day back at work after Zach died was helping to put in the PA at Davies for Hal. (That was before we got the permanent one we have now.) When I asked to leave early he defended me to others who did not understand my grief as well. Over the next few months he showed me constant compassion and understanding for my grief.

After Sepi agreed to marry me, I started to think about the wedding and realized I needed a best man. Hal was an easy choice and he did not hesitate to say yes.

Last week I talked to him about some details of the wedding day and he told me he would take care of them because that was part of the deal. My nature is not to ask for help but, as he did before, he stepped up because he knew it was the right thing to do.

As of a couple of weeks ago, Jeremy was able to get his work to release him so he will be standing with me as well but Hal is still the best man. Sarah will be up there too. I am proud to be supported by such fine people.


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 looked at my birthday calendar this morning and I noticed that it’s been a year since my cousin Franz died. It was actually the anniversary last week but I didn’t note it then.

I’ve been better (if you want to call it that) about anniversaries lately. I’ve made it through quite a few 14th’s of the month now without getting all knotted up about Zach. The sorrow comes at odd places and times now. Odd in the sense that they are not predictable. Sunday I was in my car on the way down to Santa Clara when I just started weeping. There was no obvious trigger; I was just missing Zach.

Today Jeremy sent me a detailed itinerary of his and Ashley’s move in June. Seeing in glorious detail their plans for finding a place to live and jobs while also being concerned about places my sister Jane’s family can take Rosalie for fun brought on the waterworks again. It’s the kind of gutsy move you don’t see often. I am so full of admiration for them.

My thinking about Franz recently has mostly been about looking forward to visiting Germany this summer. I will be paying my respects to his mother – turning 100 in August! – his brother and sister, and his grave. Two men gone too soon.

Bereavement group

I went to the South City bereavement group yesterday. I had gone quite a bit last year but fell away from it last fall. The regular facilitator, Tracie, wasn’t there which disappointed me. I felt she was a big reason why the group was successful. I remembered about half of the people there from before. One woman whose 15 year old son jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge was approaching the second anniversary. Everyone else had lost a parent or partner to age or illness.

I guess I was in a manic phase, because when it my turn to speak, after narrating the bald facts of Zach’s death, I spoke about Rosalie and her positive approach to life. At no point was I near tears as many others were when telling their story.

It struck me that some who were long time attendees were perhaps thinking too much about the past and not enough about the future. It sounds cold but I am only speaking in relation to me. Their grief is theirs and it is not for me to prescribe their reaction to it.

Anyway, I think I will probably never return to that group. It was important to me for a while and I fully respect what they are doing. Indeed, in my talks with two new therapists in the last week, I credited the group with some key insights. In fact, I mentioned that to the group as well yesterday. The idea that we have to reinvent ourselves after a death was one I got from them. I would even go so far as to say that’s a key concept behind this blog.

Speaking of therapy, I had my last session with Dr Perry and my first with J, the MFT, this week. Maybe my manic phase was due to my three therapy appointments hard upon one another. It nice to have someone listen to you! I’ll give J another session or two before deciding whether to continue. I didn’t get the instant comfort level that I did with Dr Perry but the circumstances are different now. She is young but treated me seriously. At one point she made reference to her own depression so there may be depths there that I haven’t seen yet.

(I’ve never been sure about the issue of identifying people in this blog. In general I’ve stayed away from last names in case somebody is looking through these posts for identification clues. I don’t ask anyone if they object to my writing about them. I guess if you do, you have to tell me. I strive to be respectful but I will always be honest.)

grief cues

The weirdest things snag me sometimes. Some music came up on my rotation and even though I didn’t recognize it, something told me before I even looked that it had something to do with Zach.

He was a big fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie music. That’s what it was.


My sister wrote me an email today with a quote in it from a book she’s been reading. She said it made her think of me ‘and others close to me that have lost loved ones’.

She stood quite still. Late people do not altogether leave us, she thought; they are still with us in memories such as that, wherever we are, no matter what time of day it was or how we were feeling, they were there, still shining the light of their love upon us.

     — Alexander McCall Smith  in The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine


I believe my sister is without guile. She loves me and I love her unconditionally. So it troubled me that this quote does not move me. It has troubled me that most of my family does not seem to be affected by the death of Zach. This of course is grossly unfair. They did not see me weeping, as I did a few minutes ago, alone in my apartment. How do I know they do not grieve similarly? And what right do I have to determine how they, or anyone else, grieves Zach?

Well I wanted to write a response that is respectful of her feelings yet also representative of mine so I thought of the Ursula LeGuin book The Lathe of Heaven. It has quotes at the beginning of each chapter that have to do with time and permanence. Actually it was this book that began my interest in Chinese philosophy, in particular the writing of Chuang Tzu.

Sadly, no quotes seemed appropriate for my goal. Thumbing through the book, however, I remembered the story of the man who dreamed changes in the world. He has a wife he loves but loses her in the dream changes. At the end he finds her again and when I read that I started crying.

It’s a book I’ve kept in my library for years through many winnowings, partly through sentiment because of the introduction it provided to what is now my core philosophy. It’s a good book, not a great one. Arguably it’s a sentimental ending.

So why cry over the ending? It made me think of the last time I cried like that. A couple of weeks ago, the promo track for the Broadway show ‘Jersey Boys’ came up on my MP3 player in the car. It has snippets of the hits from the ’60s by the Four Seasons. Good, not great, I suppose, would apply as well. But there I was, driving on the freeway, crying my eyes out.

Zach had no connection that I know about to either the book or the tunes. I wasn’t thinking of Zach before I started crying. Thus the mystery of grief.

To go back to Teresa’s quote, I do not have any feelings of Zach watching over me. Indeed, one of the confusing things about the last couple of months has been a lack of feeling of Zach as presence. I’ve set aside his phone and ipad and given up on converting his texts. With one exception I haven’t read in his journals for quite a while now. I suppose you could call my arrangement on my dresser a kind of a shrine. (See the post ‘reaction’ at http://thezachproject.us/index.php/2016/07/20/reaction/ for a picture.) I do look at that every day and sometimes I just can’t connect to the idea of Zach as a living person. It puzzles me and perhaps that is contributing to my depressed state.

Here is a bit of Chuang Tzu via Thomas Merton’s ‘The Way of Chuang Tzu’:

“The Master came at the right time
Into the world. When his time was up,
He left it again.
He who awaits his time, who submits
When his work is done,
In his life there is no room
For sorrow and rejoicing.
Here is how the ancients said all this
In four words:
‘God cuts the thread.’

“We have seen a fire of sticks
Burn out. The fire now
Burns in some other place. Where?
Who knows? These brands are burnt out.”

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

Cubby’s grief; my grief

I called Cubby today & talked to him on the phone. I’ve been trying to work up the courage to do that ever since his wife died on Easter Sunday morning. I sent him a text that morning but every time since when I thought I had a few minutes to call him I found a way to not do it.

I called him earlier in the year when Ronata took a turn for the worse. I had to leave a message and I almost couldn’t get any coherent words out. He’d been struggling with her being seriously ill since her stroke in 2010 & the thought of another death close to me knotted me up completely.

Cubby told me he had to quit his job at the union because he was basically going crazy. He had thought it would be better for him to go back to work but it wasn’t. Now he’s on partial disability while he tries to make sense of his life. He’s in therapy as I am. I told him about the Bereavement Support Group that Kaiser sponsors that has been very helpful to me. He said he would check out their East Bay schedule.

For those who don’t know, the night Zach was killed I was mixing audio for a show at the Herbst and had turned my phone off. Jeremy was frantically trying to reach me and all he could think of was that he had Cubby’s phone number from 3 1/2 years ago when he came out to work out of the hall for a couple of weeks during the busy season. Cubby called Stacey, who was stage managing that night & got her to have me turn my phone on. Cubby told me to call Jeremy immediately. I knew it was bad but I thought something had happened to Rosalie. Never in a million years would I have guessed what actually did happen.

After I talked to Jeremy and started putting the show stuff in order so I could leave – in a daze, thank you Stacey & Smitty –  I talked to Cubby again about some other jobs I had scheduled for the next two days.. He told me very forcefully that I needed to get with my family and not worry – indeed, not to even think about – any work issues. He said over and over, ‘Whatever you need, I’ll be there for you.’ And I knew he wasn’t bullshitting because he doesn’t bullshit. He stuck with me on the phone as I was driving to Teresa’s.

So we’re talking today about grief and how it manifests – mostly crying jags. I told him I had been pretty good for several weeks but yesterday out of nowhere I started sobbing and couldn’t stop for about ten minutes. He said yeah that’s weird, the same thing happened to him about the same time.

There’s a lot more to the story of that awful night but for now all I want to do is say I talked to Cubby today & I didn’t start bawling. I guess that’s good.