Flight attendant honored on Flight 4463 dies
Passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight gave a dying woman a chance to say goodbye in the most beautiful way. VPC
PHOENIX — A Southwest flight attendant whose brother sought to honor his sister with a farewell flight died Tuesday.
LouAnn Alexander, 58, was a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines for decades, until she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February. Her story and the story of how her brother gave her a final farewell flight touched the passengers on Southwest Flight 4463, and people around the world who read about it.
Alexander had spent Monday night praying with her oldest daughter, an emergency room nurse who is nine months pregnant with Alexander's first grandson.
Rex Ridenoure, Alexander's brother, learned his little sister died Tuesday morning. He said everyone who loves Alexander has said a prayer that she’s at peace.
Ridenoure said his own goodbye late last month in Chandler, Ariz., where Alexander lived, and gave his nieces, her two daughters, alone time with their mother.
Ridenoure said he told his little sister, who had always been the one to tell him everything would be OK, that he didn’t want her to worry anymore. He told her the people who love her will be OK, they'd watch out for each other and they’d know she was watching over them.
Ridenoure said he has watched Alexander's daughters be as brave as their mother always was. Her oldest daughter kept a blog to update family and friends on how "sweet Mama Lou" was feeling. Alexander's battle with cancer was swift, lasting only a couple of months, and came only three years after the girls lost their father to lung cancer, Ridenoure said.
“I can see those two gals are really strong,” he said, and they're loved.
“They know they have family now even though their parents aren’t around anymore,” he said. “They know they’re not alone.”
THE LOVE FROM FLIGHT 4463
The story of Ridenoure, his big brother Ross and the love shared among their family traveled around the world after Rex boarded Flight 4463 last month.
Rex told the strangers on the plane about Alexander's battle with pancreatic cancer, about his little sister’s spunk, spirit and her smile and about how, after 34 years as a Southwest flight attendant, cancer had stolen her chance to say goodbye to the flying she loved.
The passengers showered the sister and brother with messages of love. By the end of the flight, he'd received 96 notes penned on napkins. They shared stories of their own family battles with cancer. And they sent prayers to a woman they never met.
Since Ridenoure's Facebook post about what happened on the flight, he’s been flooded with more messages.
At first, he was caught off guard by how Alexander's story spread, from being translated into Chinese, picked up by the Today show and posted on websites in Europe and across the nation. On Monday, a woman from Australia reached out to Ridenoure. She told him she has breast cancer and just wanted him to know she's thinking about his sister.
“I’ve been getting messages from four or five people a day," he said. "Most of them have a personal experience, they just want to talk about it. They say, ‘I just lost my mom or dad a few months ago.’ ”
Ridenoure and his brother have been collecting the messages they’re getting about new cancer treatments, prevention and research. They want to share it with others fighting "the big-C word," as Rex calls it.
He said the messages he's received from pilots and flight attendants, some who crossed paths with Alexander during her career and some who never met her, have shown him the flying community is a family.
Ridenoure has thought a lot about what sparks kindness.
He doesn't have an answer, but he wishes the outpouring he and his sister received was so commonplace no one would consider what happened on Flight 4463 as extraordinary.
“I’m just still amazed that given the opportunity ... even total strangers will reach out and show a lot of empathy and concern,” he said.
“I think, given the right situation to connect, people will express their feelings, share stories.”
Ridenoure has been strong, but his voice breaks when he talks about how it's still sinking in that his little sister is gone. He said he keeps coming back to something that has helped.
“It’s very clear to me that my sister ... made a difference,” he said. “That’s what everybody wants. They want to know they made a difference, and we all appreciate knowing and hearing that about LouAnn.”
“That’s made it easier with her passing, that’s all you can ask for.”
ONE FINAL POST
Early Tuesday afternoon, Rex added one final photo to the Facebook post he made for his sister, the one with photos from when they were little, from when she worked as a Denver Broncos cheerleader and later as flight attendant, along with the images he took aboard Flight 4463.
The picture he posted Tuesday is of a plane flying by the moon. Ridenoure wrote only a few words.
"LouAnn Ridenoure Alexander
1957 September 9 — 2016 April 5
The turbulence has passed, sis, so you are free to move about the cabin now."
Follow Dianna M. Náñez on Twitter: @DiannaNanez