Reading the paper last weekend, I stumbled across a headline on page three about a Detroit author who died in a car accident. As an avid reader, I decided to delve a little deeper, not expecting to know anything about the victim.
So I was blown away to learn it was Jeffrey Zaslow, whom I heard speak in October at a conference in Chicago. You may not be familiar with his name but you certainly have heard about his stories. He’s the guy who authored “The Last Lecture,” a life-changing book about a professor who was dying of pancreatic cancer, and “Highest Duty,” about Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who piloted that U.S. Air flight that landed in New York’s Hudson River without fatalities.
Zaslow is one of those people who leaves an impression. I didn’t meet him personally, but as I sat in the audience listening to him speak last fall, I was struck with how easily such a big personality connected to a room of strangers. He was funny, relaxed, and talked about the lessons he’d learned from writing his books and his column in the Wall Street Journal.
To me, it was front-page news. But then again, I’m constantly amazed at the lives that pass with barely a whisper. No one to tell their story or mourn their death.
One person comes quickly to mind — Annemarie. I was never really sure exactly what it was like for Annemarie growing up in Germany because those were secrets from her past that she didn’t want to relive. I know there were unspeakable tragedies, but I also know she spoke only of her successes. Like her first job delivering milk on her bike, and going to “secretary” school, and working her way to America.
Annemarie saved every penny so that she could travel all over the world and buy the finer clothes she appreciated. She loved getting together with her friends, going to plays, eating out, and she thought she was in heaven when she discovered a Starbuck’s macchiato. She liked meeting new people and, I’m pretty sure, enjoyed being the center of attention — not in a bad way, though.
While she and her husband never had kids, Annemarie sure cherished her niece and nephew and their children. It was important to her that they experience music and plays and so it was her gift each Christmas to take them to concerts and theater.
Annemarie struggled for a long time with shortness of breath. That’s one reason she and her husband moved from the mountains to the plains. In recent years, along with her breathing difficulties, I noticed she had more and more trouble hearing. I always worried when she drove because you couldn’t see her head over the dashboard and she often gunned it across busy streets.
It caught everyone by surprise when she went into the hospital not feeling well and died unexpectedly a few days later.
Immediately after getting the phone call, I started to write her obituary in my head. I began planning her service and what kind of flowers we should have, where we could have a small gathering to celebrate her life. And so it was devastating to come up against her family, who didn’t want an obituary or a funeral. Her husband didn’t want to take calls from people wondering what happened. She was mentioned in the smallest way possible — two lines in the newspaper saying she died. No listing of her accomplishments, or her hobbies, or the impact she’d had on this world.
To me, Annemarie’s death was front-page news. And it still is. The fact that this amazing woman who had overcome such odds seemingly disappeared without a word haunts me. And I want her story to be known and for her life to be celebrated as it should have been.
Jeffrey Zaslow won’t be forgotten because he has a strong family and faithful followers. I would like to think that even though Annemarie’s passing wasn’t marked with an obituary, and she wasn’t eulogized at a funeral or celebrated with food and laughter, that her spirit is smiling down by the fact that a snapshot of her story appears here, where today she is the center of attention.
Julie Stafford is publisher of The Daily News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (616) 548-8260.