Lola Zachary: Pushing Through the Pain

Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins March 15, 2014 09:43

Lola with a photo of her late son

Lola Zachary walked around “in a trance” for months after her eldest son, Sonny, killed himself at age 58 in July 2011.

It contributed, she says, to her tumble off a hillside near her rural home three months later. She had returned home from errands and gone to the kitchen, where she gathered some food scraps “to throw to the squirrels and rabbits.” She walked outside, pitched the scraps and lost her footing.

“I heard my neck when it snapped, but then when I got to the bottom and was cognizant of where I was, knowing nobody was going to find me, I yelled,” recalls Zachary, 81, a retiree who lives near Don Pedro Reservoir.

Her call for help was futile; the neighbor’s TV was so loud she could hear it from the bottom of the hillside. So she crawled partway up the 25-foot slope, stood up and staggered another 70 or 80 feet back to her house, bracing her neck with both hands amid “excruciating” pain.

Inside she phoned her neighbor for help. What followed was a months-long blur of surgery and hospital stays amid chronic pain that remains to this day. It was as if life had meted out physical damage to match the emotional damage within.

“Sonny took himself out of the picture because he hurt so bad,” Zachary says, “but he never thought about the pain he was leaving behind.”

She describes Sonny as “an outgoing, fun, all-around happy guy” well into in his 40s when mental illness and alcoholism changed him. The son who enjoyed playing guitar and going antiquing with his wife became a divorced, homeless man tormented by voices in his head.

He moved onto a ranch with his younger brother, not far from their mom’s home. She endured his abusive rants, drove him to doctors’ appointments and tried without success to convince him to keep taking his medication.

At times, though, she saw traces of the old Sonny. The day before his death, he and his brother stopped by to visit, sitting on a front yard swing with her and chatting. It was “lovely,” she recalls.

“Toward the time they were going to leave, Sonny said, ‘You know I’m going to quit drinking – would you have my last beer with me?’ He poured some in a glass and we toasted. He said, ‘Mama, I love you so much.’ I didn’t know he was telling me goodbye.”

His suicide left her numb with grief.

Lola on the hillside where she fell

Her fall three months later left her unable to drive, unable to turn her head more than a fraction of an inch left or right. Pain dominates her days and nights. And yet she chooses to keep going, pushing forward to help her family heal from the devastation of Sonny’s death.

How has she made it through?

“I can’t really put it into words. You don’t get over it,” Zachary says. “You just go on, taking one day at a time.”

Joining a church has helped; a nearby Methodist congregation has welcomed her. Area 12 Agency on Aging has provided medical necessities her sparse income can’t cover. She has a couple of friends “I can really talk to,” a loving caregiver who visits daily and a friend who stops by with books.

But worries about her children remain as her family grapples with a loss that at times feels unbearable.

Don’t give up, she tells them – and tells herself as well.

“It would be so easy to give up, but I have too much to live for,” she says. “I have three children and a granddaughter. That’s why I’m still here. And I’m going to be here as long as I can for my family.”

Copyright © 2014 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins March 15, 2014 09:43
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