When my friend Jackie announced her son Alyx's admission to the hospital, his aunt quickly put up a Go Fund Me page here.. It was anticipated that Alyx would have an extensive recovery and lots of medical bills the family would need help with. By Wednesday afternoon hopes of recovery were gone; Alyx's brain had been without oxygen for too long. He would be kept on life support until his organs could be donated. Eventually, even that hope was dashed as the tumor in his airway that ultimately caused his death was found to be cancerous.
But oh, my heart, the love. Folks had immediately begun sending donations to the fund. After Alyx passed, the family announced that the fund would be used to help dear friends and family members from around the country attend his memorial. The remaining balance would be donated to Ronald McDonald charities, who had been such a refuge for his mom when he was hospitalized and diagnosed with Crohn's several years ago. For days now - even up until this weekend - lovely, kind-hearted friends and friends of friends and strangers too have sent funds. Alyx's GoFundMe has now raised over $16,000 and as of two days ago donations were still coming in.
His employer, Kingfisher restaurant of Tucson, not only hosted a charity event to raise money for Ronald McDonald house, employees of Kingfisher also handed his mother an additional envelope full of cash that the employees themselves had put into to donate as well. Then they went ahead and donated the excellent catering for his memorial party on Saturday.
The memorial itself was so wonderful. So many people, all of whom knew and loved Alyx. Over and over I heard stories that started just like this: "I was new to [school, work, neighborhood] and didn't fit in/didn't know anybody, and Alyx came right up to me and became my friend and helped me feel at home." Alyx's girlfriend Hayley, despite her heartbreak, was gracious and managed to hug and thank every person there at least twice. It was easy to see why Alyx loved her. Her parents donated their lovely home for the party and not once - even after it was full dark and the stars high in the sky - did they even hint that people should start gathering their things and go home.
Alyx was a person full of love, full of joy and full of delight in the world he inhabited, his photography is clear evidence of that. He wanted everyone to be their best self possible, and he loved people despite their oh-so-human faults. The time leading up to the memorial, the event itself, and every day that has followed has reminded me of the infinite capacity of humans to show love for one another.
Doesn't it always seem, though, that for every good thing that ever was, there's a not-so-good thing waiting in the wings? This is no exception.
In direct contrast to the profound expressions of love and caring I witnessed, I've sadly also seen a few too many examples of the ways people treat others unkindly, and those examples have come from the most unlikely places. I don't often use this space to call out corporations, but I'm doing it today, not for my personal benefit, but in hopes that I can help right some very wrong wrongs.
Alyx's sister Hailee was one of the many family members who immediately boarded trains, planes and automobiles when she found out he was in the ICU. After his passing, as she boarded a US Airways flight home, she held in her hands her carryon bag and a framed picture of her beloved brother. Let me rephrase that - her beloved brother who had just died. As she approached the gate at the terminal, the gate attendant told her she could not bring both her carryon and the framed picture. Hailee tearfully explained that she did not want to check the picture of the brother she had just lost. I only wish I was exaggerating the gate attendant's response: "Boo hoo."
Its hard to say whether Alyx's grandmother's experience with US Airways was better or worse than the treatment his sister received. She was also going back home after standing watch at the ICU when he passed away. She was running late to her flight. When she arrived at the gate, the flight attendant was still there, the door open. As she approached, the attendant asked, "Are you the Riggs party?" to which she responded "Yes." The attendant then closed the door, saying "Too late." She started to cry, explaining that her grandson had just passed away, then asked if she could have a tissue as she saw a box on the ticket counter. He refused to give her one.
Alyx's Aunt Dorie had her United Flight to the memorial service cancelled while she was at the terminal because for some unexplained reason they no longer had a flight crew. United offered Dorie and her husband a different flight that would depart 4 hours from then - at an airport that was a 6 hour drive away. They refused to offer any further assistance or options so that she could attend the memorial of her nephew, to whom she had been more of a second mother than an aunt. Instead she had to make her own arrangements, drive to another airport, get a few hours of sleep, then take a flight that got her to Tucson a half hour before the memorial started. Now she's playing "navigate the labyrinth of United's Customer Service Refund Process" to get the money back which she had already paid for her cancelled flight, as well as her husband's return ticket which was unused because he had to go to the other airport they had driven to in order to bring their car home.
Hilton corporation's Hampton Inn, convenient to the site of the memorial and recommended by a family friend, was where several rooms were booked ahead of time for arriving family and friends. One friend, arriving on a late flight, called ahead to the hotel to advise she would have a late arrival and check-in and to arrange her room to be held. When she did arrive, she found the hotel had given her room away. Not only that, the hotel told one of the other memorial attendees that they were so overbooked they were considering moving the whole block of rooms of the people there for the memorial to another hotel. After everyone had already checked in. (Alyx's mom: "DEAR HAMPTON: You don't displace the funeral group.")
Maybe I'm living in the past, but it used to be that when someone died, travel companies would bend over backwards to accomodate family members. There used to be a time when customer service was an important priority for these companies.
Of all of these service providers, only Hilton, which owns Hampton Inns, has offered to do anything at all to provide reparation for the errors. American Airlines, which owns US Airways, is deleting any comments the family has left on their Facebook page. Alyx's mom has been in constant contact with their customer service department, who keeps suggesting she take steps she's already taken more than once or to provide information that she's already provided more than once. They refuse to give her any other way to contact them outside of their web form, which generously allows her 140 characters to explain all of the things that went so wrong.
The behavior of these travel providers, particularly those employees of US Airways/American Airlines, was beyond outrageous. It was deliberately cruel and caused these already grieving family members much more pain.
I don't expect you to do anything, say anything or change the places you stay or the airlines you fly on. And as much as this is a sincere effort to shame these companies into making reparation to the people they've hurt, it is a pointed statement about how badly customer service has deteriorated since the recession began. I can't imagine that corporations think that being disgusting and inhumane to their customers is going to somehow save them money. Do they think that it is no longer important to train their ground-level personnel to treat customers with dignity and respect? Do they think that ignoring heartfelt complaints or making it impossible for the customer to even reach them with an issue builds their customer base?
To Alyx's friends and family and all the people who gave materially or in spirit to help, thank you from the bottom of this grinchy heart. You are all, every single one of you, everything that Alyx would have wanted you to be.