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Rory Zuba

Welcome to Rory's Web Page. It has been provided to keep people updated about Rory.


Monday, February 20, 2006 11:18 PM CST

Dear Friends,

One year ago tonight. After the Candle Vigil. After his friends, their parents, his teachers returned to their homes - grateful that the next day would bring hope. Excited about the possibilities.

One year ago tonight. Rory’s breathing changed. And his blood pressure changed. And life changed.

A call to his doctor. To 911. A last minute decision to take him to St. Anthony’s Hospital because he had stopped breathing. Another CT-scan in the ER. A ventilator. “What does the father want?” asked the ER doc? “Do everything you can,” I responded. “I’m not ready to let him go.”

I wasn’t.

The next morning he died. Actually, at my request, Jeannine lovingly removed the tube that connected him to the ventilator. The machine that was keeping him “alive.” We all knew what she was doing. We all knew what the outcome would be. We had been here before.

It wasn’t long until Rory died. His lungs stopped working.

I’ve experienced it before. I think a person’s spirit, their essence, the who of who we really are – leaves the body over a period of time. I think it’s a gradual process. We leave over time. Perhaps to adjust?

The next day, in a phone conversation with the extraordinary Chicago Tribune columnist, Mary Schmich, I said, “Because Trici’s dead and Erin’s dead, I know what it means to never, ever, ever be able to touch your loved one again. So I just laid with Rory in his hospital bed all night and I tried to drink in those moments of holding my little baby, who was now 13 years old. My cheek was against his cheek. My hope is that I will be able to go back whenever I want, close my eyes and remember.”

This year has been different for me.

So very different from the first year after Erin’s death – and different from the year following Trici’s death.

I remember about six months after Erin died, I returned to my office from lunch and saw a pink “Someone Called You’ slip waiting on my desk. When I saw that it was my dad that called – my first, uncensored thought was, “They’ve found Erin. They’ve found our baby. She’s alive!” Joan Didion calls it “magical thinking.” She kept her deceased husband’s shoes, that first year, thinking that he would need them when he returned. It wasn’t “if” he returned – it was when. On a recent Oprah Show, Susan St. James said something similar. She couldn’t bear the thought of getting rid of her 14-year-old dead son’s things…”Teddy might come back and he’ll need them.”

I wonder if everyone experiences that magical thinking – the first time?

For me, this third time has been different.

I know what dead means – all too well. It’s why I told the ER doctor to “Do everything you can.” I couldn’t bear the thought of Rory being dead. Not Rory.

There’s been no magical thinking this time.

What’s been different this time is that I’ve consciously tried to feel all the emotions surging through my body at any and sometimes every given moment. I consciously tried to deny no emotions – to stuff nothing – to repress or suppress nothing. I tried to let the emotions flow through me. I’ve learned they have a beginning, a middle and an end. I’ve learned that I am not these emotions.

So, this time has been different. I’ve felt like a participant, not a victim. I have a better understanding of what grief is, what mourning is, and what denial is. I have a better understanding of how lonely and isolating the journey is. As I said, I’ve been able to participate. To observe.

I’m ready to honor the completion of Rory’s physical presence here on earth. As Trici would say, the truth is “he lived a full, complete life.” He loved and was loved – big time!

And even though, physically, he is no longer here. I can feel him, every day, in a very real sense. And I can feel Trici. And Erin.

This site, for me, has made all the difference. My brother Dave suggested I use it, and he is the one who set it up for us when we were at the Rehabilitation Institute in Chicago. Everyone that has been touched by this site is indebted to David.

And this site is connected to the past for me. To Rory’s illness. To Rory’s death. To the first year after.

And I am ready to stop writing here. This will be my last Journal entry.

I am launching my own website – www.tomzuba.com. If all goes as planned, my site will be “live” on Wednesday, February 22, 2006 – the first anniversary of Rory’s death. I asked Mary Schmich if she would do a “one year later” column to help announce my site and her incredible piece appeared in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune.

Father turns lessons of grief into site of hope

Chicago Tribune
Published February 19, 2006
By: Mary Schmich

They say the death of your own child is the worst death a person can endure. They say it's not natural for a child to die before the parent. They say a parent never recovers.They say a whole lot of things that Tom Zuba thinks only make grief worse.

Zuba is a grief expert, not by design or college degree but through life lived, and this Wednesday, the first anniversary of the death of his 13-year-old son Rory, he is inaugurating a Web site dedicated to helping other people through their losses.

"I clearly remember saying to people right after Rory died, `This third time around, I want to do this differently,'" he said the other day from his home in Rockford. "It's like, `Hey, you guys, I've learned something.' I want to spare people the agony of what I experienced the first two times."

The first two times: The sudden death of his baby daughter Erin. Then the death after a heart attack of his wife, Trici Brennan Zuba, with whom he ran an Oak Park PR firm.

Last Feb. 22, it was Rory, the boy who played violin and loved Japan, killed by brain cancer.

When I wrote about Zuba a year ago, he said, "I have nothing wise to say," which wasn't what his friends said about him. To them, he was a philosopher of heartrending depth and strength.

He didn't feel philosophical then, though. So he went to California, walked on the beach. He came home, took his 10-year-old son, Sean, to White Sox games, finding a sense of future in the simple fact that there would always be a next game.

"Dad," Sean said at one point, "why are you still so sad?"

"Dad," said Sean, who had funneled his own sadness into baseball, basketball, school. "You need to get a hobby. And you need to spend more time with your friends."

Zuba got a therapist. He got a support group. He made breakfast and lunch dates with anyone he could. He began to walk every day.

And he studied grief.

A lot of what Zuba heard and read struck him as wrong. To say a child's death is the worst possible loss seemed to diminish other deaths. To say a person never recovered from a child's death guaranteed you wouldn't. And not natural? Until our safe past century, children routinely died before their parents, and the parents carried on.

But he also heard things that sounded right, like the idea that while grief is instinctive, mourning is a skill.

And useful mourning, he came to believe, requires making grief public. That's what he hopes his Web site will help him and others do.

During Rory's illness, Zuba began keeping a journal on a site run by a group called CaringBridge. He continued after Rory's death, amazed by how many people found the site--it's had more than 100,000 hits--and by how many wrote to him, with gratitude, consolation and questions.

"When my daughter died and my wife died, there was such a feeling of being completely out of control," he said. "Clueless. Abandoned. So stunned and unprepared. I think if there were someone to say, `This is what may be occurring to you,' people would feel more empowered. If someone said: It's normal that you can't sleep. You should expect at times to think that you're going crazy. You may overeat, or undereat. You may physically hurt. Your body may tremble. You may forget people's names."

Zuba will tell people all of that on his Web site, along with giving them a place to post their own tales and pictures of lost loved ones. He'll offer daily quotes and recommend readings. He'll host chats. He'll try to help people see that, yes, grief is wild and individual, but it has a certain logic and is often soothed by company.

As for his own loss, he feels better than he expected to a year ago, but the house is still too quiet, especially for Sean. Some weekends, for noise and companionship, they borrow one of the pets from Sean's school classroom, usually the bird or the guinea pig. They're about to get a dog.

For what happens next, you can go to www.tomzuba.com


The intention I’ve set for my site is to create sacred space where people can excavate grief, mourn safely, honor the gifts of denial and consciously participate in their own transformation. I’m hoping to create a community…like we did on CaringBridge.

My new site will have a Journal and Guestbook – all the features of CaringBridge and then some. I know you will be able to post photos in your Guestbook entries.

Thank you for accompanying me. I hope we can continue to walk together. I hope you will visit me at www.tomzuba.com.

This site will still exist. You can still visit - and post - and read - and remember. It's just that I won't be writing here anymore. I'll be at www.tommzuba.com.


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E-mail Author: tomzuba@aol.com


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