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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

Love during times of tragedy

To our Notre Dame community,

On March 26 a tragedy befell our family. While traveling home from Spring Break with three friends, our youngest brother and best friend Riley was struck head on by an opposing vehicle — all four died almost instantly. Riley was only 18 years old.

In the wake of this awful news our family came together to grieve. In the shock and horror of those first few days we clung tightly to one another, and as we mourned — and mourn still — we have witnessed unimaginable kindness, warmth and compassion.

The same evening that Indiana State Trooper came to our front door to deliver the news, friends from Notre Dame were visiting our home. They held us in their arms as our legs failed beneath us; they wept with us as rage overcame us; and as we needed time to be alone they were already making calls, and candles were being lit at the grotto.

In the days that followed, close friends and roommates made it their business to care for us. They stayed with us, they ran errands, they babysat and they helped with chores, missing classes and work of their own.

From around the country other close friends from Notre Dame made their way to our home — from New York, Chicago and Cleveland. as well as South Bend. Father Ed and Ed Mack from O'Neill Hall visited to console us and accompany us to the viewing. Those who could not come in person sent cards, letters, emails, texts, flowers, food and so much love.

At Riley's funeral there were flowers from the Notre Dame football team and coach, the athletic director, the cheer team and dozens of other alumni. The Mass found our small town church filled beyond capacity — the largest gathering in our parish's history — and mourners included dozens of our friends from Notre Dame, students and alumni who coordinated rides and carpooled en masse to be there. Father Foster of the Notre Dame College of Science even came to concelebrate.

Since the funeral we have experienced nothing but kindness and love from our extended Notre Dame family. Professors have been patient and kind, and classmates have helped in every way possible. The calls and emails and support have not ceased as the tragedy has been fading from headlines, and life for many others has been carrying on.

These past days have made us so deeply endeared, grateful to and proud of the University of Notre Dame. Never could we be made to feel that we are supported by a larger family than at a time such as this. While Riley never went to Notre Dame, with two older brothers and a sister-in-law as alumni he grew up in the shadow of Our Lady. He spent his spring breaks in the halls of O'Neill playing video games and going to classes. Saturdays in the fall found him tailgating by the old band tower, trolling the bookstore for the new "The Shirt," and praying at the Grotto. When Donny and Crystal were married at the Basilica in August of 2008, Riley served as the best man. He loved Notre Dame.

Yesterday, as we wept and lit candles at the grotto we prayed to Our Lady for strength to endure these most difficult times. It is in each friend's steady embrace, the kind words of professors, rectors and loved ones, and through every silent prayer that such strength is delivered. We thank you all — each of you who has been a vessel of such grace for us.

The Zimmer Family

classes of 2011, 2004, and 2009

South Bend, IN

Apr. 10

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.