PORT RICHEY — Not a lot of Florida kids wake up to find snow in their front yards. But Alex Gualemi had a way of inspiring the impossible.
Alex, who had inoperable brain cancer, always said he wanted to see snow before he died. Last November, a local church made it happen, sending an ice-making machine to his home and surprising him with a yard blanketed in white.
Alex, whose snow day was featured in the Pasco Times last year, died at home on Sunday afternoon (Feb. 22, 2009). He had turned 8 years old on Dec. 5 and had been fighting the cancer —a form called medulla blastoma — since he was 4.
His family feared he might not make it to Christmas. But Alex, as usual, defied the odds.
"The strength in that child blew me away," said his stepmother, Brittany Gualemi, 32. "He was a gift."
Alex loved Spider-Man and wildflowers. He had long eyelashes that fluttered and a grin that rarely went away. He hugged strangers and leveled with every one about his illness.
"He started talking about heaven and what he was going to be," his stepmother said. "He showed me on his back where the wings were going to be."
He even asked his stepmother to be sure to have big, blue wings. That way he could pick her out when she got to heaven. He told her to keep his Spider-Man figurine on her dresser so he could return as an angel and play with it. He promised to knock it onto the floor so she would know he was there.
About a month ago, his body started shutting down. He could no longer walk.
"It seemed like everything was against him," said Brittany Gualemi. "But even on Wednesday, with everything shutting down, that baby was smiling."
On Sunday, the last thing he said was that he was thirsty. His family was thrilled because he had not wanted to drink anything in days.
He smiled and asked for a Capri-Sun.
When his stepmother came back with the drink, he had gone to sleep. He didn't wake up again.
Alex had spent the last year doing nearly everything he wanted to try: riding a horse and a motorcycle and even flying in a single-engine plane. And his stepmother said he spoke often of that snowy November day at his home in Regency Park.
He wanted to know when it would snow again.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.