Dr. Alexander R. Lees
This post is a little different. I was looking for a document in a stack of papers that have yet to be filed. As I went through each one, I came across something written by my late husband Alex. In 2008 I had just discovered the latest NEW thing, something called a Blog. I got all excited and babbled on to Alex about having one. After numerous chats about the subject, he finally agreed that it sounded like a good idea. I then advised him that he had to write “About Alex Lees” and he should get to it stat! Lo and behold, he did so, on the spot.
I’ve decided to include it in my blog because so many people (over the past 2 1/2 years) have said they wished they had known him. And, for those that only knew him through our newsletter, they wished they could have met him. Then, of course, there are the people that did know him. My hope is that when you read the following, you will remember Alex fondly. Here goes…
About Alex Lees
There are a few events in my life that changed my life dramatically and contributed to who I am today. That sounds somewhat dramatic which is not my intent. It’s just that when I sat down to write about myself (It’s something I don’t relish doing as I’m a private person) and began tripping down memory lane, I realized that these particular events were definitely life changing.
I grew up outside Montreal and had a fairly typical 1950s small town upbringing which included listening for the bell signaling the end of the school day. In my mind, it registered as the beginning of the day. Then I would leave as quickly as possible. Cut through the woods, through the gravel pit, jump the stone wall, navigate the rocks over the stream, run through the meadow of tall grass and emerge on the street a few blocks from home.
Once home, bound upstairs two at a time, shedding school clothes along the way, and once properly attired, grab the rifle and head for the woods. The idea was to spot an animal (almost any animal would do) and track it until it was clearly in the sights, and then go home. No, I didn’t kill it – that wasn’t the goal, nor did the idea of doing so even remotely interest me – and even today, as I look back on those memories, the full conscious understanding of the motivation escapes me, but do find myself smiling anyway. I did become quite good at shooting at, and hitting, certain branches on trees, though.
As soon as I was old enough, I joined the Canadian Air Force. It was while I was in the Air Force that I really discovered cars, or more specifically, when I found that with a little practice, they could go really, really fast. It would seem the universe conspired for me to meet certain people, which led to certain experiences, and one day I found myself racing around a track and having a ball.
A few trophies later, I tried parking a tricked-up Austin Healy 3000 at over a hundred miles an hour, and the resulting three-day coma was just one of those subtle clues that parking upside down at that speed is best left to those with more skill in that particular specialty. The impact had even snapped the roll bar; further proof of my amateur standing.
After digesting the news that my legs didn’t work anymore, another series of events and experiences led me to being introduced to some people outside the mainstream medical community, and the sometimes painful journey of getting them to work again.
I have heard that journey described by well meaning people in a variety of interesting ways over time – a miracle, tenacity, wrong diagnosis, pure luck, determination and so on. I suppose all of us are more comfortable once we have established a descriptive label that comfortably fits our belief system, but, no matter how we label the occurrence, the experience did lead me in a completely different direction – I began to study the power of the mind.
I wouldn’t say this new interest was based on any dream of teaching others anything but was more about a curiosity in understanding the mechanism that got me out of the wheelchair. To this day, words fail to fully quantify the process, but snippets have appeared here and there. And, these I have passed on to those ready to hear them, be it out of simple curiosity, or need.
I left the Air Force and tried a variety of professions for a number of years. I worked in a health spa near San Francisco (that’s a whole other story!) and, also managed a brokerage firm in Terrace, BC (in the great Canadian frozen north). There were other opportunities, but none seemed the right “fit.”
In my early 30s I met Berit and maybe it was timing, my age, or meeting her, but my curiosity about the mind was re-ignited in a large way and that led me to finishing my doctorate. Since then, Berit and I have enjoyed being involved in a very successful and satisfying private practice of psychotherapy… I prefer to call it people helping. Life was good.
One day, we were sitting around the fireplace in our newly remodeled home, and realized we were five short years from being completely debt free (including the mortgage). With that new revelation, we excitedly began planning the next phase of our life – we would completely overhaul the boat (26 ft., slept four, complete with flying bridge) and explore the Gulf and San Juan Islands chain off our coast even more. A few weeks later, the second event happened.
A routine physical revealed I had cancer and it resided in the very factory that produces blood cells – the bone marrow.
With the help of roaring fires and some excellent wine spread over several evenings, we slowly digested the news, and came to an agreement that eventually satisfied us both. We would sell the newly repaired boat, the recently acquired car – a red GT something or other that Berit wanted because it had good handling, went very fast, and had the ability to blow the doors off the youngsters at the traffic lights, which Berit enjoyed doing frequently. Soon all that remained was to sell our much beloved house and wind the practice down.
The idea was to find a warm country to play in and spend what remaining time we had left together, simply having a good time. Later, we reasoned Berit could carry on living by carefully budgeting the life insurance funds. We checked out various countries (Mexico, Costa Rica, the Caribbean) and finally settled on Spain as our next place of residence. Then, off we went for the time of our lives.
After two delightful years experiencing various parts of Europe, including a Christmas in Australia, we found ourselves once again sitting on a terrace in Spain, with a large brandy before me, and a glass of an excellent local wine for Berit. She had called this meeting and had an agenda.
“Have some brandy,” she said. “I have something to tell you.” I slurped. “Now,” she began, as the brandy worked its way down to my toes and addled some of the remaining grey cells in my brain, “we’ve been here two years. We’ve met some amazing people I’d like to hang out with forever. We’ve had some delightful experiences from one end of this country to the other, and other parts of Europe. We’ve visited so many countries and enjoyed ourselves so much, I wish it would never end. However, here’s the bottom line: We’re almost broke. You didn’t croak. Do something about it.” With that out of the way, I watched her sip her wine and gaze at the nisporos and orange trees in the valley below us.
I suppose I must have swigged a bit more of the brandy during her speech, but none the less, my rapier-like mind kicked in and I managed a very precise and clear, “Hmmmm” in response.
We went about the process of selling everything we owned again, purchased our air tickets plus one for our dog Lucas (a pure bred White Shepherd). He was only seven months old when we put him in his crate and onto the conveyer belt at the airport. Berit cried as he disappeared through the door. The three of us arrived back in Canada ready for our next challenge which was starting over, from scratch, only now we were in our early 50s.
So far, the cancer is still in abeyance (I’ve had no medical intervention so far… touch wood). The practice is thriving, and in the next hundred years or so, we plan on once again being mortgage free. In the meantime, we find ourselves at that age where it seems more important to pass on to others those nuggets we’ve learned along the way. If in some way, others find a benefit, then the journey we’ve both been on will have that many more highlights to remember when we’re old.
Meanwhile we both need to finish our tea, get ourselves ready for my niece’s wedding, walk the dogs and I solemnly promise that one of these days I will definitely relieve the trusty Subaru of all those dog hairs. I swear…
written by Alex Lees, 2008
Below are my three favourite photos of Alex: