Look for Me There (2023) chronicles the struggles of a man dealing with the loss of his father. By accompanying him on a journey across the world and his heart, we learn how he copes with grief, and what other lessons he learns along the way.
Introduction:Discover a story about grief, transformation, and the many ways to lead a meaningful life.
Table of Contents
On June 13, 2008, Luke Russert received one of those unexpected phone calls that turn your world upside down. His father’s assistant – she was the one on the phone – would only say his father had fainted and they were trying to contact Luke’s mother.
But Luke knew his father Tim Russert, the NBC News stalwart. They’d all been in Rome together just two days before, and Tim had flown home to shoot an episode of his show. And he was not someone likely to faint. Luke suspected his dad was dead.
He was right.
Anyone who’s lost a loved one can imagine what Luke and his mother went through. But their lost one was also famous, well-respected and widely beloved. They couldn’t grieve uninterrupted – an outpouring of condolences and grief washed over them from people around the nation, both comforting and exhausting.
What followed for Luke was a decade of hard work, followed by years of travel and discovery. Along the way, he realized he’d been struggling to discover who he was and what a meaningful life looked like for him. In this summary, we’ll trace Russert’s journey and see what lessons he learned along the way.
What’s your family legacy?
Luke Russert’s is one of hard work and the American Dream. Luke’s grandpa worked tirelessly as a garbage man to provide his son, Tim, with better opportunities than he had. Then Tim worked tirelessly himself, and became a legend in the journalism world. Luke felt the pressure of his father and grandfather’s legacies and wanted to prove himself worthy of the privilege his dad worked hard to provide him with.
Luke’s mother was also a well-respected journalist and activist. More free-spirited than Luke’s father, she was nonetheless harder on Luke. She wasn’t impressed by good grades or accomplishments – they were expected. Luke resented his mother because of it, even as he loved her.
When Tim died of a heart attack, family, friends and fans alike attended the wake. Luke delivered the eulogy to an audience that included John McCain, Barack Obama and Ethel Kennedy. Toward the end of his speech, he heard his father’s voice in his head, giving him encouragement and telling him to ‘bring it home.’
But when the remembrances finally wrapped up, Luke wasn’t sure where to turn next.
Have you ever been scared to face your feelings? Shoved them away? Sometimes we don’t realize we’ve done so until later, when we build up the courage to face ourselves. That’s what happened to Luke after his father’s death.
Luke threw himself into work less than three months after his father passed. He received offers from various networks, and decided to accept a contract at NBC, his father’s network for sixteen years.
He worked hard, offering himself up at all hours for assignments. After fifteen months, he became an on-air congressional correspondent stationed in Washington DC. Years passed as he grinded, staying up late, working weekends – seeking, striving and sprinting so as not to fail, not to miss a story, not to flub up on live television.
Luke was conscious of the privilege afforded him both because of his name and his being a straight white man. The knowledge fueled his desire to prove himself, to make something of his life.
But what was he making of it?
In the spring of 2015, John Boehner, then-Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, forced Luke to face this question. He called Luke into his office and asked why Luke was in Capitol Hill, what his life goals were.
Finally, after a decade of work, Luke sat back to consider whether he felt fulfilled in what he was pursuing. He admitted to himself that he’d enjoyed the fame, the sense of importance he felt in being close to so many important names in the country.
But was he fulfilled?
Perhaps it will come as no surprise that he discovered he wasn’t. Not even close.
So, as many people privileged enough to have the option do, he decided to travel to find his purpose.
Some people jump in the deep end when doing something new, while others dip a toe in first.
Luke was one to start modestly, with a solo road trip through Maine. It was his first foray into exploring the world on his own and something he’d never done before – just drifting. No plans, no timeline. No company but himself and his pug, no purpose but exploring.
After this first foray he jumped in, visiting Patagonia, then Buenos Aires, where he met up with his mother. There they joined Thanksgiving at Luke’s friend’s house, where Luke’s mom was the life of the party. The qualities that served her as a journalist – empathy, interest in others, a calm confidence – had others opening up, basking in her attention and inquiring about her life.
You know the moment you first see your parents as people, not just your parents? This was one of those moments for Luke. He was in awe of her.
They visited Uruguay and Paraguay together too. Luke was nervous about the next stop on his trip – some extremely high-altitude spots in Bolivia. Before they parted, his mom encouraged him, telling him she believed in his abilities. Coming from his adventurous, hard-to-impress mom, it meant the world to him.
Luke fought his altitude sickness in Bolivia. When he finally stood at 12,100 feet above sea level, atop a former volcano, looking over the Bolivian Salt Flats – the largest salt flats in the world – he was grateful for his mother’s encouragement and his own perseverance.
Luke continued his travels – Easter Island, New Zealand, Cambodia. He cycled between wonder and uncertainty. Though he was meeting incredible people and expanding his mind, he questioned whether what he was doing wasn’t, at the end of the day, simply indulgent. Did he deserve such wondrous freedom?
Each time Luke faltered, he heard his father’s voice, telling him he was exactly where he should be.
By the time he was in Cambodia, Luke felt like a seasoned traveler. Rides that never showed up and plans that changed on the fly didn’t phase him. He started seeking experiences away from tourist traps, trying to find the uniqueness of each country he passed through.
He visited another six countries before flying home in February of 2018 to check on his mom and help ready her house for winter. He’d been traveling for almost eighteen months.
His mother asked him what his plans were. She thought it was time he started doing something. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he responded defensively. He left determined to prove he was doing something important.
Have you ever experienced a moment where things start to sour, where what once was fun and exciting suddenly becomes routine and purposeless?
That’s exactly how things went after Luke’s conversation with his mother.
During his travels, he’d grown a following on social media. Now, in Nepal and Sri Lanka, he grew irritable with aspects of travel he’d loved before. Any unpredictability or inconvenience annoyed him. He sought photo opportunities, posted for the likes.
He returned home briefly to deal with boxes of his father’s paraphernalia. As he sorted through awards and news articles – evidence of his father’s hard work and legacy – self-doubt overwhelmed him. He was nothing compared to his father. The ten-year anniversary of his father’s death was near. He imagined all the people and news networks who would be talking about his dad, contacting Luke, comparing him to his father.
So he scheduled a sixteen-hour hike in Iceland on the exact anniversary of his dad’s death. Afterward, he attended the soccer World Cup in Russia. Next, he traveled to LA to attend an awards ceremony with his mom, who was receiving an award. He was on the fringes of the events and felt even more directionless after talking with people who greatly admired both his mother for her accomplishments and his father for his legacy.
If this is sounding like a downward spiral, it’s because it was. But we’re nearing the bottom, so hang in there.
After the awards events, Luke drove from Tucson to Marfa, Texas. At the time, it was known as a bit of a hipster enclave, and Luke was seeking any experience that might lift his spirits.
On the drive, loneliness hit him. An hour in, he saw an email from Mary, the woman he’d been seeing off and on again the past few years, telling him she was done waiting and they were finally over. Luke sped the rest of the way, driving recklessly, mindlessly.
He sank lower. A few nights later in Abilene, he drank copiously, binged greasy fast food and crossed a dangerously busy highway on foot.
Needless to say, he felt like utter crap in the morning. His racing pulse and anxiety told him he was about to die of a heart attack, like his father. He didn’t, of course. But upon his return to DC, he met with his doctor, the one he’d worked with ever since his dad died to ensure the same thing wouldn’t happen to him.
His numbers weren’t good.
Finally, he acknowledged he’d been running from his problems for a long time. That very afternoon, he went on a literal run, his first in almost as long as he’d been avoiding his problems. He cut back on drinking, ran more, ate better. He found a therapist and started journaling. Things that can be so difficult, and yet that really help when we stick to them.
At his grandmother’s old apartment in San Francisco, which now belonged to his mother and her sister, he went over the many notes he’d taken on his travels. He pieced together a narrative of his last few years, writing what would ultimately become his book, Look for Me There.
As he did so, he began to heal. He also realized he’d yet to take the final step in his journey, one he’d been avoiding since the start of his travels – the Holy Land, in the Middle East.
He’d learned so much about the world while traveling, but when the time had come to turn his learning inward, he’d shied away. He’d tried to keep chasing travel for travel’s sake, but that had soured. And just like he’d been avoiding looking into himself, he’d avoided the lands of his Catholic faith. He’d been scared of what he would find.
But now a voice whispered to him, saying it was time to go. And so he did.
Have you ever taken a risk, unafraid of the outcome, because you knew it was the right thing to do?
That’s just how Luke felt as he approached the border of Israel. He’d heard of troubles people sometimes had crossing the border. He saw many guards – some younger even than him – carrying military rifles at the border. But he wasn’t afraid because he knew he was meant to be there.
He had no trouble while crossing, nor at any other point during his trip.
As an American in Israel, he realized his own implicit bias caused by the media he’d consumed about Israel and Palestine. Though he was curious to explore and learn more truth about the lands and people there, the voice inside told him he should focus first on understanding himself.
He visited several of the most holy places in his religion – Hebron, Jericho, the Mount of Temptation, the Church of Nativity. Everywhere, he felt a solemnity, a weight to his feelings of faith. Though he was scheduled to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the following day, the voice inside told him to go that night, immediately after visiting Christ’s birthplace.
So he did.
He arrived just before closing. Guided by the voice inside, he stood in line to enter what’s believed to be Christ’s tomb. He would have thirty seconds to pray inside it.
Though he didn’t know what to pray for, he felt a sense of heaviness, a sense of meaning as he gathered his thoughts. Then, he was inside. He knelt, leaned his forehead on the stone slab of the tomb, and prayed – he’d felt lost ever since his dad died, he needed guidance.
Finally, after what seemed like far longer than the thirty seconds he was supposed to be allowed, a voice answered, telling him he’d been heard and that he was to move forward and pray. Though he tried to ask more questions, his time finally ran out. He continued to pray for clarity as he left and found a white plastic chair to sit on outside.
Suddenly, during his prayers, his journey flashed through his mind – all the countries, all the miles, the last three years of his life. He realized he’d been searching for an answer to who he was. He’d been scared of his dad’s legacy, scared of not living up to it, not being able to follow the same path.
And suddenly he knew – he wasn’t supposed to follow the same path. He was allowed – was supposed to – follow a new path, his own path, one of uncertainty and vulnerability.
There, in the evening light of Jerusalem, Luke finally realized he needn’t cling to the rock that was his father’s legacy. He could be his own rock, could learn to be comfortable in uncertainty. This was something his father had never learned, and yet the voice within him as he traveled had been his father urging him on, urging him to this very discovery.
The way Luke would lead a meaningful life would be different to the way his father led a meaningful life – and that was okay. He would accept uncertainty and share his story.
That was, as one might say, exactly as it should be.
After the unexpected death of his father, the first thing Luke Russert sought to do was prove his worth through dedication to his work, similar to his father. When that didn’t work, he looked for meaning while traveling the world. He knew he was on the right path as he learned and met countless people whose lives and worldviews differed from his own.
When it came time to turn his gaze inward, Luke faltered, scared of what he would find. He lost his way, but ultimately returned to his path by seeking help and reflecting on his journeys. He found a revelation in the Holy Lands of his faith, realizing he could walk a path none of his family had and still lead a meaningful life.
Wherever you’re at in your own journey, stay open-hearted. Just as Luke did, if you keep searching with openness, you’ll find your path. And remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to defining a meaningful life.
About the Author
“Look for Me There: Grieving My Father, Finding Myself” by Luke Russert is a poignant memoir that chronicles the author’s personal journey of grief and self-discovery following the loss of his father, renowned journalist Tim Russert. Through heartfelt anecdotes and introspection, Russert explores the complex emotions, challenges, and transformative moments that shaped his grieving process and ultimately led to his own personal growth.
The book delves into the profound impact of Tim Russert’s sudden passing on Luke’s life. It explores the deep bond between father and son, highlighting the immense loss and sense of emptiness that Luke experienced. Throughout the memoir, Luke shares intimate memories, anecdotes, and conversations with his father, providing readers with a glimpse into their relationship and the profound influence Tim had on shaping Luke’s values, aspirations, and worldview.
As Luke navigates the grieving process, he candidly shares his emotional journey, revealing the myriad of emotions he experienced, including sadness, anger, confusion, and even moments of hope and acceptance. Through introspection and self-reflection, he explores the complexities of grief and the challenges of rebuilding a life without his father’s guidance and presence.
“Look for Me There” also explores the ways in which Luke sought solace and support during his grieving process. From seeking therapy to connecting with others who have experienced similar losses, Luke shares the various strategies and resources he utilized to navigate his grief and find healing. In doing so, he offers readers valuable insights and guidance on coping with loss and finding strength in the face of adversity.
“Look for Me There: Grieving My Father, Finding Myself” is a deeply moving memoir that offers an intimate and heartfelt exploration of grief and personal growth. Luke Russert’s writing is raw, honest, and vulnerable, allowing readers to connect with his emotional journey on a profound level.
One of the book’s notable strengths lies in Russert’s ability to capture the essence of his relationship with his father. Through vivid anecdotes and personal recollections, he paints a vivid picture of the bond they shared, showcasing the deep love and admiration he had for Tim Russert. This portrayal not only serves as a tribute to his father but also enables readers to understand the depth of Luke’s loss and the impact it had on his life.
The author’s candidness in sharing his emotional journey is commendable. From the initial shock and devastation of his father’s passing to the gradual process of acceptance and healing, Russert invites readers into his innermost thoughts and feelings. This vulnerability creates a sense of authenticity and relatability, allowing readers who have also experienced loss to find solace and understanding within the pages of the book.
Furthermore, “Look for Me There” offers valuable insights and resources for navigating the grieving process. Luke Russert’s willingness to share his own experiences with therapy, support groups, and other coping mechanisms underscores the importance of seeking help and finding healthy ways to process grief. This aspect of the memoir makes it a valuable resource not only for those who have experienced loss but also for individuals who wish to better understand and support others in their grief.
The book’s pacing and structure are well-executed, with the narrative flowing smoothly between past and present. Russert’s storytelling abilities shine through as he seamlessly weaves together personal anecdotes, reflections, and conversations, creating a cohesive and engaging narrative that keeps readers captivated throughout.
If there is one potential limitation of “Look for Me There,” it is that readers who are not familiar with Tim Russert or his contributions to journalism may find it challenging to fully grasp the significance of his loss and the impact he had on Luke’s life. However, even for those less familiar with Tim Russert, the memoir still offers a universal exploration of grief, personal growth, and the resilience of the human spirit.
In conclusion, “Look for Me There: Grieving My Father, Finding Myself” is a heartfelt memoir that delves into the depths of grief and the transformative power of self-discovery. Luke Russert’s candid storytelling and introspection make this book a compelling and relatable read for anyone who has experienced loss or seeks to gain insight into the complexities of grief.