A Heartbreaking Personal Story

Slide1It’s been an unnerving and scary month, filled with tragedy and hope. I don’t just mean the terrorist attacks all over the world, which were undeniably tragic. I mean this in a far more personal way.

My youngest son, Alex, was involved in a dreadful car crash in Guatemala. He is, thankfully, fine, but the experience has changed him.

He and six other young volunteers took a road trip on their day off. They visited and climbed a Guatemalan pyramid. On the way back, Alex’s van stalled in the middle of the highway and a truck crashed straight into them. Heartbreakingly, one of the girls died, and another is still in a very serious condition in hospital. Alex’s best friend, Rick, was driving, and is suffering from what is almost certainly PTSD.

Alex could have fallen to pieces, but he didn’t. He organised hospital care, lawyers, liaised with the police and sorted out who to bribe and how much. Rick was to be held in a Guatemalan jail until he was freed from the charge of manslaughter (since he was driving), but that didn’t happen. Alex organised to bribe the hospital to stick an IV into Rick’s arm until the court case. He arranged the massive bribe that would move the court case to the following week instead of… whenever.

He cared for the rest of the young people and slept on the concrete floor of his friend’s hospital room to make sure the police didn’t move him. He was strong and clear-headed and sensible, and held himself together when he could have fallen apart. And two days after the accident, his girlfriend in America decided that this was the ideal time to break up.

I can’t believe how strong my son was. A dear friend had died, he had lost his girlfriend and his car, and his best friend was going back to Australia at the earliest opportunity. He could have been lost. He could have given up. He could have come home. Nobody would have blamed him.

But he didn’t. He stayed with Rick, then flew to France for his friend’s funeral (and yes, we thought he was in Paris when the attacks happened, but he was in Brussels by then.) He will go back to Guatemala and complete his volunteering placement.

But that isn’t all that is making me so proud. The day before she died, his friend, Lou, had shared with Alex her plans for the following year. She had planned to volunteer in Costa Rica, Peru, Chile… in the poorest places and with the most needy children in South America.

My wonderful boy has decided that, in her honour, he will complete her volunteering placements.

It has been, as I said, an unnerving month, but there are several things that I can take from it.

Firstly, and this is most important, I have helped to raise an incredible young man. He has surprised himself and all of us by his strength, compassion, bravery and resourcefulness. I am incredibly proud of him.

Secondly, we can never know what the next day will bring. Lou was 22. She had conquered her fear of heights by climbing a Guatemalan pyramid the day before she died. The story is heartbreaking, but it brings home so clearly the message about how ephemeral our future may be. We can spend our time to be the best in our business, make the most money, work the longest hours, but that isn’t what’s important in life, is it? What’s important is to be the best person we can be. Who knows what tomorrow may bring?

Thirdly, as a very insightful author, Brad Boney wrote, “Sometimes the worst thing imaginable leads you to the place you were meant to be all along.” There are times in our lives when we don’t know why things happen, but they turn out to be part of a bigger journey.

This month has been part of Alex’s bigger journey.

As for me, I have revisited one of my favourite quotes again and again:

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” –J.R.R. Tolkien. It becomes more meaningful each time I think about it.

We must make the most of our time, and do the best we can for those we love.

It seems somewhat inappropriate, and yet so timely to remind you of The Family Message Book and The Family Memory Project book and kit. They are available on the website, here.

If I can help anyone in any way with their writing, (and they don’t mind that their invoices will be used to pay off Guatemalan bribes) please look up my services here, and contact me.

I’d love to hear from you, though, even if it’s not asking for my help with your writing!

Until next time, write well, write with passion, and use all your writing for good.

Rie Natalenko


Posted in The Family Memory Project, writing
14 comments on “A Heartbreaking Personal Story
  1. Deirdre Bowman says:

    Thank you for sharing Alex’s story Rie… you must be very proud of him. Thoughts go to the families of all concerned.

  2. Karen Pouye says:

    What an inspiring story Rie! Yes you should be proud as you have raised a hero. We need more people on this planet like him. I hope the girl recovers OK and Rick gets his life back into some kind of “normal”
    …and of course as a mum, your nerves are not too wrecked from it all.

    Lots of love,


    • admin says:

      Thanks so much, Karen. I am proud of him. Thank you so much for your kind words. I hope all of the young people recover both physically and in every other way.

  3. Paul Headon says:

    You have every reason to be proud of your son. Under the circumstances,he was outstanding….believe me,on this story,I was in a most unique position to observe what was happening on the ground.Alex is a remarkable and resourceful young man and a pleasure to be with……

  4. Sai Bhupalam says:

    Hi Rie,

    Thank you for a great article and a great story from real life. Very inspiring for all of us. It is extremely difficult for teens to find their moral compasses as often they do not have the required guidance, what with peer pressure and conformity etc in our society today. Alex is an exceptional individual. Kudos to him and congrats to you for raising such a great kid. I wish him the very best in his future endeavors.

  5. admin says:

    Thank you for the kind words, Sai. He isn’t in his teens any longer, but it is still heartwarming for young people to be so caring and altruistic.

  6. Neryl East says:

    Thank you for such a beautiful message, Rie

  7. Alex Dmitri Natalenko says:

    Thank you all for you’re kind words. But it would not have been possible without the love, respect and support from the two most intelligent, caring, respectful, loving, strong and just all round incredible human-beings in my life and very possibly on the planet: my parents. They are responsible for who i am and have helped in every way possible for me to become the person i wanted to become. They have always been there for me with kind words, advice and big hugs. Thank you to all others involved; Rick, ricks family, frida, arthur, emiel you guys have helped so immensely and my heart goes out to Melanie who will be recovering physically for some time to come. You are all friends for life. Finally, of course further condolences to Lou’s Parents Arnaud and Flo and her entire family, boyfriend and all of her friends, you are all amazing people. R.I.P Lou Chaudey…

  8. Jodie says:

    Your son is amazing ! Such a massive credit to you Xx

  9. Naszalyi says:

    wow…Lou was my sister in law’s daughter. I knew her since she was a baby. she was a fantastic person, always smiling despite some family issues between her parents.
    Thanks for your story and thanks to your son. Hope he is moving forward now,and that he keeps Lou’s strenght as a force of energy for him to go ahead as she would have done.

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