One life that made a difference: Lt-Colonel Richard Alexander. A farewell and a tribute to a wonderful man


Seven years ago, I interviewed Lt- Colonel Richard Alexander for the Western Star, a daily paper published in Corner Brook, NL, Canada. He died on September 14, 2018, leaving behind many people who were touched by his life, myself included. He has been described as a hero, for he truly was a hero, and not only because of his actions during the Second World War as well as the Korean War.

When I went to his house to interview him I was a little nervous. I had no idea what kind of story I would write. I only knew a few small details about this man, but I knew he was a well-loved and respected member of our community. I remember his warm welcome when I arrived and his kindness and hospitality. I didn’t have a set list of questions. I had met and spoke with him briefly on another occasion and looked forward to a casual chat with this man who had intrigued me.

He had a way of making people comfortable, of easing any discomfort and making one feel like an old friend. Here is what I remember about that day that was not published in the story I wrote. You see, my editor had zeroed in on the Colonel’s heroic act in St. John’s during the Second World War – an act that was not recognized until sixty-six years later! But what stands out in my memory was his genuine humanity, his kindness, and his concern for all people.

Many people are horribly altered by the experience of war, the Colonel (as he was known locally) did not seem to be. What he seemed to most want people to know was that war is an awful thing. He had seen terrible atrocities during his assignments. He spoke about visiting schools on Remembrance Day and doing his best to deliver his message about the horrors of war and how it should be avoided at all costs. He became very sober, and sad, as he related this to me.

He showed me many photographs and he showed me his medals, of which he was rightly proud. He laughed when he showed me the citation from the government lauding his heroic actions that saved many lives in St. John’s. He found it amazing that he would be remembered for something that had happened so long ago.

The Colonel was a gentle man, humble, and down to earth. His life touched so many people, both at home and abroad. His courage and bravery are commendable. However, I think it is his faith, his kindness, and his intense respect for life that made the deepest impact. He was the kind of person who many seek to emulate, including me. I was blessed to spend time in the company of a truly great man.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet and get to know a little about the man we called the Colonel. He will be missed and remembered with great fondness. May he Rest in Peace.

http://www.thewesternstar.com/news/local/heroic-act-recognized-66-years-later-korean-war-veteran-richard-alexander-honoured-for-putting-his-life-on-the-line-115722/

 

To speak or not to speak


My mind is reeling with the words of the pathologist reverberating in my head while images of Chris in that casket flash on and off like some demented disco ball. Many people do not want to talk about it. That’s okay – they are dealing with the aftermath in the best way they can.  Personally, I need to talk. I need to let it out – but where? Grieving is a highly personal thing. So if you’re following this blog you are forewarned. I am going to talk! At the same time I am not a fully open book. Evidence of this blog aside, I am a private person. I don’t particularly want to “put it all out there” but I need to release these demons that hound me. I need to start getting ready for work and I do not want to carry this into my day. To speak or not to speak, that is the question. At the moment writing about my dilemma is helping, but time grows short. I guess I will have to leave it for a better time.

Sleepless night


I can’t sleep. I have learned more details about the violent results that occur when one vehicle slams into another at high speed – my brother didn’t stand a chance.  It is next to impossible to sleep with anger roaring like a wild beast in my head and in my heart. Toxicology reports document the extremely high levels of alcohol in that man’s blood when he drove his car head on into my brother’s. This whole thing is so crazy. He pleaded not guilty, of course. So each and every day until this trial is over my family is subjected to the consequences of this person’s decisions and actions; of having to hear testimony and see photographs of the aftermath. My older brother described the coldness of a courtroom with Chris referred to only as “the deceased” as if he was not a living, breathing human being before that fateful day adds salt to the wounds. Chris is more than a statistic, more than a victim of impaired driving. He was loved in life and he is loved still.

Chris’s daughter has been attending the trial and it makes me sick to my stomach that she is. She is so young. I worry about the effects this trial may have on her. His son has decided not to go, unless his sister needs him to. They are both dealing with the horror in the best way they can – in ways that feel right to each of them.  My niece feels compelled to go; to see it through. I suspect she does it to honour her Dad. My nephew feels that attending the trial will not change the fact that his father is gone and regardless of the outcome it won’t bring his Dad back. He is right.

Why do any of us subject ourselves to the pain and anguish of sitting through this criminal trial? I cannot answer that yet. I do know we all want answers and perhaps by attending the court proceedings we will. get them  This man claims to be “not guilty” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Had he pleaded guilty to the charges I may have felt more empathy and compassion for him, but it is hard to feel anything for him but animosity and disgust.

Tomorrow I will be travelling to Ontario to be with my siblings and all my nieces and nephews. I feel compelled to go – to lend what support I can to all of them, but especially to Chris’s children.  I am apprehensive about what to expect when I finally join them in that courtroom, and so, if you are a person of prayer I ask that you pray for me and for all my family. I like to try to find something positive in every experience, but I must admit I am hard pressed to find the silver lining in this particular cloud. Perhaps one day, in hindsight, I will .

Frozen and adrift


DARKNESS

Numb

Frozen

Adrift

Nothing much matters

Zombie-like I stumble through days

Filled with Heartache

Awaiting the warmth of the sun

And for humanity to care once again

I know it’s there

Beneath the layers of scar tissue

That heart full of love

Coping, waiting

Dark days

Darker nights

Yet hope softly whispers,

“Hang on, child,

Brighter days are coming”

A hand reaches out

Enfolds mine

Anchors me

Brings a moment of solace

And I breathe deeply

Of peace

I take it in

Every cell bathed

In the light

Of love

When your muse dies


STORM

When your muse dies,

Or seems to have fled

And your soul shrivels up

words fail

And the light goes out

The world is full of darkness

Where there is no inspiration

And all seems dismal

Suddenly a flash of lightening colours the sky

With a momentary brightness

And in the storm

Hope rises up

To tell me:

This, too, shall pass

So worry not

All is well

And all will be well

A Manic March


It’s been a tough few weeks. Moving is never fun but I am so very grateful for the people who stepped up to help. Family and friends are definitely the super glue that holds me together. Through good times and bad times they’ve been there for me to lean on, or to help celebrate life’s joys. I feel like I have been walking along a razor’s edge between these seemingly opposite emotions – one minute happy the next grief-stricken once again. Because you see, it was my younger brother, Chris, who so often stepped up to help us, whether it was moving our belongings or something as simple as a ride to the airport, he was always there for us – it’s been four months now since his death, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. Even through the exhaustion of moving, or perhaps especially because of that fatigue, he sprang to mind frequently. I remember when he helped us move and also made sure there was a hot supper waiting when the last load had finally been dropped at our new place. I not only appreciated his strength, I was inspired once again by his thoughtfulness.  He was an amazing brother and friend. I miss him.

So, for what it’s worth – I am back! Thank you for reading my blog and I will spare you further exposure to my grief. For those of you who know my family you know Chris was killed when an impaired driver crashed into my brother’s vehicle. So, once again, I implore all of you – never get into a vehicle with an impaired driver; and be careful on the highways and byways, for I would not wish this pain on anyone. Stay safe my friends.

Hills, valleys, and plateaus


On top of the hill

Where life is fine

And blessings flow

Like a soft spring rain

Joy surges and surges again

But down in the valley

Where life seems hard

And tears flow

Like plummeting waterfalls

That seem to have no end

And have within them sharpest shards

That cut deeply into the soul

Rendering it helpless and forlorn

It is then we must remember

There will be a plateau

A resting place

Where neither great joy nor great sorrow

Reaches.

The plateau

Where most of life is lived

Where we get up each day to well-known routines

The sometimes ho-hum days of existence

Where joyful blessings are taken for granted

We do not remember the blessings

Nor the pain that once had us down on our knees,

That too is forgotten in the daily grind

Of earning our bread

But the lessons of the valley and the rewards of the hills

Should never be taken for granted

During our time on the plateau

the joys should be like leavening to bread

Helping us rise once again

To a brand new day

And the pain

Serve to remind us

Of blessings

That we will know one day again

For life is a series of ups and downs

But neither lasts forever

Sharing memories of my brother, Chris – part 1


chris-in-his-first-car

Chris was the youngest in our family of nine children. He was killed in a car accident on November 19, 2016 when his vehicle was hit by an impaired driver. It is important to me that my brother does not become one more nameless and faceless statistic for he was loved and cherished by our family. By sharing his story I hope to bring a human factor to this senseless and needless tragedy.

Chris was a very caring and generous person. To understand how unique and special he was I need to go back to one of my earliest memories of my brother. Chris was very little then, perhaps 5 or 6 and this is the story of another car accident that he was in – and it was purely an accident!

Dad was taking us three youngest ones to the store for an ice cream when we saw two young women walking on the side of the road and about to climb the steep hill known as Berry Head hill. He was slowing down to offer them a ride when Chris opened his door too soon. He fell out of the car and under the rear wheels. You can imagine what a fright we all had. Poor Dad thought he’d killed his little boy.

Well, we lived in a rural area – the nearest hospital was about a 45-minute drive from where we lived. Dad was very shaken up and my sister and I were crying. Dad scooped Chris up in his arms and drove with him cradled across his lap back to our house, which was a short distance away, to get Mom.

And here is where it gets emotional for me because I remember Chris patting Dad’s back and telling him “it’s okay Daddy, I’m all right” and then looking over Dad’s shoulder at my sister and me, “don’t cry, I’m okay” – he kept saying this the whole way back to the house.

This is quintessential Chris. He was more concerned about us than himself, even though he had to have been in pain. His entire life was a continuance of putting others first, even if it meant a huge inconvenience or sacrifice on his part.

To make a long story short Chris’s hips were crushed and he was in hospital for a while. When we got back to the house Dad and Mom rushed to the hospital with my brother. I also remember the joyous reunion when he finally came home….this time there will be no coming home. Aw Chris, you are so missed….

Mourning


Mourning in the morning

And in the evening too

No matter where I look I see you

You live in my mind and heart

And though we are apart

You will live on

Through memories

Though painful

They’re also very sweet

I will tuck you close

Inside my heart

Until at last we meet

Statistics say….


christopher-gerard-morrissey-june-29-1960-november-19-2016

Statistics can tell us many things, but they are only numbers without a human face, empty of feeling, empty of meaning.  On November 19, 2016 my brother was killed by an impaired driver and became one more number in the unending string of statistics that represent human beings snatched from life.  No, they did not die – they were cruelly and forever taken from the daily lives of their family and friends; senselessly slaughtered on the highways and byways without a second thought by the people who choose to tip back a bottle or a glass. Death by any other means would be acceptable, though painful, for those of us left behind – this needless and sudden wrenching away of loved ones must be stopped, but how?

Several of my family members are petitioning government for stricter laws, and I applaud them, but I think it goes deeper than that. I think it is still socially acceptable to drink and drive and that needs to change. And going even deeper I believe alcoholism and drug abuse are symptoms of people in extreme pain who are using either alcohol or drugs to self medicate, to numb the pain. Our mental health care is sadly lacking while government racks up millions in taxes from the sale of alcohol. What good will it do to lock people up once the deed is done? That is not to say people should not be held accountable for their actions for indeed they should, but we also need to look at ourselves as a society and ask ourselves what value we put on human life.  My brother is more than a statistic and I need people to know that.