“Best selling author, Jeffrey Zaslow, who wrote best-sellers such as The Last Lecture about a professor dying of pancreatic cancer and a recent book on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ recovery was killed February 10th in a car accident. Mr. Zaslow, 53, is survived by his wife and three daughters.”
Soon after our daughter Erin was born in 1998, my wife, Patricia Brennan Zuba, left her media relations position with United Charities and launched Bish Communications, her Oak Park-based public relations firm,. To serve her clients well, Trici inhaled all things Chicago-media. Jeff Zaslow was Chicago media. Together, Trici and I watched Jeff’s creation of his “All That Zazz” advice column. For awhile there, he seemed to be everywhere. Then Trici died in 1999 and I checked out for awhile, as one does when one’s spouse dies suddenly at the age of 43 and your 3-year-old and 7-year-old sons are staring at you with a “What now, Daddy?” look on their face.
My “relationship” with Jeff resurfaced years later, though, when I, and about 10,000,000 other human beings across the planet were swept away by the juggernaut called “The Last Lecture.”
My back-burner plan, which got temporarily kinda moved to an almost front burner a few times was to contact Jeff with one of my book proposals. I wanted to tell the other side of Randy Pausch’s story. The one about the man whose daughter, and wife, and son die. And he lives. The one about the guy “left behind” by those he loves most.
I actually hate those two words, though. “Left behind.” I’ve come to believe that they are not true. But they are the words of our culture. Many (most?) of us feel left behind by the people we love who die. We believe there is a great divide and if we do indeed exist, in some form after we die, we exist in a far-away place. We believe there is no communication between this world and the next.
On page 13 of The Last Lecture, Randy says (with Jeff’s help), “As for me, through the accident of cancer I’d be leaving three children to grow up without my love.” He goes on to say on page 25, “Although my children will have a loving mother who I know will guide them through life brilliantly, they will not have their father. I’ve accepted that, but it does hurt.”
How could those beliefs not hurt?
I wish I could have talked to Randy while he was alive. I wanted to talk to Jeff. To ask him to question and examine some of the beliefs we unconsciously inhale about life, and death, and what happens to us after we die. Beliefs like “through the accident of cancer,” and “I’d be leaving three children to grow up without my love,” and “they will not have their father.”
The death of someone we love gives us the opportunity to ask and answer what I consider to be life’s fundamental questions. Questions like ~ Is there a God? If so, what is he/she/they/it? What role did that God play in my loved one’s death? In Randy’s death? In Jeff’s death? Does the person I love, who has died, still exist? If so, where are they? Is there a heaven? Where is it? Are the people I love that have died still aware of me? Can they communicate with me? Can I communicate with them? And what about prayer? We prayed for a miracle.
So for today…
Do Randy Pausch, and now Jeffrey Zaslow still exist? If so, where are they? Are they somehow, someway aware of me, of their spouses, of their children, their family and friends? Can they communicate with us? Us with them? With Jeff? And even Randy?
And what about God? Where was he/she/it during Randy’s final dies? So many worldwide prayed for a cure. And couldn’t God have reached down and either slowed down Randy’s car a bit, or redirected that semi? A semi? Where’s the justice in that? Jeff, like Randy, was one of the good guys. A wife he loved. Kids he adored.
Where was God in all that?
I wanted to talk to Jeff. I wanted to share what I thought/think “The Next Lecture” might be. From the man who’s still here. Me.
Tom Zuba 2012