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.

 

(If you’d like to read a follow-up to this post which I wrote for our local K Magazine, you can find it HERE.)

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147 thoughts on “For my brother

  1. Thank you for sharing and giving America a sense of who your brother was. He sounds like he was one of a kind and the least we can do is share this post so that he may be honored. Many prayers going up for you and your family.

  2. This is an amazing post!!! I never met him but have mourned him for Hope, but you have given me a glimpse of what a great man he was….to your family, to Hope, to our country!!! God bless you and comfort you all, you are in my prayers!!!

  3. This is beautiful. I woke at 2:30 AM thinking about you, your mom and dad and the pain of losing Alex. I saw your writing and sat and cried. Thank you for sharing. You don’t know me, but my daughter went to school with Alex, made first communion and confirmation together, and hung out at UNT together. She thought the world of him. My prayers are with you and your family. Alex did a wonderful thing for his country. Be proud of him – I know you are! He will be remembered! Love and prayers to the Viola Family.

  4. This is truly heartbreaking. Time will heal you, and you should rest assured that there is no doubt he understood how much his sister loved & valued him. Telling him these things would have simply been stating the obvious – you have DEFINITELY honored his memory with this post and I wish you all the best as you try to process this. You’re probably going to be inundated with replies because this is spreading on FB pretty quickly among members of the military. Take care of yourself & your family and remember to breathe…he has made his country proud and people like him are the reason I have spent 27 years in the Army.

  5. Just want you and your family to know we are praying for y’all from Destin, Florida. Even though Alex was only here briefly he left an impact on our community. We are so grateful for his service to our country. May God’s peace that surpasses all understanding comfort you during this time.

  6. What a beautiful tribute. I lost my husband to the war 2 years ago. I am so sorry that we share this pain. I have found great hope and healing from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (www.taps.org) and now actually work for them. If you need support, please contact us. We are survivors of military loss helping each other heal. God bless you and your sweet Alex.

  7. Christina,

    I am very saddened by the death of your brother. My youngest son, Chris, and Alex worked out together doing Cross Fit. I very vividly remember my son introducing Alex to me at one of the Ft Bragg Cross Fit competitions. My son enjoyed doing Cross Fit and joking around with Alex.

    Your brother was an outstanding young man. Though I only met him once he made an impression on me; he was not afraid to take the tough road and his self sacrifice and honor will not be forgotten.

    He made the supreme sacrifice doing what he wanted to be doing …. serving as a SF soldier!

    I pray for his soul and for God’s comfort to you and your family.

    v/r,

    Ted

  8. Saw the link to this post on FB.
    I went to Keller, and knew of your brother, but didn’t have the pleasure of knowing him on a more personal level. I am so sorry for your family’s loss. This post was beautifully written, and gave us all insight to the amazing person Alex was.
    Sending prayers and good thoughts up for your family. God bless Alex and we thank him for his service and ultimate sacrifice.
    -Dani (Giesy) Dillig

  9. I just want to start out by saying sorry for your loss. Alex was a great man. I got to know him during one of our training phases. I remember him falling in a large home one night on a training movement and hurting his ankle very bad. He was taken to the hospital for x-rays and nothing was broke so he decided to gut out the last 8 weeks of the training with a really bad ankle. I rennet the rest of us wanting to take some of his gear to help lighten the load he had to carry but he wanted nothing of it. He had to pull his weight even though he finally listened to us and let his teammates help out. I think at this point it was his 3rd time having to do this phase do to other injuries he had in the times before. We just all so pablum wanted him to get through it. Like you already now he was a great guy and we all knew that so we where gonna do our best to help him get through it. Even though I had a brief in counter with your brother I just wanted to say he is a great man. He’s one of the good ones and will be missed. Sorry for you lost and you and your family will be in my prayers.

    SGT de Mestre

  10. This came up on my news feed like it did for many who have commented before me. You don’t know me, but I feel like I know you and your wonderful brother now. Thank you for writing such a beautiful piece and for the reminder that life is short and precious. You and your family are in my thoughts.

  11. Praying for you and your family. Im friends with your brothers friends that served with him. My husband fought so hard to be special forces and it was a difficult time. The things these men are capable of are such a God given Gift! I am so thankful for everything your brother gave to his men, this country and for my families freedom. I am so sorry to hear he was one of the few to give all he had, yet I will never take my freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to education or freedom to live for granted! Thank you and he sounds like the most amazing brother, uncle, son and friend!!! He’s still with you…
    Love a fellow Military wife…
    Bianca

  12. As the sister to a twin brother and the wife of a green beret, I can’t imagine your pain. God bless your beautiful family and know that this post has made a difference. Such a sweet sister you are. And such a wonderful storyteller! I think your handsome brother would be proud. Sharing such intimate memories and emotions is brave in itself! Best to you and your family!

  13. I cannot tell you how moving your words-are.
    You have honored your brother in the most
    Beautiful way possible . I have you and your family in my prayers . I am thankful for his service . You have given us all a great reminder . My son is a Marine , and I will
    Keep all our service men and women in my heart this Thanksgiving .. Bless and big love
    For you

  14. Thank you, God Bless You. That story hit close to home, and I love how you celebrate the life and hold them close as if they haven’t left at all, just gone for a while. They are always with us just as our heavenly father remains with us in spirit and someday soon we will all be together again. Kandahar, was filled with many great men and women. God Bless the USA and the children who sing as one. Love you all!Alanna

  15. Christina,

    I am so very sorry for your untimely loss, and I realize no words of mine can ever console you. As far as your aforementioned writing is concerned, I can only exclaim, Wow, what an amazing family…..both you and your brother! You have celebrated Alex’s life in a most eloquent way. You’ve personified the inhumanity of war for all the world to see. We all have a brother, sister, mother and father, but you have managed to portray the relationship, and the lives of your brother and yourself as if it could have been any of our brothers and sisters in that resulted in this heartbreaking situation.

    I empathized, I laughed, I cried and I feel hurt for you and your family. Your brother will never be forgotten, and neither will you for sharing your heart with the world. God needed Alex more than any of us on earth…..he is safer now than he’s ever been…..Lucas and you should know that you have the best Guardian Angel in the world…..God bless all of you…..

    Sincerely,

    P. J.

  16. Christina,

    I am so very sorry for your untimely loss, and I realize no words of mine can ever console you. As far as your aforementioned writing is concerned, I can only exclaim, Wow, what an amazing family…..both you and your brother! You have celebrated Alex’s life in a most eloquent way. You’ve personified the inhumanity of war for all the world to see. We all have a brother, sister, mother and father, but you have managed to portray your relationship, and the lives of your brother and yourself as if it could have been any of our brothers and sisters that resulted in this heartbreaking situation.

    I empathized, I laughed, I cried and I feel hurt for you and your family. Your brother will never be forgotten, and neither will you for sharing your heart with the world. God needed Alex more than any of us on earth…..he is safer now than he’s ever been…..Lucas and you should know that you have the best Guardian Angel in the world…..God bless all of you…..

    Sincerely,

    P. J.

  17. You don’t know me, but we are connected because my husband is a Green Beret currently serving in Afghanistan. Thank you for sharing such a lovely, touching tribute to your brother. His photo was already on my FB wall as a way to pay tribute to his sacrifice, so I am glad to have a small sense of this man to whom we are all indebted. I will be running a Turkey trot this week in blue and will run in honor of Alex and his loved ones. Much love to you and your family.

  18. I am so very sorry for the loss of your brother. I lost my older brother (my only sibling) nearly 3 yes ago and to be honest, the pain has not eased at all. I have never expected it to. Time will not bring them back. My only comfort comes from knowing that he was doing what he wanted to do and I share him with everyone I meet. Keeping his memory alive is so important. Your post really hit close to home. Please know that you are in the prayers of many.

  19. I am so very sorry for the loss of your brother. I lost my older brother (my only sibling) nearly 3 years ago in Afghanistan. He was killed by a suicide bomber. To be honest, the pain has not eased at all. I have never expected it to. Time will not bring them back. My only comfort comes from knowing that he was doing what he wanted to do and I share him with everyone I meet. Keeping his memory alive is so important. Your post really hit close to home. Please know that you are in the prayers of many.

  20. So sorry for your loss.. Alex was a great man and he taught me a lot when he was in Utah for some training.. He will never be forgotten

  21. Your brother worked out at the gym I where I work. I would tease him about his last name and throw in a different instrument 🙂 he showed me pictures of your son all the time because I have a munchkin that comes with me. He was so proud to be an uncle! Thank you for sharing. Sending love your way from Fort Bragg.
    Yours,
    Amy

  22. What a beautiful story of a life well lived. Thanks for being able to share your brother’s story. Sending you prayers for peace and HUGS for comfort.

  23. I was honored to read your story through a fellow military wife’s post on Facebook. Our thoughts and prayers are with you during the coming days,as you,Joy and your family grieve your brother.He made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and we can never repay this debt to your family. He is a true American hero, and we thank you for sharing his story with the world.

  24. This is so beautifully written. I laughed out loud and I cried. It reminded me so much of the dynamics between my little brothers and me. I am reminded and encouraged to love my loved ones out loud so they know exactly how much I care. Thank you for this reminder. Thank you for this post. I also thank your family for their great sacrifice of standing with Alex during his time of courageous service – what a man of valor and character you’ve portrayed.

    Blessings,
    Jessica

  25. Both my husband and I are Army, and this story is very heart warming and hits close to home for me. We’ve lost comrades near and far, and this story you told, gave him justice to my heart, although I do not know your brother, I’m proud to have served with a wonderful Soldier. God Bless!

  26. I have no words….. there are not enough to express my gratitude for Alex and you and the rest of your family. “Thank you, Alex for your sacrifice” and “I am sorry for your loss” just does not cut it. I am proud of him and my heart aches for his you and your family. My son is a Special Forces Soldier. I am proud of him every day AND for all the soldiers that serve and sacrifice for our country. Thank you…..

  27. Saw this via Facebook. How I wish you didn’t have to go through the loss of your brother. My sister served in the AF and I was so thankful when she finally left the service. Thank you to you and your family for giving a piece of yourselves to our nations freedom.

  28. I am at a loss for words, but want you to know that story is one that no-one should ever have to experience, and I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my brother 19 years ago… it does get easier as time goes by and the tears turn to smiles as you are able to share the great memories like you have in this posting. Alex will never be forgotten and always loved! My heart goes out to you and your family.

  29. A former instructor from SFQC just shared this on Facebook. For military standards our family is small in SF but there is none closer.

    DOL bro, we’ll see you on the other side.

    Thanks for sharing, brought up a tear or two.

    De Oppresso Liber

  30. Just wanted to say that I remember meeting your brother on multiple occasions when I was in high school. I remember him being a remarkably friendly and genuine soul–so much so that the effect echoes 14 years later into the future. Thanks for letting us read this…I’m very sorry for your loss.

  31. Hi. My name is Meagan Forshage and I’d like to give my condolences for your loss. I am all too familiar with it. Staff Sgt Richard Lee Vazquez was the other solider from his company killed on Nov 13, 2013. He was the love of my life. I’d like to reach out to you and maybe talk. I’m finding it so difficult right now and with someone who is going through the same pain I thought maybe we could help each other. Please feel free to email me @ m_forshagr@yahoo.com.

  32. Thank you so much for your lovely story. It put a smile on my face. My brother SSG Richard Vazquez was killed the Wednesday before. He was I the same battalion as you awesome brother. I want to to send my condolences. I still can believe he is gone. My prayers go out to you and your family.

  33. I’m in awe if the relationship you had with your baby brother. It makes me so sad to think of yours and your family’s loss. His service to our country is so greatly appreciated!!! I know the coming holidays will be extremely difficult because this next year will be full of firsts without him. Sending prayers for your family from Cameron NC to help you all be brave and strong as I’m sure your brother was!!

  34. Certainly a true American hero. Memories will keep him forever in your heart — and Lucas will have his own special guardian angel. Thank you for sharing your wonderful brother with us – and may he RIP.

  35. Prayers being sent to you and your family. I am so very sorry for your loss. I hope you find peace and take comfort in that you know he is now in heaven.

  36. Dear Christina and your family ~

    That was a moving article you wrote and it was very touching. I’m sorry to learn about your dear brother Alex’ passing. My condolences to you and yours, ma’am.

    Hand-salute.

    Respectfully,
    Billy

    (disabled combat veteran of U.S. Naval Special Warfare)

  37. Dear Christina,
    Thank you for sharing this. I have a son who is a Green Beret and who is in Afghanistan right now. So, when I read about what happened to your brother, I burst into tears because I pray every day that I don’t get that knock at the door. That is all that holds me together – my faith that God will protect him and his team. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss and I will be praying for all of you.

  38. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m so sorry for your loss. Your brother’s service to our country is much appreciated. May God be with you and your family.

  39. I’m so sorry for you and your family’s loss. Your brother sounds like he was an amazing guy! A blessing to those who knew him and loved him. And a blessing to this country for his bravery. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  40. I am so very sorry for your loss. Such a wonderful tribute you wrote about your brother. My son was a Green Beret in the 7th group. I lost him last Nov 10th. Keep his memory alive . They say time heals. Hang onto the memories.

  41. Your shout out to your brother is so honorable. What a perfect picture of love that you have displayed with your expression. Alex has honored you as well by leaving such a wonderful and awesome legacy of himself. Remember that there is faith, hope and love. Of the these three, love is the greatest. I pray for peace, healing and strength as you and your family celebrates the heavenly reception of Alex. Weeping will continue to endure but joy will come.

  42. Christina – I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. I am saying many prayers of strength for your family during this most difficult time. Your story, your tribute to your brother is touching, moving and amazing. God Bless your family and thank you Alex for your honor, courage and dedication to our country.

  43. What a wonderful tribute to your brother. The American public must never forget that somebody’s brother/father/son, sister/mother/daughter is fighting and dying for us. I will be forever grateful to your handsome brother for his service and his sacrifice. He was one of “America’s Best.”

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