|A Story of Strength
A horrific crash took his wife, but Dwight Alexander refused to believe it would claim his sons
|Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor|
Jan. 12, 2007 - Few people will ever cross the threshold Dwight Alexander traversed from dairy farmer to motivational speaker and author.
None would ever want to.
Alexander, a Hopkins County native, recounts the tragic automobile accident that took the life of his wife and left his two young sons fighting for theirs in his book "Through These Doors," released nationwide Jan. 1.
"We don't really think about it, but as we go through life we are constantly going through another door," explained Alexander, who speaks publicly about the devastating event that took place in July of 1999. "It's not a story that I'm crazy about telling. But it's a part of our lives that happened."
"Through These Doors" is a story about life and death, tragedy and triumph, recovery and restoration, and relationships that were both strained and strengthened throughout the ordeal. But most of all, according to Alexander, it's a story of hope, and happiness that was found again.
It was a beautiful summer day when Alexander received word that his family had been involved in a deadly car crash, an event that began his journey through emergency room doors, funeral home doors, doors to the unknown, and for many months, the door to an empty house.
Tina, his wife of 18 years, died on impact.
"For reasons known only to Him, God had closed the door on the life I shared with Tina and the boys before the accident," said Alexander in a recent Christian Broadcasting Network interview promoting his book.
Throughout his many weeks in ICU waiting rooms, Alexander saw many people pleading and wishing to turn back the clock and make things the way they were before.
"I knew that was futile," said Alexander. "That is not a choice we have. My choice was to accept the circumstances knowing God's love and mercy and move forward, or stay where I was at. I chose to move ahead. Any effort to re-open that door would keep me from entering the many doors that lay ahead."
While he grieved deeply for the life he had loved, he decided to focus his energy on the task at hand — the recovery of his children, both in critical condition at Tyler hospitals.
His 15-year-old son, Grant, was in East Texas Medical Center with a severe head injury.
Collin, 11, was hospitalized at nearby Mother Frances Hospital. He had suffered collapsed lungs, a compound leg fracture, a bruised heart and compression fractures in two vertebrae in his spine.
While he waited in ICU, a friend told the boys' father, "Dwight, it's not what happens to us in life, but how we respond to what happens to us in life that matters."
�"I found that to be so true," he said. "And I try to always remember that."
�Alexander said he has always considered his greatest assets to be his family, his faith and his positive attitude. With the death of his wife, and the possibility of losing his entire family, the latter two were put to the utmost test. However, he was determined to maintain a positive outlook and trust God.
�"I realized early on that I really had no choice in the matter," he recalled. "I had to face reality honestly and trust Him with the outcome. But I refused to believe my boys would be taken from me."
Even though Grant and Collin were comatose, he would not allow any negative comments in their presence.
"I wouldn't even allow myself to think negatively," he emphasized. "I never entertained thoughts that Grant (the most severely injured of the two) wouldn't walk again or talk again."
Alexander said he had spent years intentionally developing a positive state of mind before the accident, time that he feels was well spent.
"It is much easier to maintain a positive attitude in a crisis than to develop one," he said.
Since the accident, Alexander has often been asked to visit others who are in the midst of crisis.
"There is really nothing you can say to someone going through something tragic," he said. "I found myself thinking, "I wish I had a book I could just leave with them and say, This is my story. I hope it might help in some way.'"
It is human nature to want to help others in distress, and books are often one of the best gifts to give in devastating times.
"There are lots of books written by doctors, therapists and psychologists, and there is nothing wrong with that, but you can only read about stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 so many times," he said, laughing.
Everyone's story is different, according to Alexander, but in many cases, people can relate to some aspect of what others are going through.
In 2001, with both boys back home and well on their way to recovery, Alexander began to chronologically compile his thoughts and memories into his own compelling story of a father's faith.
"It's a story laced with faith," explained Alexander. "There are so many stories within the story — bringing Grant's dog into the room and inspiring him to wake up from his coma, or how Collin was told about his mother's death, helicopters, and the angels. There are so many different little stories that are highlights, so many instances where we could see God's hand at work."
While their lives will never be the same, there has been healing.
After weeks in recovery and rehab — and three months in a wheelchair — Collin Alexander returned to school full-time in November of 1999, shortly before riding in the Tyler Jaycees Christmas parade representing the Children's Miracle Network. The following year, he was featured on the CMN telethon broadcast. He graduated from Sulphur Springs High School in 2006.
Grant would go on to walk across the stage at his graduation in 2002. At commencement ceremonies, both class salutatorian Alan Armstrong and valedictorian Ben Cutrell would point to him as a strong influence and inspiration in their lives.
"Fairness doesn't enter into the eternal equation," Cutrell said. "I have discovered that despite my efforts to change it, life is not fair. We could choose to feel discouraged and complain about how we were mistreated, but I suggest that we all take the attitude of a graduate here this evening, Grant Alexander."
As for Dwight Alexander, he remarried in 2001. Michelle, a friend from church, was one of his biggest supporters through his darkest days. She had lost her husband, David, in a motorcycle accident just 9 months prior to Tina's accident.
"Tragedy was the tie that bound us," Alexander admitted. "We both had lost our spouses in tragic accidents. We were the only two people in the room who could relate to that. I believe that God always puts people in our lives at the right times and for a purpose."
There lives became intertwined, and they became a modern day "Brady Bunch," according to Alexander, who explained Michelle had three children of her own.
"This story encompasses all of us," said Alexander. "It centers around the boys' recovery, but it deals with all of our struggles and challenges."
Alexander added that he and Michelle had an opportunity to teach their kids an important lesson in life.
"You know, they'll look back and say, 'They could have chosen to be miserable for the rest of their lives, but they chose to show us that life could be good again,'" Alexander said. "There have been people whose tragedy was not near as huge as ours, and it's set them back for the rest of their lives. We chose to move forward."
No matter how strong he is mentally, Alexander said that speaking to groups about the accident is emotionally draining every time.
"The first thing I tell groups is that I am just like you. No one is exempt. You hear these things on the news and read about them in the paper, and you think that could never happen to me. But it can,” he said. “We survived a storm, and we wanted to share how we did that, in hopes that it might help someone else in times of trouble."
Alexander said it is their hope that the book inspires people to see the positive things in life to focus on.
"There were a lot of hard doors to go through," he said. "And we never know what doors lay ahead.
"But I always know that God will guide me through any door he places before me. Trusting God is essential. I believed that God was in control and that he was good. He proved those things were true by providing the faith I needed to survive the trial."
"Through These Doors," (Word Association Publishers) by Dwight Alexander as told to Gail Tunnell, can be purchased locally at Thee Christian Book Store or online at dwightalexander.com. Soft cover-$14.95; hard cover-$21.95.