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The Zimmerman monument in Calvary Cemetery, Waseca, Minn. Photo by author.

The Zimmerman monument in Calvary Cemetery, Waseca, Minn. Photo by author.

I had heard he had not been well in the past couple of years. Still, I was saddened by the news of Jim Zimmerman’s death. He was 91 years old when he died on Sunday, January 25, 2015.

If you’ve read my book, you know Jim’s haunting story. His story of loss and grief so affected me as a young girl; I became fascinated with him. He was often in my thoughts.

I found this in my grandma's scrapbook. Jim's story of loss and newfound love captured people's hearts not only in Waseca, but nationwide. In Jim's obit, it's worded "Zimmerman remarried Vivian Hoffman Kraus and her six children in 1962."

I found this in my grandma’s scrapbook. Jim’s story of loss and newfound love captured people’s hearts not only in Waseca, but nationwide. In Jim’s obit, it’s worded, “Zimmerman remarried Vivian Hoffman Kraus and her six children in 1962.” I love that. He married not only Vivian, but her children as well.

You can click here for a PDF of this newspaper article:

Zimmerman wedding p1

Zimmerman wedding p 2

In the very early stages of writing my memoir, I requested a meeting with Jim. At that point I had envisioned my book to be more of a reportage, a cultural criticism on the role that death and grief plays in our society. I will never forget Jim’s graciousness in honoring my request to interview him about the day that his wife and children were killed.

Could I have done the same thing if I were him? As a newspaper reporter, I was always surprised at how forthcoming people were when I asked them sensitive, personal questions. But that taught me that people, generally, want to share their stories. That it’s cathartic and healing to talk about tragedy and sadness, that never speaking of it can be damaging to the soul.

Jim was always forthcoming, even immediately after the accident. He granted interview requests from the Waseca newspaper and beyond. The most telling quotation from him in one of those stories: “The Lord gave them to me and they were His to take away.”

He told me he didn’t remember much from that weekend, the days that included the accident, the wake (held at home, all seven caskets there), and the funeral. He didn’t remember people’s faces at the wake, but he remembered noticing people’s hands — whether they were warm or cold when they shook his hand.

He also said that his wife, Irene, told him repeatedly, in the year leading up to that accident, that she had a feeling something terrible was about to happen. And his oldest son, Michael, told him that he didn’t want to die.

“I told him we all have to go sometime,” Jim said.

As I explain in my book, Jim was a mentor to me, even though I had not met him while I was growing up in Waseca. He was one of many who taught me how to live in the face of grief. I will never forget that.

I hope his story continues to live on, even though now that he’s gone we have one less connection to it. The accident was 55 years ago, and people who remember it are getting older and dying. I do think, though, that the story will live on in stone, a 24-foot-long monument in Calvary Cemetery that will continue to speak.

I think of that long-awaited reunion Jim experienced on January 25. He waited 55 years to see the smiles of his children. In turn, that makes me smile.

Full circle. Thank you, Jim. You and your story will not be forgotten.

To read Jim’s obituary, click here.

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