For my brother

I have to be honest. As far  as tragedy is concerned, I’ve lived a pretty charmed life (knock on wood). I still have all my grandparents, my family is generally in good health and we all have a great time when we’re together. I’ve never had to handle a true, unexpected, personal and tragic event. So, when it comes to the serious stuff, I’m not ashamed to admit that I have no idea how to deal.  When the unthinkable happened, the only thing I could think to do, late at night, when I couldn’t sleep, was to write about it. Get my thoughts on paper and out of my head so maybe, just maybe, a microscopic amount of rest could be found. So, here I am. And I’m going to tell you about my brother Alex.

Alex was born 2 years and 364 days after me, leaving our birthdays one day apart. April 17th and April 18th to be exact. He was born weighing (wait for it) 9 lbs 10oz. Right??! If you’ve seen my teeny mom you’re amazed by this. I’m told that he had a giant head and smooshed face with a nose that could never be duplicated. And as legend has it, he was placed in my mom’s arms and she and my dad stared at him while jokingly stating, “Hmmm. Well, maybe he’ll have a good personality!”. This sentiment was punctuated by family when they visited and upon laying eyes upon him, stated “Oh! He’s soooo… BIG.” I know to the innocent bystander, this may sound mean, but because only a few months later he blossomed into an adorable kid with big blue eyes and then a handsome adult, it was just funny. We all chuckled each time we heard the birth story and Alex would feign dramatic distraught. We always comforted him by saying that if he’d turned out to be an ugly-duckling, we wouldn’t tell the story at all (too sensitive, ya know?). So, the fact that we felt the need to tell it (a lot) was a compliment in itself. To this explanation, we’d get a partial smile (which was partial only because of his attempt to hide it). And we knew we had him.

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Our day-apart birthdays, lead to joint birthday parties at McDonalds (or MikkyD’s, if you will) for the first few years of life. I just always assumed that’s how things were. Didn’t all brothers and sisters have their birthdays together? We always had fun and enjoyed the limelight together (well, maybe he’d let me have the larger percentage. Because he was cool like that.).

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Around this period of time, strangers often asked if Alex and I were twins because I was so small for my age and he was so tall. I hated this and was super quick to correct people on the fact that I was THREE years older (humph!! Attitude. Attitude.). Alex loved it, though. He thought it was greatness. Here’s what I mean….

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We were practically the same size!

My mom says that when we were younger, Alex followed me around endlessly and would do my bidding as I pleased. I would boss him around and he would do anything I asked happily and willingly. I don’t have clear memories of this but I’m guessing that I thought it was pretty awesome. He smartened up eventually, which is probably why I can’t remember. As kids, Alex and I spent a lot of time together. Building forts in our basement, mostly. Alex loved to play an Army guy named “Tex”. And I was the princess (surprise?) whom he was protecting. We sometimes pretended that the concrete floor was lava with alligators in it (aka: mutant lava-tolerant alligators). We would jump around on the furniture from piece to piece until we were hungry and needed a snack. But, my all-time favorite memory, was Alex’s Urkel impression. He did the BEST Steve Urkel impression. (got any cheeeese??? Did I do thaaaatt???). He pulled his pants up to his chest and imitated the PERFECT stance. It was epic. I made him do it over and over and laughed every time.

My dad recently told this story, which I had forgotten until he mentioned it.  Around the age of five (maybe), my parents enrolled Alex in soccer.  He was on a team called the Jellybeans with my cousin Anthony.   Anthony and Alex were a year apart and two peas in a pod.  They played together all the time.  Positions were moot on the Jellybeans, which was what made it awesome (and super cute).  Both teams just pretty much ran in a pack chasing the ball.  On one occasion, Alex ended up in a breakaway with the ball and started running towards the goal with Anthony trailing close behind.   The crowd went nuts for Alex.  “Go!  GO! GO!!”.  Then, Anthony stumbled and fell.  Upon glancing back and realizing this, Alex promptly forgot about the ball and ran back to help his cousin.  The crowd screamed “NO!!! Get the ball!!!”   But Alex had already forgotten about that.   He’d rather give up the glamour of making his first goal to help his cousin.   No man left behind.   This was just Alex.   And how he was his entire life.

Enter our pre-/teen years. We pretty much argued like cats and dogs. Never over anything serious, though. It was always just us pushing each others buttons. And no one knew how to push my buttons like Alex. He could send me from happy to screaming in 5 seconds flat. And here we stayed for a few years. Bickering. Driving our poor parents mad.

Then, I graduated high school and moved to Baton Rouge to attend LSU. A few years later, Alex started at UNT. And somehow we became friends again. We could be in the same space and get along. It was nice. And I always knew that a conversation which started with “So, you’re a girl, right?” meant he needed girlfriend advice. Which I was happy to give. Not that I’m an expert. But, it was nice to know that he wanted my advice.

Ever since his days as “Tex”, Alex had wanted to be in the US Special Forces. After receiving his Mechanical Engineering degree from UNT he joined the military. First, the Navy in an attempt to become a SEAL, and when that didn’t work out, he transferred to the Army to become a Green Beret. It took years of working towards that goal, and many, many trials and tribulations along the way, but he finally earned his Green Beret status….

He spent several years in training, so we only got to see him when he was on leave.

After our son Lucas was born, Alex couldn’t wait to see him and it just so happened that his leave began two days after Lucas’s birth.

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He was so proud to have procured his new baby nephew his very first foam battle ax along with a drum set to drive his mommy crazy (like any uncle should). And I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and crack up laughing in defeat when Al sent me a video (while I was at work and completely helpless) of him teaching my then-one-year-old baby boy how to do “see food” while he was eating. He stated that it was his responsibility as an uncle to corrupt my son, so he was simply doing his duty.

Alex was always really helpful whenever he was in town.   If I ever needed a babysitter, or help with something in particular, he would make it happen.   Even though I lived over an hour away.   Even if he had plans.  He always helped me out.   I sometimes felt guilty, because I knew that he was only in town for a short while.  I tried not to ask too often for this reason, but if I ever did ask (not knowing what his plans were), his answer more often than not was some version of “Well, I was supposed to do ____.   But I dont have to.  Ill just be late/go another time.”  And he’d help me over continuing with his previous plans.  I was always really touched by this gesture.  Always.

The absolute BEST, though, was last year on Christmas Eve. Alex had purchased a Santa suit. And not just any Santa suit. The GOOD Santa suit. He said he wanted it to last for years. He dressed up after Christmas Eve dinner to visit Lucas as Santa. Lucas was terrified, but soon warmed up (sort of) when “Santa” presented him with a shiny green car. It was great. And I loved that Alex wanted to do this for Lucas. What a terrific uncle. Here’s a little glimpse….

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This was as close as Lucas would get. I love the expression on his face, too.  Somebody was not too certain about Santa Claus.

Then, he met Hope…

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…And I knew he’d met someone special. Instead of calling me to ask for advice about her, he called to TELL ME about her, which was a huge change. He seemed content. And even in April (or maybe it was May) only a few months after they began dating, he was already planning to fly her in to Texas to see us come September. I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to meet her. When September came, she didn’t disappoint. She was sweet, pretty, smart, athletic, down to earth… Everything I’d hoped for him. And I couldn’t wait for him to get through his pending stint in Afghanistan so that MAYBE I’d get the news that I’d be gaining a sister. Maybe. I’d hoped anyways.

Then, Sunday November 17th, 2013 came. It was a normal day like any other when there was a knock at the door. I almost didn’t answer it because we get a lot of solicitors and I didn’t recognize the car outside (and we need a peephole, seriously.). I asked who was there and the men stated that it was in regards to Staff Sgt. Alex A. Viola. I threw open the door and there before me stood two very tall men in military uniforms . Immediately, my brain started repeating the mantra “Please, just tell me he’s hurt. Please, just tell me he’s hurt….”. But no dice. They’d come to notify me that while on foot patrol earlier that morning, Alex had stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device) and had died at a hospital in Kandahar. “…Succumbed to his wounds” were the exact words they used. I can still hear the chaplain saying it. “He was rushed to a hospital in Kandahar where he succumbed to his wounds.”

I immediately lost it, of course. Completely. I mean, how could this happen?? To ALEX?? This can’t be real. This can’t POSSIBLY be real. But it was.

November 17th was a dark day. The worst. My baby brother.

I never told him what an amazing guy I thought he was. What a great uncle. I bragged about him all the time. Behind his back. I don’t think he even knew it. So, if there’s one thing I can say, it’s this….

Go tell your loved ones how you feel about them. NOW. They deserve to hear it. And you never know when your last chance to tell them will be. So, do it now. Never did I think that I’d never get to speak with my brother again. Never in a million years. I took for granted that he’d be home in a few months safe and sound without a second thought. And I was wrong. I was so wrong. And it kills me that I didn’t tell him the things I should’ve.

So, with that in mind…. Alex, if you’re up there, reading with your brand new state of the art Heaven-version iPad, know this…. You were a great little brother and I am so, so proud of you. I’ll miss you always and will accost Lucas with pictures and stories of you constantly. He will grow up knowing who you are and feeling like he knows you all his life. I love you lots and will always have you in my thoughts. And thank you for everything. For everything you’ve done for me. For Lucas. For Mom and Dad. For making me laugh and giving me a hard time. You’re largely responsible for my even HAVING a sense of humor. And of course, thank you for defending our country. I’d be lucky if I possessed an ounce of the bravery you did.

Here are a few more pics of/with my handsome brother…

Frank Alex mowing

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Now, I know this post isn’t home or DIY related, but I needed to share my brother with the world (or, rather, with my three readers) because he deserves a loud and proud shout-out. He gave his life for his country. I’m not sure what’s more courageous than that. The least I could do was honor him in a post. So, I hope I did his fun, witty, caring personality justice. I really, really hope I did. Because he deserves every bit of it. And will never, ever be forgotten.

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147 thoughts on “For my brother

  1. I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. My husband is in your brothers battalion and I worry about him everyday. And I’m even more scared now after hearing about your brother and the other 2 guys from the battalion. Being apart of a military family is so hard and you never want to get that knock on your door. Again, so sorry for your loss.

    And to the families of the other two soldiers, so sorry for the loss of your loved one.

    I’m thinking about you all.

  2. Thank you for your post. Like you, my brother was killed on a base in Afghanistan on Sept 21,2013 along with two other Special Forces. I don’t know you but I’m very proud of you for sharing your story. You’ve given me courage to write about my badass brother too. If you ever need someone to talk to about what you’re going through please contact me. You’re not alone. You’re in my prayers. Sending hugs, Maeve

  3. I lost my “little” brother three years ago next month. A strapping 6’4″ 200+ pounder that also was a giant at birth. He never managed to grow into his nose though. My brother was Alexander and we called him Alex. He was four years my junior and it really wasn’t until I read what you wrote that I remembered how much we did together as children. My attitude always appeared when grown ups would tell me “you look so much like your brother” I would correct them by saying that I came first so he must look like me. We had our first sons 16 days apart. He was killed while felling a tree two months before his basic training report date. I had just moved with my husband from NC to Ft Drum. His absence will be a hole in my heart for the rest of my life. I just gave birth to my second son and named him Xander in honor of my brother. I cry a lot even three years later but it’s a good thing. He’s worth every tear shed. I’m so sorry for your loss and hope you don’t hurry yourself through the grieving process. Take the time you need to hurt and to rage. But don’t even try to convince yourself that he didn’t know how much you loved him, annoying little brothers always knew way more than they should. My big sister heart is breaking for you all over again. It’s a really crappy club to belong to but you are not alone. Someone told me in the first weeks after our Alex’s death that “some obstacles in life you just don’t get over and you have to learn how to get around it” it made me mad because “getting over him” and “getting around it” made it sound like I was trying to forget him and move on. I didn’t want to do either of those things. So mostly I try to bear the burden of his loss with as much grace as I can muster and keep his memory as close as possible at all times. I never miss an opportunity to share a memory with friends and I always raise my glass for him. It helps me. I realize I don’t know you and I also know that there are no words I can say to help much as I wish there were. My condolences. It sounds like you are a pretty darn awesome big sister to have gotten such an amazing little brother.

  4. Thank you for sharing your brother with the whole world. My husband was with 3rd SFG when he died in AUG of 2012 from wounds he received in battle. Stay strong. My love and prayers to all of you who are scared, and heartbroken. May the blessings of hope not be far for you.

  5. Christina,
    After reading the story you shared about your brother, there is no doubt he knew how much you loved him. You honored him in the highest with your words and know that his sacrifice was not in vain. I am so sorry for your loss.
    Joe F.

  6. Thank you for sharing your brother with the world. I have no doubt he knew exactly how much you loved him. You have honored that love a big sister has for her little brother and his service to this nation well. I will never forget the ultimate sacrifice your family now endures. I am forever thankful for the freedoms he protected. From a fellow big sister to a great little brother.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your story about your brother. He was indeed a special man and I thank him for his service to his country. My prayers go out for you and your family in this sad time of loss. You were truly blessed to have him in your life, for at least a little time.

  8. Christina,

    Thank you for your beautiful, poignant memoir. I am the father of a Northeast Tarrant County soldier with three combat deployments. I grieve with every family of a young warrior who has made the ultimate sacrifice. Please know that your thoughts, reflections, and memories serve to give comfort and perspective to all of us whose loved ones have answered the call to defend our liberty.

    Prayers for you and your family this holiday season.

  9. Dear Christina ~ Your words are a amazing tribute to your brother. And a powerful reminder to let those we love, know how much we love them, everyday. Blessings to you & all your family during this time of enormous grief.

  10. Alex died a hero defending freedom, serving his country and doing what he loved to do. I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. My heart cries out for you, your family, Hope and those in the 3rd Battalion, SFG. May you have the peace and understanding that only comes from God. Alex gave the ultimate sacrifice and will be held in the hearts of Americans forever.
    Thank you for reminding us all to tell our loved ones how we truly feel about them. That really hit home for me and I found it hard to fight back tears. There is someone I love who is in Afghanistan right now. I’m so ashamed to admit it, but I took for granted an amazing, brave and loving soldier. Reading what you wrote made me realize that no matter what the outcome may be, he needs to know NOW how I truly feel about him and how deeply I regret the way I acted towards him. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
    God Bless you ALWAYS,
    Ashley

  11. Your beautiful tribute to your brother is a wonderful tesitment to you and your family of the love that surrounded him every day. I’m sure he knew how much he was loved. Hugs, peace, and prayers.

  12. Christina, you are a gem . Thank you for sharing Alex with us in your writing. You are a wonderful sister and your brother makes us all proud of our service members. Thank you and your family for your own service to our country. May God bless you all and keep you close.
    Gary

  13. I just wanted to tell you that I loved reading your story. My brother passed away 2007 and to this day it feels like the day it happened. I succumbed to his illness from Agent orange which he contracted while serving in Granada. I miss him everyday
    God Bless
    Evelyn Espinola

  14. Christina, thank you for having the courage to Honor the brother and Hero your brother is. I have been blessed with having two sons and a young cousin do multiple tours and they were lucky enough to have returned relatively intact; at least physically.
    With each moment they were gone I always feared what you and your family have experienced. Those who serve, serve for Family and their fellow Warriors/Protectors. I know of your brother through my son, who happen to be assigned with him at the 19th SF. My son too feels the pain as do those who serve, those who have served and, sadly, the families that have sacrificed the loss of a loved one.
    God bless you and your family. Your Brother will not be Forgotten by those that care and our Family.

  15. I’m so sorry for your loss. My wife saw your brothers name online and asked if i knew him. I said yes and she saw your blog. I was one of Alex’s instructors in the Q course. He was a really great guy and probably one of the toughest students I’d seen. I remember when he fell in the sewer hole on mackall up to his arm pits. When his squad mates tried to get him out; well it was a clown show. That’s when I saw his leg. His shin was cut to the bone and he had this look on his face…he was hurtin but didn’t care about that; he just didn’t want to be dropped. I think he got 7 stitches or staples or something…either way he was right back in training the next day. I knew he was gonna be good to go right then. My condolences for your family’s loss. God bless.
    De Oppresso Liber
    SFC Erik Wilson
    1st SFG(A)

  16. Thank you for sharing your story and it was my pleasure to read about your brother. I lost my brother 11 years ago and although easier with time the lesson I learned were almost the same as yours don’t wait to tell those around you how you feel. The one I recommend for all is adopt the trait you admired the most from the one who you have lost, and make it yours. So they live thru you everyday. I am sorry for your families sacrifice and loss, but I know your brother believed in his task at hand and was around those who also loved him. DOL

  17. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful account of your brother. I did not know him but I thank God for our servicemen everyday. They give so much for us. I just want you to know that I am a very humble and grateful American. Your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  18. I wish people commenting would stop making her beautiful story about YOU. This isn’t your time or place to compare your loss to hers. Beautifully written story about your brother! He sounded like a wonderful man.

  19. I’m just now reading this post after seeing it reported by my family a few days back. My brother, Liam, was also KIA just two short terrible months ago. As horrible as it is I am comforted as I read your post and know that there are sisters like me out there living my pain. Thank you for sharing.

  20. Sweet Christina: you and Alex were and are 2 peas in a pod. Your love of such a phenomenal man and this blog says it all. I realize their are not any “right words” at this time for you and your family as your loss is too massive., but I want you to know I spend a good amount of time with him when he was home after your moms surgery, and I feel blessed to have known him as well as you and your amazing family. I realize there are not any words that can help the ache in your heart for the tremendous loss of Alex., however I do want you to know we love and will forever stand by you and your family. Grateful are we for his love of his country and his love of family and friends. 24/7 we are forever available to you all. With much love, Laura, Glenn and family-

  21. I am so very sorry for your loss. What a wonderful story you have written….thank you for sharing it with us all. I will share it too. God Bless you & your family. Alex will NEVER be forgotten.

  22. Thank you for sharing your story. My nephew Robert Larsen is in Alex’s unit and was there that sorrowful day. All I can say is God Bless Alex, you and your entire family. We pray for all those serving so we can enjoy our freedoms.

  23. Thank you for sharing this…I too can share in the pain of losing someone you love in a very tragic and untimely death. So thank you for sharing your story! I will never forget your brother’s story and I will continue to pray for you and your family. Please know that my daughter and I shared so wonderful memories today. First by holding a flag across from the church showing our support, then to us shaking your family’s hands at the cemetary. Your family will forever be in our hearts, our memories, and our prayers! May God bring your family the love, peace, and healing you all deserve. God Bless America, all of our troops, and their loved ones who stand behind them at home.

    with my deepest condolences,
    Tuesday Cohee

  24. Christina, I don’t know you nor have I ever read your site. Your mom and I have a mutual friend and that is how I found your website. First let me say I’m sorry about your brother. From your story of him he seemed like an awesome guy! Secondly, I want to say “thank you.” It’s hard for me to imagine what it’s like to lose a family member to war. You and your parents must be so proud of him and his willingness to sacrifice for people who don’t know what the meaning of sacrifice is. I appreciate him and what he fought so hard to have.

  25. This was the most beautiful tribute. My son is on the team with Alex.
    I am so sorry . I could have been reading about John. He is also a mechanical engineer, hockey player, 29, has a beautiful girlfriend, a family that loves him, and a great person. I was so moved by what you said.
    John had so much respect for Alex. Again, I am so sorry.

  26. Christina, my heart just breaks for you and your family. Every time I read this post I have tears streaming down my face. Please know that the soldiers and families of ODA 7325 will always be here to support you and your family. We are forever grateful for you, your family, and Alex’s sacrifices for our country.

    “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

  27. Christina,

    What an incredible tribute to your brother. Thank you for sharing about his life, he is and always will be a hero to so many. My heart breaks for your family’s loss, as my family went through the same thing there years ago, when my dad, John McHugh, was also killed in Afghanistan.

    It’s inspiring to read your words and to see how proud you are of your brother’s life. I have shared numerous stories about my dad’s memories through my blog, and over the past three years writing has been a tool that provided me so much healing. Keep writing about your brother, talking about him, remembering him and celebrating the American hero he is because the world deserves to know his sacrifice for our freedom.

    Please feel free to reach out to my family and me if you or your family ever need anything!

    Thoughts and prayers to your family,

    Kelly McHugh
    Daughter of Col. John M. McHugh, KIA May 18, 2013
    http://www.kmchugh07.wordpress.com

  28. Hi Christina,
    Your dad is a long time close friend of mine and I’ve been at your house a few times and I know your mom and I had the pleasure of meeting you and Alex when you were both maybe too young to remember.

    I just want to say what a beautiful tribute you have written for your brave brother Alex. I grew up being an Army brat and have been following Alex’s military career closely through his dad. I’m so sorry for this terribly tragic loss and I have been praying for your family.

    Your tribute to your brother is so sincere and so full of the love you have for Alex. I’m certain Alex knows how much you love him and how proud you are of him just as certain as I am that Alex is with God now. I too am very proud of what a fine man Alex grew up to be and I am so thankful for his courage to fight for his country. This is truly a beautiful tribute you have written for him. I wish you and your family all the best.

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