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COVID-19 Widower And Survivor: 'This Is A Real Disease'

Photo provided by Brian Alexander

As many states begin easing pandemic restrictions, health officials are urging caution so as not to worsen the COVID-19 outbreak. The human toll is especially real to those who’ve lost loved ones to the disease, including Brian Alexander. The 4J District employee saw his wife, MaryKay, become the first official coronavirus casualty in Lane County on March 14th.  Alexander himself would test positive three days later. KLCC’s Brian Bull spoke to Alexander, and asked what people remember most about his late wife.

Alexander: Definitely her sense of giving. She was born and reared in Hawaii. And lived there for the first 30 years of her life. She really embodied what they call the aloha spirit. “Aloha” not only means hello and goodbye, but it also basically means love. An overreaching term that’s kind of along the lines of agape. It just means that you care about other people. Anybody. And I think that’s why people loved her.

We were the last people to leave any dinner party, because she’d be in helping to clean up the kitchen, the house, making sure everything was the way that the host wanted it. On trash days, she would go out, and…you know how, when they dump the trash cans and the recycling, things fly around? She’d go and clean that up just to make sure that our street didn’t have litter on it. That she gave of herself so much is what endeared her to other people.

Bull: Because of pandemic protocols, Brian, you were unable to have a traditional memorial service and funeral. How were you able to say goodbye to MaryKay, and do you have closure yet?

Alexander: Well, we haven’t done anything yet.  We were both fairly involved in our spiritual communities.  So the day after she passed was a Sunday, and they did it as kind of a virtual service. I’ve done things -interviews like this - just because I want to get her story out there. Because she can’t have the memorial service that she deserves. (chokes) Sorry.

Bull: It’s alright.

Alexander: What I’ve decided to do is I’m going to set up a Facebook page. And I’m going to have all the, obituaries that we print, will have a link to that Facebook page. And that way, I can just go to the Facebook page and say, “Hey, we’re going to finally have it, on October, da de da,” whenever date that it’s safe for the large group of people that loved her and miss her to get together and memorialize her.

Bull: One thing I’ve noticed Brian in following you on social media, is that you’ve used music to cope with the grief and the uncertainty. What does music do for you?

Alexander:  It’s almost a meditative state I think, I can step away and put out a pure emotion without just falling apart most of the time. I actually was hooked up with a Facebook group called the Socially Distant Festival.  It was fun, it was kind of nerve-wracking, because that was really early in my mourning process. So I was trying to figure out if I could even sing and play guitar at the same time without starting to cry.   I’ve only written a few songs in my life, most of the time I’m playing other people’s music. But I wrote a song for our wedding, that I performed at our wedding.  So I performed that song.

Credit Photo provided by Brian Alexander
Brian Alexander finds music to be a great way to process his emotions and share his experience. This includes sharing songs on Facebook, including an original piece he composed for his and MaryKay's wedding.


I’m so glad to have finally found you

You made my fondest dreams come true…

Alexander (continued): And I got 1600 views on the video, probably 500 people leaving little messages about, “So sorry for your loss”, and it was really beautiful, actually. Because this was at a point where I was completely isolated.  Love is love, (laughs) virtual or not.

BB: Today there are many states and some county governments easing restrictions, and there have also been protests against stay-at-home measures, with some participants calling COVID-19 a hoax or an overblown fear. What do you have to say to those people?

Alexander: You know, I can see both sides of it ‘cause I see in Lane County there’s been only two people that’ve passed. One of them happens to be my wife, so that touches me deeply.  But I guess the point to me is about this disease, it’s different from all the other diseases, where people are going, “Oh gosh, y’know, we have flu every year and it kills all these people and stuff…” The thing is with coronavirus, is you can catch it from someone that is not exhibiting any symptoms.  I’m sure where ever we were exposed, in our time in the Seattle area, the person who exposed us didn’t have any idea that they were sick. Or at least sick with something that could be devastating.

Credit NIH
Novel coronavirus.

The other thing with coronavirus, is, yes it is…it’s very low percentage as far as who’s going to need to be hospitalized, who’s gonna die.  But you can’t say for a certainty who is going to be is affected and who’s not. Most likely you’re gonna get sick like me or not get sick at all from the coronavirus. But it may be you, it may be someone you love that has that reaction. So being careful is just something I think everyone should do. If you love the people around you, then you should be careful.

Bull: Brian, I really appreciate your time, and my condolences for your late wife.

Alexander: Thank you very much.

Credit Photo provided by Brian Alexander
MaryKay and Brian Alexander.

WEB EXTRA: Hear an extended conversation between KLCC's Brian Bull and Brian Alexander here.  Alexander talks about when he realized he and MaryKay had become infected with COVID-19, how he and his late wife first met in Eugene, and how he tries to make a positive difference as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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