A bereaved father who, at one time, rarely left home has traveled more than 6,000 miles by bike to heal his broken heart and to prevent other parents from experiencing the heartbreak of teen suicide.
“I tell people, ‘listen to your child and be a parent. They have enough friends,’” Michigan native David Alexander said. “Don’t ever make them feel like nobodies. Kids have enough to deal with at school, like bullies and peer pressure.”
Alexander lost his 17-year-old daughter, Angela, to suicide on Dec. 19, 2008, less than a year after his wife, Connie, died of Hodgkin’s disease. He rides to raise awareness about suicide. Helping others helps him live with his grief, he said.
“Angela was 16 when her mom passed away, and Ivy was 9,” Alexander recalled. The grieving father said his older daughter did not show any classic signs of depression.
“She wore her mom’s jacket all the time,” he said. “It just showed me she just missed her mother. Angela had a lot of responsibilities. She was going to school, helping to take care of her mother and little sister. She didn’t have to do it, but she wanted to. It’s like she was taking Connie’s place.”
Alexander said losing both his wife and daughter was devastating.
“Angela was a beautiful, caring girl. I don’t want (suicide) to happen to another family,” he said.
Alexander passed through Richmond Hill and Hinesville on his way to Tallahassee, Fla., on Monday. He said this was the last leg of his East Coast “Bike Ride for Life,” which started in Bangor, Maine, before “the cold and ice set in.” When he rode down Hinesville’s Main Street earlier this week, he had just over 300 miles to go.
“I’ve been on the road for eight months now,” Alexander said.
Alexander previously completed a West Coast trip starting in Canada, weaving down the Pacific coast through Washington and Oregon and then hugging California’s stretch of coastline. He turned from the coast into the desert, and wandered across the American West as well.
Alexander began his two-wheeled odyssey on May 7, 2009, a commitment which evolved from an outing with his younger daughter, Ivy.
“Ivy wanted me to get a balloon and a card and send it up to her sister. Then she wanted a bike. We rode across the Mackinac Bridge. We went fishing and camping and stuff. It felt good to get out of the house and do something together.”
The Mackinac bridge connects the lower and upper peninsulas of the state of Michigan.
Alexander said he found himself talking about his late wife and daughter to the people he met on that initial trip. Most seemed receptive to what he had to say.
His surviving daughter, Ivy, and other family members and friends urged him to continue raising awareness about suicide. So, he “took a year off” and has been talking to strangers ever since. Sometimes churches and teen centers invite him to speak, he said. While on the road, individuals have offered him a few dollars, meals or a hotel room for the night as he treks across the country.
Alexander doesn’t ask for donations, although he hopes to someday raise funds to build a teen center near his hometown of Owosso, Mich. He has suggested in his fliers that people donate “if you like to any agency that deals with children.”
He also doesn’t bring anything of value with him as he pedals from town to town, except for photographs of his wife and girls, and leather-bound journals signed by people whose lives he has touched.
“I once met a teenage girl who told me she was thinking about killing herself,” he said. “She said she was going to kill herself over a boy. Imagine, wanting to kill herself over something like that. Thank God she didn’t. She called me an angel. I thought that was sweet. I’m no angel.”
Alexander said a police officer-turned-pastor once gave him pamphlets to give to teens he met, so they would be armed with suicide’s warning signs and had a number to call if they needed help.
The 49-year-old father said not all the people he has met on the road who admitted they had contemplated suicide were young. Many were mature adults, and some were elderly, he said.
The former landscaper said until he donned a helmet and took to the open road, he had never really accomplished anything worthwhile in his life.
“I’ve never finished anything I started,” Alexander said. “This, I’m going to finish.”
To contact Alexander e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.