Today our friend Alexis would have been 40 years old. A few days after his April 21st death his wife Fiona - one of my dearest friends - and I sat at her dining room table and laughed and cried and wrote "the story of his life" together ... the obituary that I published on this website yesterday. To give you an idea about what kind of awesome people the Godschalks are: before we got started writing about Alexis she showed me the following YouTube video.
This is the kind of friends these people are in our lives. We have laughed and cried together a lot, but mostly laughed. One of my favorite things to tell people about Alexis is that he was impossible to offend. And really? It is one of the most true things I can remember about him. The man loved Jesus, but oh did he enjoy a raunchy joke. He would tell an off-color joke, crack himself up and laugh with this high-pitched cackle-laugh of his, blush completely pink, and we'd all be on the floor laughing so hard at him laughing at himself that we'd have tears running down our faces.
For instance, we introduced him to a hilarious game called iPhone Karaoke, and the premise is pretty simple: you put a pair of headphones on and they are connected to an iPhone or iPod in someone else's hand. They find a random song and you have to sing it with the headphones on. If you've never played this game with your friends I HIGHLY recommend it. The point is that you might or might not know the song, and if you DON'T know the song you have to sing it anyway, by making up words or scatting over the tune ... all while not really being able to hear yourself because you're wearing headphones. Alexis LOVED this game, except when it was his turn to play? He took control of the iPhone, took one headphone out, and chose HIS OWN SONG. His song of choice was usually by Whitney Houston. And even though he was being bossy and deliberately playing the game WRONG? We didn't care, because he was hilarious and he would always choose a diva/lady singer and go full-on soprano with it. Oh how I wish I had a video of him doing this to share with you!
Alexis was a 6'3" fair-complected, bearded Dutchman. He was born in South Africa, but his family moved all over the world and eventually landed back in their home country of The Netherlands. He was married to a beautiful, tall Belgian woman, and his children at ages 9,7, and 5 are all almost as tall as I am at age 34. He was a brilliant photographer, a car enthusiast, he loved good coffee and drank it like I did with a lot of half-and-half and sugar, and he insisted on hugging everyone. And if he even got a sniff that you were not a "hugger"? Well then he was going to hug you extra tightly and awkwardly and probably also kiss you on the top of the head (and he definitely did that to ME! And that made me more of a hugger than I've ever been in my whole life).
The afternoon before he died (on Easter Sunday) we were all at church together. Our family, the Godschalks, our church family, some of our dearest friends. Several people were baptized in a very moving service ... most of which I missed out on because our nursery childcare arrangements fell through that week and I volunteered to hang out with the children in the playroom. Alexis FaceTimed some of the service to me from the other room (isn't the tech age AWESOME?) so I could see and hear my friends testifying about what God had done in their lives ... powerful stuff. Fiona and my friend Lynne had me on FaceTime while they sang with the praise team - don't tell the Pastor-slash-my husband! ha! - and then we all gathered together, children and adults and every last one of us, to witness the baptisms. My 3-year-old son was particularly squirrelly that evening and probably a bit hopped up on Easter candy ... I had to prevent him from jumping into the baptistry pool several times. I snapped a few photos of the baptisms with my phone, one image of our children putting their hands out to bless their friend who was being baptized will stand out in my memory forever - and I vaguely remember seeing Alexis passing in and out of the crowd of people. I wonder now what he was doing, but my guess is that he was doing something helpful or taking the perfect photo. I took a few panorama shots of everyone gathered together and I cannot find him in a single image from that day.
Just a few minutes later we were gathering together in another room and preparing to share a meal together. Someone came to fetch me in the kitchen and said I needed to come now. RIGHT NOW. Elijah had tripped and fallen into the piano bench and split his forehead open. I was escorted to the bathroom where my husband and about 6 other people were attending my wailing, bleeding son. The bathroom looked like a scene from the tv show Dexter so I stepped out (fainter) and bewilderdly started flapping around, unsure about what to do. I'd forgotten the baby's food at home! Do we drive him to the hospital? Do we call an ambulance? WHERE IS SYDNEY OH MY GOODNESS I THINK I AM FREAKING OUT NOW THERE IS BLOOD EVERYWHERE. Someone called an ambulance. I held Elijah's head in my hands as his dad carried him to the firefighters. They packed up the boys in the back and I went inside and was panic-flapping all over again trying to find John's backpack and keys. It was then that Alexis finally grabbed me firmly by the shoulders and looked me in the eye and told me that everything was going to be fine, that he and Fiona would take the baby home (and another friend piped up that they would take Sydney home), that I should get my stuff, get into the car and go, because everything was going to be fine. "Manda! We have everything covered. GO. It's going to be fine!" he repeated. And I believed him. And I grabbed my purse and got into the pickup truck and somehow made it to the hospital.
Elijah got 4 very traumatizing stitches and we were there until midnight. On the ride home we discussed whether we should pick up the girls right away or wait until morning. Sydney had school in the morning and I knew we'd all be tired so I wanted us to all wake up together at the house the next day. We first went to get Lucy. I called and texted Fiona and Alexis several times and couldn't get a hold of them ... I knew this meant that they'd fallen asleep. I finally got Fi up by tapping on her bedroom window and she emerged with my baby, both of them warm and sleepy. She laughed and said that she and Alexis had a marvelous time cuddling her between them in their bed and reminiscing on their own past life with little babies. We scooped Syd and within the half hour we were all at home in our own beds. It took me a while to get to sleep that night, and I kept replaying the events of the long, hard day. I thought about being at the hospital on Easter Sunday covered in the blood of our son, considered the congruity of contemplating the death and resurrection of Christ and then later looking down my white linen pants spattered in what is most precious to me. Honest-to-God I lay there that night thinking about what precious little time we have and how important it is that we don't waste it, about how Jesus could have given a flip if we were all sitting up in a church on Easter Sunday. I was proud of my community, totally blessed and blown away by the baptisms I'd witnessed that day, and most of all just so thankful for my friends who stood in the gap for us so we could take Elijah to the hospital together.
The next morning we woke up tired. There was a lot to process through from the night before. We had to wake Sydney up to get her to school that Monday morning. Elijah slept in late after his ordeal and I so had time to take a shower that morning. I was in Elijah and Sydney's room with Lucy and Elijah when John started yelling. I came out and he was on the phone, his hand clutched in his hair, and then he dropped to the floor. I had to yell at him to get him to tell me what happened. It was a horrible, horrible moment. That Monday was one of the hardest days.
I tell this story because one of the last memories I have of our Alexis is one of my most treasured memories of him in the short time that we knew him. I can still hear his voice telling me that I basically needed to pull myself together and it would all be all right. His last message to me was not just words. He and Fiona were and are our true friends. He didn't just tell me to suck it up ... they dealt with our son having his head split open with us.
This is the kind of friends they are to us. They are the friends who play silly Youtube videos while we write obituaries and the kind who take our baby home with them on Easter Sunday - Alexis' last full day on this earth - and sleep with her in their arms in their bed like she's their own.
This is the kind of friend you hope to get in this life. This is the kind of friend who is hardest to lose.
Happy Birthday, dear friend. We will never forget you.