Thursday, September 1, 2011

Remembering My Sister

Today is the 16th anniversary of the death of my sister, Eileen Zelig, who was murdered in a Los Angeles courtroom. Eileen was shot in the chest at point-blank range with a .38-caliber handgun by her ex-husband Harry Zelig. He was able to bring a gun to court because the metal detectors were boxed up and stuck in a closet, the city and the state arguing over who would pay to operate them. Because they couldn’t agree, the metal detectors weren’t set up. 
On the morning of Sept. 1, 1995, Eileen and Harry had appeared in court and were in a hallway outside the court when Harry pulled out his gun and shot Eileen. The bullet went into her chest, deflected off a rib, nicked her aorta and exited out of her neck.
Six-year-old Lisa Zelig, the youngest of their three children, was there when it happened and was an eyewitness, just a couple of feet away when her dad pulled the trigger and shot her mom. 
The last words my sister ever spoke were, “Let me hold my daughter one more time before I die.”
Eileen was smart, tough, funny and completely full of herself, and I mean that in the best way possible. Even in her darkest days, she was someone with a mischievous grin, a kind word and a big hug for anyone and everyone. 
And in an instant, she was gone. Just like that. Forever.
There aren’t enough words to describe the pain our family endured or the profound sense of loss and tragedy we went through. I’ve spent much of my life since trying to escape from what happened, only to realize it’s as much a part of who I am as my arms and legs are. It is the defining moment in our family’s history. Grudgingly, I’ve learned to live with it. 
I’m happy to say that despite their immeasurable loss, Eileen’s three children have all grown up to be great young adults and tremendously well-grounded in the light of their tragedy. 
Raised by my parents, heroes in their own right, I’m incredibly proud of each of them. Dana, Sean and Lisa are proof of the good Eileen always carried inside her, and when they laugh, she does, too. In my ears, I always still hear her voice and it always makes me smile. Every time. 
Even 16 years on, there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t miss Eileen.
And if there’s anything to be taken away from her story, it’s this: The clock is running for all of us. We only have a finite time here. Don’t squander it on hatred or jealously or anger or pettiness. Every day counts, every minute matters. 
Get busy living today, because trite as it may seem, none of us is guaranteed tomorrow. 
RIP, my dear, sweet sister. I love you and miss you more than you’ll ever know. But you made the most of what little time you had, because I see it in those three amazing kids, who are now three remarkable and loving adults. 
You did good work, kid. 
Just wish I could have seen a lot more of it. 
P.S. — On Sept. 2, 1995, one day after Eileen died, the metal detectors went up in the Los Angeles civil court. They’ve been operable ever since. 
You can read about the case in these two articles below.


  1. Thank you for sharing with us Tom.

  2. WOW, damn. I am sorry for you and your family. I can't imagine loosing my sister or any family members. Your remembrance bring tears to my eyes and makes me pause to give thanks for a my family

  3. Very touching story...thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks for sharing! *hugs* <3

  5. "What moves through us is a silence, a quiet sadness, a longing for one more day, one more word, one more touch. We may not understand why you left this earth so soon, or why you left before we were ready to say good-bye. Little by little, we begin to remember not just that you died, but that you lived, that your life gave us memories too beautiful to forget and begin to smile through our tears".

    You have brought this TITA to tears. Aloha pumehana!

  6. Tom, this is really nice. I'm Alex Mak, I was best friends with Sean growing up and I have fond memories of Eileen. It was nice to read this.