A city comes together to bury their lost child
Guest Column By Michael “Gus” Caylor Jr
It is unfortunate that a young man who gave so much and worked so hard, only lived until the age of 40. For those who knew Alex, the last few years before his death was a shock but not a surprise. Disabled by a stroke and longing for his family, Alex took to drinking and spent most of his days wandering the streets of Wausau and Merrill.
He accepted the help of social workers in Wausau and was placed on disability; regrettably, he used the money for a motel room and high alcohol percentage beer. If you ran into Alex on the streets over the last few months you would think he was one of the loneliest people in Merrill. The truth is he had a lot of friends. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t accept their help.
If you read the obituary I wrote for Alex, you would know he came here as a refugee. His family suffered a tremendous loss when his father, a policeman in his native Siberia, was shot and killed in the line of duty by what was reported to be the Russian mafia. Alex apparently had grand plans for revenge, which led his mother to ship him to the United States on a hardship refugee ticket, in order for him to study agriculture in nearby Iowa.
In typical Alex fashion he never made it to one class. How he ended up in Merrill will probably remain a mystery forever.
What happens when someone who has no one, dies? As a society we expect the state or the county would take over.
But that isn’t always the case. In the case of Alex, my wife Valerie and I quickly volunteered to pay for Alex to be properly cremated. The funeral home checked with the state and they advised despite Alex being on disability and having zero assets, they would not assist with funds. Although we knew we could afford to pay for things, we were somewhat perplexed that the state was willing to help Alex in life, but abandoned him when he died.
Over the next few days I made contact with people that Alex lived with and worked for, to let them know he had passed away. Each one of them asked; what happens to someone who has no one left behind? We told them quite simply they should hope they have good friends. When pressed, we explained that we were going to pay for things.
Each and every one of them stood up and asked how they could help. Before long I had people contacting me and asking if they could help financially. Both the Merrill Police Department Benevolent Association and the Lincoln County Professional Deputies Association wanted to help. With Alex being a survivor of a slain police officer he was also their friend. The amount that was donated between the two was humbling, and I am sure it would have brought Alex to tears. Merrill Firefighter Charities also heard of Alex, and they too quickly pledged to help.
A man from Wausau called me last Friday. He had gotten my number from the funeral home.
He explained he met Alex while at the Salvation Army shelter in Wausau. The man did not have much, but he said he had to help. He cried throughout the call, saying he really wished he could have spent more time with Alex, maybe he could have changed things for him. In a card he mailed, he spoke of how he worked the night shift at the shelter and Alex was always the first one up in the morning but always the quietest one. He regretted not using those mornings to learn more about Alex.
Despite being out of work for months after becoming sick with the Coronavirus, the man enclosed a check.
Soon the Ford family, Lerch family, Berlin Family, Schwartzman family, Gremler family, and Alex’s former employers at Ku’s Wokery and the Friendship House all came together. They, along with several other people, quickly donated when they learned a friend needed help.
An announcement was made on social media that a service would be held at Merrill Memorial Park in order to bury someone who had no family. When the service began that morning, over 50 people had gathered to hear about the life of Alex, a person who was a mystery. Some people had never even met Alex, they just felt the need to come show their support for a stranger.
When we walked away from Alex’s grave, I thought of one of the final scenes of one of my favorite movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life. “
If you remember the angel Clarence writes, “no man is a failure who has friends.”
I thought it was ironic we had just collected money to help bury one of the richest men in town.