Tuesday, January 20, 2009

You captured our hearts buddy

I lost my dear friend this weekend.
Zach passed away quietly and peacefully Sunday morning.

And I am changed...yet again...in a way that is shades different than the person that I was even when Zach first stepped into my life and into my heart.

Just two weeks ago Zach's mom called me to tell me that Zach would be up at the hospital again that following day. I had a doctor's appointment and knew I might cut it close swinging by the other side of town...but felt compelled to chance it. As it would happen, this would be the day that with the help of his Mom and Dad, Zach told me he would be going to the hospice. For this fierce, determined young man who fought for so long...it might appear that this was giving in...accepting that the fight was over. But this was not the case.

He was taking control and bravely deciding how his final chapter would play out. There in that room, sitting by his bed I was feeling weak, crestfallen at hearing this news. But I couldn't show it...not when Zach was resolute. When you see strength like that...you just don't want to be the one to crack...I was just trying to follow his lead. As hard as it was to hear this...the finality of it--- Zach was facing this with the bright side immediately ready to share with me. He could "have visitors there...he could watch his videos...bring his favorite things...hang the "Lance bike" in his room."

After all, as Zach had reminded me on countless occasions his blood type was just right for him--- B positive...and that was what he had to do---be positive. It's one of many things I'm remembering now...things he said and little inside jokes...simple things he enjoyed that the rest of the world takes for granted. Like Triscuits...who lives to taste a Triscuit cracker?...Zach did and I'll never go by a box of them without smiling and thinking of him.

Zach had a sneak peak at several little goofs I made. Anyone who knows me any length of time catches on to my scatterbrained nature. I've been trying to correct it...but alas it's just here to stay. But what was so good about Zach was his ability to sweetly point the goofs out...but not broadcast them. I told him once jokingly that I only did that to make him laugh. Well, he knew the truth...

While I was driving him somewhere once I realized to my frustration that the shifter was stuck.

"Oh man! So much for this new car," I said haphazardly jerking the handle back and forth.

Without missing a beat Zach lifted a quarter out that had rolled into the shift track, thus immobilizing the shift. "Here...try it now," he said smiling. Then we both laughed...and there was no judgement. He could have thought to himself, 'geesh, this dippo---Aha, somebody's got it worse than me', but if he did he never let on. Zach lived in the moment.

Though that might have made a great story to add to his storytelling creds he never retold it for a cheap laugh. It was our little inside joke.

What I'll remember forever about Zach is that he shared his whole heart with you. From the first day I sat with him and Michael in the lobby of the 5500 floor lobby next to the candy machines...to that last visit and that very last hug, the one that would be goodbye, he didn't hide his gratitude. "Thank you" was a word that passed his lips often and without trepidation.

And as we all prepare to say goodbye this week I am thinking of one moment that sums up Zach and his determination to face the most unbearably difficult trials of his life with positivity.
The afternoon after Zach had been awarded the Lance signed bike at his local bike shop the small little group that had gathered to see him get it dispersed. I too headed out the door. But he called after me just as I passed the threshold...he ran up and stopped me. As I turned around to face him, he looked at me with a look of contentment. "Hey...do you ever sometimes think that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to you?"

Knowing the absolute sincerity with which he uttered that statement...no self pity, no desire for accolades about how brave he was...I felt a pang of truth. But it didn't settle easy. I wanted to agree without reservation...but I felt how painful and layered some heartfelt truths can be. Despite the fact that his storm had never truly subsided...and there hadn't ever been a reprive...a remission...an enticing promise of a future. Despite the fact that he struggled, he felt it made him stronger. He felt he was learning as he endured each part of the journey...his faith was no small part of that. And he also was grateful for the people that were brought into his life...people he once said he may not have ever had the honor to cross paths with in different cicrcumstances.
"The best thing?" I thought, and it hurt to even contemplate, looking at where the road was leading for him... but I knew he meant every word...that much was clear.

I nodded through tears and it almost stung to agree, looking at him in a moment I knew I would always remember for the rest of my life."Yes, Zach...sometimes I do"

So one night later when Sean Swarner, the mountain climber who'd shared friendship and his posh hotel room with Zach, echoed those very same words about his own experience----there were at least two audience members in absolute awe.
That keynote speech struck a chord. Zach turned toward me with an ear to ear smile of jubuliant recognition and gave me a wink.

I will always remember Zach DeRidder. He is alive in my heart.

I hope as you read this you'll keep him in yours.
Miss you Z-Man.
Zachary T. DeRidder July 30, 1984--January 18, 2009


Helen said...

Beautiful, Leah. Just beautiful....

Circular Logic said...

Because of you, I was able to catch a glimpse of what an amazing person Zach is. I had fun getting my friends and relatives (none of whom knew Zach) to vote for him in the LiveStrong Challenge. Many people said that they watched the video over and over. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Matthew Zachary said...


Dee said...

Thanks you for sharing such a wonderful personal view of Zach. I watched his video during the LiveStrong Challenge contest and just knew he was a special person. ( And voted for him.) My prayers go out to you and his family and friends.

Anonymous said...

awesome Leah...can feel the heart in this one.

Joe Schneider

Val said...

Beautifully said...
Zach was obviously a person of wonderful character who had an innate ability to convey his inner hope and peace in a quiet, unassuming manner. I am sorry for the physical your loss of a treasured friend. His message of survival and his spirit lives on, and what a profound gift that is.

D said...

This is amazing Leah! I never had the honor of knowing Zach. I just read about his story online and talking to folks like you. This is just one more telling of what an amazing person he was. I wish I had the honor to have known him.

Shannon Grieve said...

Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories of Zach with us... I am chilled to the bone right now. How lucky we all are to have known such a beautiful soul... R.I.P. Zach