A life cut short
Zachary, the bright, sweet blue-eyed blond child who was my daughter’s best friend when they were both three years old, died suddenly last Thursday at the age of thirty-nine. He left a wife and much-loved young daughter and outlived an infant son. During his golden childhood, we were all charmed by his intelligence, creativity, and outgoing personality. He became a highly regarded firefighter. One of his first jobs was rescuing people during the horrifying aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. After several years, post-traumatic stress syndrome, exacerbated by the loss of his infant son, sidelined him. He subsequently earned a degree in business and became a successful manager, but Zak’s heart was not in the business world. His final success came as a stand-up comic who was becoming well-known. His associates, stunned by his death, praised his many abilities and kindness. He was everyone’s best friend.
When Zak and Psyche were three, his mother, Susan, and I decided to take the two on a week-long trip to Hawaii. We must have been slightly nuts, but despite some wild moments, it was a fabulous holiday. The two children laughed, talked nonsense, and sang nonstop (when they didn’t fall asleep) in their side-by-side car seats while Susan and I took turns driving and finding our way around Oahu. The kids didn’t squabble, and we two moms got along pretty well, too, despite having different travel styles. Susan always laughed that she packed snacks of Chips Ahoy cookies, Lifesavers, and chocolates, while I carried bags of carrot and celery sticks.
We were undoubtedly somewhat distracted as we walked through Waikiki when suddenly, both children disappeared. We discovered Psyche streaking off to explore something that caught her interest and Zachary talking to people. Their behavior reflected their personalities: Psyche, the explorer, and Zak, the conversationalist and a people person.
When the audience was invited to join hula dancers on a stage, Zachary ran up, wearing his bright red lava lava and lei, dragging his mother along. His theatrical inclinations were already evident. Psyche, on the other hand, was too shy to dance, so I didn’t get to hula. Eventually, on our last evening in Honolulu, Zak prevailed upon her to dance with him on the outdoor stage in the moonlight at the elegant Halekulani Hotel. Afterward, they both said, “Now we’re married.”
When Zak and Psyche were four, our family left to live in Australia for a year. Unfortunately, in those pre-vaccination days, Psyche came down with chicken pox just before we left. We separated her from almost everyone who gathered in the park across from our house for a goodbye picnic. But Zak insisted he would still love Psyche and wanted to see her, even if she had spots on her face and he might come down with chicken pox himself, but when he saw her, he said, “Euuw!” and didn’t get closer.
Zachary and Psyche stayed in touch intermittently during their busy adult lives in far-flung locations. Although we don’t see each other often, Susan and I have remained close, sharing our concerns about our children and grandchildren and the losses and joys in our lives. Now we are joined in the grief of a life cut short.