Early Tuesday morning, my mom sent an instant message to my sisters and me: “Give me a call when you get this please.”
She had tragic news to share. My 24-year-old cousin Alex had drowned. Through his short life, Alex had suffered from seizures because his brain wasn’t wired the usual way. He appears to have had one in a swimming pool.
I have dozens of cousins, but Alex has always had a special place in my heart. Nineteen years ago this month, he was the ring bearer at our wedding. That’s him on our wedding day in the image accompanying this post. He seemed so proud to be part of our special day.
As he grew up, Alex’s brain condition meant that he didn’t have the freedom other teens and young adults did. But he never seemed to let it get him down. At family gatherings, he was always laughing, smiling and teasing. He created joy for those around him.
I recently wrote a blog post about how curses become blessings. But after Alex died, that post felt so naive, so ignorant, so wrong. How could the untimely death of this beautiful young soul be anything but a curse?
I wanted to write a blog post about Alex, but I the only emotion I could muster was anger and sadness that life could be so unfair.
But then Alex’s friend Jaylene got up to speak at his funeral. She talked about her generous and loyal friend with a contagious smile and a unique sense of style.
And then she asked us to do something for Alex:
I want everyone to make a promise to Alex today. One you must keep. In all you do, be grateful, confident and happy. Never let anything hold you back from being who you are. Embrace every minute and every day. And most importantly, love hard and be there for each other.
Whether you knew Alex or not, you will honor his memory if you choose to live your life this way.
After the service, a white dove landed in a tree in front of the church. The dove seemed to be watching as Alex’s family and his service dog Oscar got into their car. We were mesmerized. In religions around the world, the white dove has special significance. In Christianity, the dove is portrayed as a symbol of the holy spirit. And Slavs traditionally believed that the doves carry the souls of the dead to heaven.
I couldn’t help but take a picture:
As Alex’s family shut the door to the car, the dove flew away.
We left the church and met up at a reception to celebrate Alex’s life.
When it was time to go, my wife Laura said goodbye to Alex’s dad. He gave her a hug and some teary advice: “Go home and hug your boys.”
You can bet we did.
To cherish every moment we have with our children is another promise we’ll be sure to keep in Alex’s honor.