Die Like You’re Living.

I wrote this on September 4, two weeks before my dad passed away. 



“Live Like you’re dying.”

We’ve all heard it and nodded thoughtfully at the platitude. Yes, yes yes, we should do all the things you would do if you were dying. Like appreciate life more, even if the garbage disposal just vomited in your face. And hug your children more meaningfully, even if they just flushed your favorite earrings down the toilet.

But now that my own father has been told that he has days or weeks to live, I’ve realized that there’s an opposite sentiment that I never knew existed: Die Like You’re Living.

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Weird thoughts go through your head when you’re processing grief and watching someone you love walk slowly toward death – or at least they have mine. Like, what would I do if I were the one who had days or weeks to live? My first thought was that I definitely would quit flossing my teeth. Second, I would want to go on a world tour and see all the things. And third, I might like to do something irresponsible and ridiculous – maybe even something that was illegal but not harmful to others that I might enjoy, knowing I wouldn’t live long enough to make it to my court date and face the consequences of my breaking of the law. Might it be fun to go 120 mph on the interstate? Might I like to commit Insider Trading so that my family could benefit from my crimes after my death? Perhaps I’d like to hack Amazon and send all my friends their entire wish lists. Then again if I could do that, maybe I already would have. (Right after I sent myself my own entire wish list, of course.)

But my dad has done none of these things. Instead, he’s dying like he’s living. He’s doing all the things I most definitely would never put on the top of my list of Things I Might Like To Do If I’m Dying.

He’s working, for one. He’s finishing up an antique engine rebuilding project that he committed to and has worked on for the last two years. (The thing is a massive antique firetruck engine.) He spent five days in a row, despite feeling generally awful and having no energy due to a failing liver, working in the 90 degree heat – to finish a job. (Thankfully, he had two fantastically wonderful friends travel from Florida to help him, and they were doing all the heavy lifting and hard labor since Dad couldn’t – bless them.)

He’s wrapping up loose ends. My Dad is, after all, in the middle of an 18 year house-building project. He’s trying to finish things and get things out of Mom’s way so that it will be easier for her to finish the house after he’s gone. He’s going to the attorney’s office and making sure all his paperwork is straight. He’s ensuring that my mother has everything she needs to make her future journey as easy as he can possibly make it.

He’s keeping his commitments in all shapes and sizes. He’s sitting in Sunday School, incidentally, the Sunday School class he started to share what he’s learned about death and dying. Over the past several months, he has wanted to make sure the wisdom he’s learned through this journey could help others who are or will be coping with the reality of death – both those of us coping with his death, and those coping with their own or other loved one’s deaths. His insights have been painful, beautiful, and so practical and helpful.

He’s being the most responsible possible version of dying.

He’s not sitting around feeling sorry for himself while slowly slipping away, nor is he out high-speed racing in downtown Birmingham (which, for the record, my dad has been known to go over 100 mph on the interstate on multiple occasions, so it’s not like it’s something he wouldn’t enjoy.) He’s not touring the country to see the things that I know were on his bucket list, like Mount Rushmore, Alaska, and the Aurora Borealis.

These are the things I want him to be doing (aside from the first one.) I want him to live these last few weeks for himself, in the manner that would make him happiest. But he’s choosing to live them for others, in the manner that will make others most comfortable when he’s no longer here.

He’s dying like he’s living, and dying like he has lived. Doing what he said he would do, choosing responsibility over fun, and doing what needs do be done.

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In Remembrance.

Chris wrote this beautiful eulogy for my dad, and I wanted it to be forever here on my blog.

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Peter James Victor “Vic” Zannis went to be with his Lord on September 17, 2018. He lived a life of passionate adventure, dedicated skill, and serving love.

He attended the University of Montevallo, graduated from Samford University, and married his college sweetheart. He cherished her for the rest of his life.

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He served in the United States Air Force, achieving the rank of sergeant, while stationed in Mississippi, England, and South Carolina. He later served in the Fairfield Police Department and Birmingham Police Department for over 10 years.

He then embarked on an automotive career that spanned the globe. His fascinating work included building and maintaining a vintage race car for the Monterey Historics, building and crewing a vintage race car for La Carrera Panamerica across Mexico, building (2) 1950 Ford sedans for the 1997 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge, then navigating his team and maintaining the car over a 45 day rally from Beijing to Paris, finishing in 2nd place overall and 1st place in class.

He worked as the track manager at Barber Motorsports Park, and served 20 years as a technical inspector for the American Le Mans Series.

He was a published artist, a short story author, and wrote 2 books about restoring vintage Ford engines. He was a known expert in vintage engines, and restored engines for clients around the world. He served the Model T Ford Club International, and hosted many events.

His home life included assisting in homeschool education, building a bridge over Kelly Creek, spending 18 years building a hand-crafted home with his family and friends, building chicken coops, raising bees and harvesting honey, and building coaster cars and a tire swing for his grandchildren.

He and his wife are members of Shades Mountain Community Church in Bluff Park, where they have served faithfully in ministry for many years.

He was handy in all types of mechanical issues and construction techniques, and was frequently called upon to help family and friends with problems and projects. He built furniture, toys, light fixtures, and creative inventions.

However, he considered his greatest achievement in life as being a father and grandfather, and cherished his family above all else.

He enjoyed teaching his children and grandchildren how to drive tractors, Model T’s, motorcycles, and practical knowledge for life. He also taught them about his Savior Jesus Christ, and treasured his time with the Bible.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Jim & Margaret Zannis of Birmingham. He is survived by his wife Sara, son JC (Lindsay) Zannis, daughter Rachel (Chris) Callahan, son Nick Zannis, grandchildren Eli Zannis, Tessa Zannis, Andi Zannis, Ali Callahan, and Noah Callahan; sisters Gayle Yester, Tena Payne, Chris Ann Wingo; aunt Marie Zannis, mother-in-law Sara Latham, special family friend Patricia Montabana, and many other nephews, nieces, cousins, and friends.

Interment will be at 12:30 on Monday, September 24 at Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo. A celebration of life service will be held at 2:30 on Monday, September 24 in the worship center at Shades Mountain Community Church, with refreshments and visitation to follow in the fellowship hall.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to:

Motorsports Ministries
P.O. Box 7188
Santa Rosa, CA 9540


Thank you to Mandy, my dear friend and fellow photographer, for capturing these images of my Dad’s military honors, including a touching flyover.

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Dad served his country, his family, his church, and his friends well – for the entirety of his life.

The Best Dad.

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My precious dad passed away early Monday morning. He adored his wife, kids, and grandkids more than anything else in his fascinating and adventurous life. He always prioritized making memories, imparting wisdom, and causing smiles and giggles.

He had a spectacularly infinite range of talents. He was an expert on antique automobiles and their engines (and wrote two books on how to rebuild them), built antique race cars and crewed or navigated some of the most epic races (including ones across Mexico and a 45 day road rally from Beijing to Paris), drew gorgeous pen and ink drawings that were published in magazines and other forms, wrote short stories, raised bees, built coops for my mom’s chickens, built his own house (including gorgeous woodworking and light fixtures), organized grand events and organizations, and so, so much more.

There are so very many things about who I am that came from my Dad. He taught me to never doubt myself, and to take on any big project that I felt led to do. He imparted to me his renegade spirit – if you have a vision for the way something should work or the kind of group you’d like to be a part of, create it. I have so many more things to say about all that my Dad taught me, and I will share it at a later time.

Dad was given time after his diagnosis, which he used to purposefully make memories with his grandkids – it was so important to him to do special things with them and give them handmade gifts. He was first diagnosed with Ocular Melanoma six years ago, and found out that it had spread two years ago. In these six years, I have watched him take time with each of his five grandchildren, teaching them skills like driving and creating and building, sharing with them wisdom and character traits, and loving them so very well. He found out three weeks ago that he had a very short time left, and that there was nothing else that could be done for his failing liver. The first thing he did when he came home with that news was to ask Ali if she’d play a game of chess with him. As they played, I heard him telling her things that applied to the game, but also to life, like “No, I’m not going easy on you. I always play to win. No matter what you do, you should always play to win.” Dad did beat Ali in that chess game, but he complimented her on her good game.

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On Saturday, Dad knew he had extremely little time left. He asked my mom to call us all to come see him. We all spent Saturday with him, giving him time with each of his grandchildren. From Saturday on, my brothers and I rotated staying with he and my Mom through the agonizing process of dying. My Dad is the strongest, most resilient person I’ve ever known, and it was anguishing to watch him suffer so greatly. But I was glad to be able to be there for him in some small way, because of the 36+ years he’s been there for me in all of the ways. He became very calm in the early a.m. hours of Monday, and I am thankful that when he passed away, he met Jesus peacefully and restfully. My dad has been confident from the beginning of this journey that as much as he wanted to stay with us, meeting Jesus would be beautiful, and I know it was.

God has been so gracious to our family in the past few weeks and has made his love and care known in so many beautiful and individual ways. He has sent obvious and loving messages to us that have been such a comfort – even as we walk through this painful time, He is clearly with us, caring for us, and hurting with us.

We have also had so many friends who have loved us well, helping with our kids and errands and food and every tiny detail of life. I thank you all so much for your help, your love, and your prayers.

There will be an interment at 12:30 on Monday, September 24 at Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo. A celebration of life service will be held at 2:30 on Monday, September 24 in the worship center at Shades Mountain Community Church, with refreshments and visitation to follow in the fellowship hall.

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