Backstory: Lance Cpl. Alec Terwiske's return home

* Backstory is a blog that allows Herald reporters and photographers to share the story behind the stories and photos that are published in The Herald.

By CANDY NEAL
Herald Staff Writer

The stereotype of a reporter definitely does not match my reality.

Stereotype says that reporters have no emotions. We’re supposedly ruthless and cutthroat, caring only about the story and not caring about the people behind the story.

Not. True.

Most of the reporters I know and have met care very much about the community they cover.
Now, in my 20 years of reporting, I have crossed the paths of some reporters who cared only about the story. But they were few and far between.

My emotions escalated to an almost unbearable point as I covered the death, homecoming and funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Alec Terwiske. He died on Labor Day while serving in Afghanistan.

Alec was only 21 years old, less than half my age. And he’d been 21 for less than two months.
His parents, brother and sisters were waiting for him to come home in early November, in just two months. He had his whole life in front of him when he left for Afghanistan in April and a whole host of people waiting for him when he got back.

Instead of a joyous homecoming celebration, his family and the community saluted him while they mourned his loss as he was brought back to the county and buried at St. Celestine Cemetery.

I’d heard about his passing on Labor Day, a day The Herald doesn’t publish. The next morning, I was given the assignment of writing a story about his death. It was chance that I got the story — I happened to be the reporter who could postpone the story I had planned for that day and switch to this.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t deal with death and dying very well. I know that it’s inevitable and a natural part of human life. But to confront it head-on is hard for me.

So my plan was to just collect the facts for this original story and then the subsequent stories would go to a different reporter. But then I received a call saying that Alec’s mother, Sandy, was willing to talk to us. That took me aback for a moment — after all, the family had learned of Alec’s death just the afternoon before. A photographer and I rushed to Sandy’s home in Dubois.

I knew there would be sadness and grieving, but to be fully engulfed like that, hurt. I tried my best to be the straightforward yet sensitive reporter, but I couldn’t help but cry with Sandy as she cried several times while talking to me. A bond started to form. And while I wanted to get away from following this story, because it meant me confronting this loss and my issues with death and grief, I knew that I couldn’t give this story to another reporter. I couldn’t do that to Sandy and her family, when they had trusted me to be this close to them as they started dealing with this tragedy.

So I kept the story.

In the two weeks following, I talked to Alec’s dad and stepmother, Alan and Janet Terwiske, as well. I talked to Alec’s friends. I talked to people in the community. I looked at photos from his childhood and a DVD about him finishing basic training. I was at Huntingburg Airport when Alec’s body came back, accompanied by one of his best friends. I saw part of the processional and read about the rest. I went to Alec’s funeral and burial.

Each night for those two weeks I went home and cried. As I wrote each story, I cried. I talked to my pastor one night about my being a wuss like this; we talked for an hour.

I’m crying as I write this.

I am happy that I was able to tell those stories, to convey the strength of Alec, the feelings of his family and the support of the community.

I still have issues with death and dying. But I think going through those two weeks helped me to edge a little closer to dealing with them.

I think I’ll always be a wuss, though. Because I care about people, their happiness will always resonate through me as joy — and their pain as sadness.

Contact Candy Neal at cneal@dcherald.com.




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