About this time today my wife Alene is attending the funeral of a very special young man. His name is CadeSnegirev and he is from Palmer, Alaska. Cade tragically passed away last week and it's shaken hi s family and his community to the core, as well as Alene, our son Caiden, myself, and many others that understand his importance to us. I've tried to stay busy this past week while she's been gone (she booked the next flight to Alaska she could when she heard the news) to keep my mind off what is going on because every time I look at a picture of Cade, I see Alene and all she represents: A wonderful smile, kindness, accountability, a sense of adventure, compassion.
Alene is Cade's birth mother. 15 (almost 16) years ago she made the brave decision to give him up for adoption when she was young and unable to provide him the life he deserved. She was able to select the family he went to and she selected the most wonderful parents you could possibly want, who raised him in a wonderful place on this earth. Over the first few years she was able to receive pictures, updates and letters on his life and she too was able to send letters to his family about her life and what she's doing. At about age 3 that communication ceased due to the adoption agencies policy.
Flash forward to 4 or so years ago and Alene received a message from her younger brother that a woman had contacted him via facebook asking if he had a sister that gave a child up for adoption. We immediately knew it was Cade's mother and had an insane sense of excitement. His mother, Lori Snegirev happened to have seen Alene's last name on a piece of paper somewhere in the office that she was finalizing the adoption (she wasn't supposed to see it) and remembered it all of these years, not really knowing if it was actually her last name or not.
Lori immediately gave us many updates and through facebook, we were able to see pictures of him and his life. It was such a great moment to connect for Alene and I was happy to be a part of the experience. Lori had made a visit out here (she is originally from Utah) to visit family and made it a point to visit us and let us meet Cade. I've heard him described as “quiet”, but always chuckling about something funny. He was polite, well-mannered, easy to talk to. Just everything you would want in a son.
Alene and I both knew that us meeting him did not mean that we were suddenly going to be a huge part of his life because he had parents and a huge family that loved him dearly. Still, we were so grateful for the experience and the opportunity to meet him and get to know him. Over the years we had been able to see him another time on a visit they made here again, plus watch him grow through the power of facebook.
Last winter we received our tax return and Alene immediately mentioned that she really wanted to use it to go to Alaska and visit them (they had given us an open invite). I was hesitant, only because of how expensive it was ($2500+ to fly there, and that was if you were lucky enough to get tickets that cheap). I had figured that Cade was going to be living here in a few years anyway when he goes to school (he had planned to go to BYU) and we would have plenty of time to visit him then. Eventually I caved and said I was down with the plan and told her to start watching for the cheapest fares. We booked for a trip last July and had a wonderful time.
When we arrived I was surprised how much taller he had grown and how much older he had seemed from the last time we had seen him (a year or so prior). He had a job working on farm, he played recreation soccer, he was involved with activities at church and scouts. He was just a great kid and we were so fortunate to spend a week with the Snegirev family.
We got to know his family better because they invited us to stay with them in their home. We were also introduced to his extended family, all of whom were so warm and kind to us on our visit and you could tell they provided so much love to Cade over his years growing up there in Alaska. His grandparents took him on a trip a year or so ago to Europe and the Holy lands, which Alene was so excited for him as she had spent time in Israel while in school.
I personally have to say that I really enjoyed spending time with his parents, Lori and William. They made me feel completely welcome and almost like family, despite me really not having any sort of physical connection to the situation. William and I got a long great and had several of the same interests. William and Cade did so many things together, including finishing their first marathon last year. They were heavily involved in scouting and did a bunch of high-adventure stuff. I really look up to William.
Lori is the sweetest person and you could tell that Cade loved her so much. He never hesitated to flash a smile her way (or anyone's way for that matter). I loved how she took things in stride with the large family she had and for the most part let Cade learn and grow and make decisions for himself.
We spent our time there going to various places, hiking and taking pictures. Cade was a great sport tagging along with us and showing us a good time. I kept thinking about how cool it was going to be to watch him grow up and to possibly forge a bit of a relationship with him, without interfering with the role his parents played (maybe more like an uncle).
Then tragedy struck. On Thursday, January 30th I was on my way to work and I missed a phone call from William. I had his number in my phone from when we were there last and I had not talked to him since the trip so I thought it was odd. I listened to my voice mail and it was William in a shaky voice saying, “Tyler, this is William. I need you to call me. It's an Emergency.” My stomach cramped up and I could only think the worst: Something happened to Cade. I called him back and he didn't answer, but he called me back a minute or so later sobbing and trying to tell me that Cade was on life support and was brain dead and he had shot himself in the head. I started crying with him, it was the only thing I could do. I could not believe what I was hearing, almost like it was a bad dream. Cade was not the type of person that I would ever think would do something like that intentionally, in fact I never believed it. When we ended the call I immediately headed home to give the news to Alene. I'm so grateful William thought to call me first so I could get Alene in a situation where she could hear the news.
On my drive home I was in shock and I thought about how I was going to tell her. I came in the house and sat on the couch. When she came in the living room I asked her to sit down and. I told her there has been an accident and Cade is on life support. She immediately started crying un-controlably and all I could do was hold her. Waylon was in the room and started to worry so I grabbed him and ran downstairs to put a movie on for him. It seemed like the longest time from me getting him set up and and being able to run back up and console her again. She then asked how it happened and I had to tell her. She couldn't believe it either and it made her cry even harder. It was so confusing. I know there are kids that do this that have deep, dark secrets, but Cade really was a well-adjusted kid and just could not believe it. As of this time it is still being investigated and temporarily being ruled an accident.
Later that day Alene was able to talk to Lori a bit more about it. Alene, with the help of her father and his sky miles, was able to get a flight the next day and get to Anchorage so she could see him before they took him off life support. They ended up donating many of his organs to those in need including his heart, his liver, his pancreas, as well as some tissues they could use for testing. I've felt terrible that I could not be there to mourn with them, but one of us had to be with the kids.
Every time I see a picture of Cade, I break down. All I see is Alene and her holding him in her arms before she gave him up, her hopes and dreams for him to have a better life and at some point I'm comforted because he DID have a better life. He lived such a great life and his parents did such a wonderful job of providing everything she wanted for him.
I want to thank William and Lori from the bottom of my heart for allowing us in and especially making Alene feel so loved and welcome. You are both amazing people that I'll forever cherish our friendship.
I want to thank my wife Alene, for sharing her story about Cade on our first date. She trusted me enough to share something so intimate and I think that was the time I immediately fell in love with her. It was a sign to me that she was a strong woman and an honest woman, and someone who was willing to make the right decisions, even if they were hard decisions. She has been such a great mother to our children and I'll forever be grateful for the wonderful job she does. I'll also be grateful for how much she loves me and how hard she always strives to be close. I love you Alene and can't wait to have you back home with us.
Photos of our trip to Alaska
A farm, near where he grew up
Hanging out on a boat at a local lake
11:30pm hike up at some old mines (it was still light out)
Hiking with him and his younger siblings to thunderbird falls
The boys, hanging with a grizzly bear
Hiking up "The Butte" with William, Alene, Cade, and Caiden
View of the place he lived from the Butte, Pioneer Peak in the center, and a glacier on the far left
Up at Alyeska ski resort
Ever the dare devil, Cade jumped into this FREEZING glacier fed lake up at Hatcher Pass