A few months ago, our founder Sarah read a piece that Alexandra had written. This piece was a letter written to Bruce Springsteen about how his music had been Alexandra’s father’s favorite and how it provided her comfort when he passed away. The letter resonated with Sarah, as she had a similar experience with Billy Joel’s music when her mother passed away. We tracked down Alexandra and knew that she had to share her insight with all of our readers… and we are so happy we did. Once you read — you’ll know why!
LH: What have people done that has been most supportive for you as you have grieved the loss of your father?
AZ: Lending a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes literally, but it’s best when it’s through their actions. During the days that followed the death of my father, our house was filled with people offering their shoulders. Everyone from my preschool teacher to my dad’s Wall Street Journal editor to the woman my family stood behind the week before at our local deli. They were all there and we appreciated them.
Since then, we’ve been incredibly lucky to be surrounded by our community, family and friends who have all expressed generosity in different ways. My Uncle Randy flew to my college graduation in Indiana because he wanted to be there for me during that hard time. My extended family and close friends put a smile on my face every time they reminisce on the fond memories they had with my dad. Even strangers who continue to read his books provide me with a distant, yet comfortable, shoulder to cry on. All of these people have contributed to carrying out my dad’s legacy and that’s the kind of support I don’t take for granted.
LH: What would you share with other young people grieving the loss of a parent?
AZ: Time is your best friend. It’s hard to see that in the early stages of the grieving process, and I had trouble believing it at first, but it’s been a little over two years now and I’m blown away by the progress I’ve made. I questioned whether or not I could ever be happy again, but I’ve had some of the best times of my life over the past two years.
The best advice I can give is to stay close to family. It’s comforting to be surrounded by people who are going through it with you. It will lift your spirits knowing you’re there for your loved ones when they need you most. Also, try to keep busy. It’s a temporary form of medicine, but I promise it works
LH: Your dad, Jeffrey Zaslow, was a successful writer. Did it affect your family’s grief experience that he was in the public eye?
AZ: My family received a great deal of support not only from our friends and community, but also from my dad’s fans. We always knew how special he was, but to hear the impact he had on hundreds of thousands of readers was the most inspiring thing to have come out of such a tragedy.
LH: Your dad co-wrote Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture.” What did he share with you and your family about what he had taken away from that project?
AZ: Time is precious and you never know how long you get. Randy inspired my dad to go out and celebrate life. He would interview Randy by phone every day and during one of their calls, Randy was going through a self-checkout line at the grocery store when he noticed they had charged him twice. My dad asked him if he wanted to deal with getting his money and then call my dad back. Randy said he wanted to keep talking and that he’d rather have 15 minutes than $16.55.
At the end of their calls, Randy would sign off telling my dad to go hug his kids. And, of course, he always listened.
LH: Bob Greene wrote about your dad’s initial interest in Randy’s lecture, and how he believed it was something special before other people did. What can we learn from your dad about listening to our gut feelings and pursuing things we think are important?
AZ: My dad’s middle name might as well have been spontaneous. He was always up for an adventure and knew a good story when he saw one. When he found out about Randy’s lecture, he knew it was going to be a story worth telling. It wasn’t the first time my dad followed his heart, either. He’d travel long distances and call people 20 times before they’d hear him out. Sure enough, they’d all have features written about them in the Wall Street Journal and some even had New York Times bestselling books dedicated to their stories.
Greene ends his article summing up my dad’s own story, “And when the day finally comes when you have your big success, when you get your big break, it won’t be because you made the extra effort once. It will be because you made the extra effort every time.”
LH: Has your experience of loss changed your writing and career interests?
AZ: Definitely. I feel for people in a way that I wasn’t able to before. It opened my eyes to the struggles others go through, which in return, led me to finding out about their triumphs. I felt an urge to share these stories, in the same way you guys are sharing my story. When you feel a connection to the story, it’s easier to make it come from the heart.
I also have a strong desire to carry out the legacy of my father. He had so many more stories that he didn’t get a chance to tell. It’s my job to make sure I get to tell those stories. I even find myself implementing his writing style in some of my pieces and not even realizing it. But when I do, I smile.
LH: You’ve written extensively about people who turned tragedy into something positive. What story stuck with you the most?
AZ: Back in November, I wrote about a woman named Jessie Kuehl who wasn’t able to visit her father’s grave on the 40th anniversary of his death. She posted an ad online, hoping to hear back from a couple sympathetic people in the area who would go to her dad’s grave to tell him she missed him. She ended up hearing back from tons of people saying they’d be happy to visit on her behalf.
After my lengthy phone call with Jessie, we hung up and became Facebook friends so that we could keep in touch. I sure am glad we did because a few weeks later, she contacted me and said that a man in California read my article and offered to fly Jessie out to visit the grave herself.
I’m so thrilled that my words had that kind of impact on someone’s life. That’s the beauty of journalism.
LH: Your dad’s book “The Magic Room” shares intimate stories of brides-to-be. What did your dad teach you about love and marriage?
My dad loved love. He treated my sisters and me the way he expected our future husbands to treat us. It’s the endless love he gave us that taught us what to look for in someone we want to spend the rest of our lives with.
He also taught us by example. My parents’ love and respect for each other was so evident. I’m going to make sure I share that same love and respect with my future husband.
My dad turned his passion for love into “The Magic Room” and I feel so lucky to have been able to hear the remarkable stories over the dinner table as he was working on the book.
LH: A lot of our readers are college students. Do you think that young people have the power to make a difference? What advice do you have for our graduating seniors?
AZ: Absolutely! It’s the young ones who are dominating the working world. We have more power now than we’ve ever had in the past and it’s up to us to take advantage of it.
To those college graduates, go out there and do what you love. If you can make a living doing it, more power to you!
Thank you Alexandra for sharing taking the time to answer our questions with such thoughtful answers! We truly appreciate it. To learn more about Alexandra, please visit her blog.