Writing allays grief for Ashlander

When Emily Alexander Strong began writing about her brother, she just wanted to put the grief she felt about his sudden death into words.

In 1999, John Alexander &

an expert skier and student of veterinary medicine &

collided with a tree on the slopes, rupturing his aorta.

After the accident, Strong, a former middle school science teacher, started writing about his death and recording the things they did together as brother and sister. The stories eventually led her to a new career as a writer.

"If you find something that gives you comfort, do it.

Those stories feel personal and they are for me. They did for me what I needed them to do, but they also started me on a whole new career path," she said.

After becoming a writer, Strong had a story about one of her pregnancies published in "A Cup of Comfort" book about mothers-to-be.

The bestselling "A Cup of Comfort" series, launched in

2001 when the nation was reeling from the tragedies of September 11, features uplifting, often poignant stories on topics ranging from mothers and daughters to an upcoming anthology on families dealing with Alzheimer's disease.

Now one of Strong's stories about her brother has been published in the newly released "A Cup of Comfort for Dog Lovers."

In the story, she related how her brother's dog, Tag, went to live with her mother after the ski accident.

"Tag's stellar behavior evoked a pride in Mom, not only of Tag but also of her son's fine ability with animals," Strong wrote. "Mom glimpsed John through Tag the way one sees a deceased loved one in a child who bears their likeness."

A stranger, noticing how well-trained Tag was, told Strong's mother about therapy dogs used to help with patient rehabilitation. Tag became a therapy dog himself, helping many patients, including a seven-year-old girl named Samantha who was partially paralyzed on her right side in an automobile accident.

"Every Tuesday night for six weeks, Tag helped Sam overcome her paralysis. Sam learned to uncurl her fist to accept a tennis ball and then to throw it to Tag, who retrieved it and begged for more," Strong wrote.

"Their favorite game was to balance a dog biscuit on Tag's nose while he waited for the command to nod his head and catch the biscuit."

Strong said writing the story about her brother and his dog helped her heal. In addition to recording her feelings of loss, she began writing about the joyous times she had with her brother. She hopes to share the stories one day with her children to help them know their uncle.

"Sometimes I find myself laughing and crying when reading those stories," she said. "It's a way to stay close to him."

Strong, an Ashland resident, will read from "A Cup of Comfort for Dog Lovers" during a book reading at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Bloomsbury Books, 290 E. Main St.

Authors Marla Doherty from Redding, Calif., and Samantha Ducloux Waltz of Portland will also share their stories from the anthology.

"A Cup of Comfort" series editor Colleen Sell will be on hand to discuss another new book in the series, "A Cup of Comfort for Writers." She will answer questions about the series and author submissions.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit .

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