The image remains etched on my mind. Their hands gripped tightly together in a circle as they proceeded down the aisle. The coffin of their beloved husband/father led the way as they followed. Holding on to each other with each step.
I don’t know if I will ever forget that scene. For weeks it has replayed in my thoughts. Profound love and loss all jumbled together. Unity and togetherness that stretched beyond this world. Deep sadness and shock. It still doesn’t seem real.
The death of Jeff Zaniker at the age of 49 arrived without warning. A pulmonary embolism on a business trip abruptly took his life. Despite battling MS for years, he was healthy, vibrant, and fully alive. He had completed not one but three cross country bike trips to raise money for MS. He was engaged in his work and immersed in his tight-knit family web of activities. No one saw this coming.
Throughout the service his family stood strong and together. Except when wife Jill stood alone at the microphone for her tribute, “He Married Me Anyway.” She was poised and a symbol of strength as she shared memories of their love story that began at Purdue. My favorite was Jill’s suggestion to iron Jeff’s graduation robe before he, as the decorated graduate (majoring in mechanical and nuclear engineering), gave the commencement address. Her fashion design background didn’t help much as the robe stuck to the iron leaving a large burn print splashed across its front. Jeff responded with grace, “It won’t even show. I’ll be behind the podium.” As Jill reminisced I laughed and cried as she ended each story with, “And he married me anyway.”
When life bottoms out, we cling to something. For the Zaniker family it has been to each other, close friends, and especially to God. As Jill and her daughters continue to grieve the loss of their beloved, they hang on together as life moves on. Their work in honor of – and now in memory of – Jeff to raise money and awareness for MS continues, and this weekend “Jeff’s Girls” will be participating in the MS Walk.
Let us support them either in person or in pledge, but always in prayer as we hold on together.