When Rex Ridenoure boarded his L.A. bound flight on March 12, he was ready for a painful journey filled with sulking and whiskey to numb the pain. He was preparing to say goodbye to his only sister who he was about to lose to the “Big C”: pancreatic cancer.
After losing both of his parents to the same fight, Rex had reached an all-time low. To top it off, he was flying on a Southwest plane, which reminded him even more of his sister LouAnn who spent the last 34 years as a flight attendant for the airline.
But instead of stooping into a depressed slump all the way to Cali, Rex witnessed something utterly miraculous on that flight. His heartfelt Facebook post tells all:
You are my only sister, brought into this world soon after me and our older brother Ross. We were so close that Mom used to say that she had “one walking, one crawling and one coming.” We grew up together side-by-side and shared so many good times.
Six weeks ago you were healthy across the board and doing what you loved best: flying as a flight attendant on Southwest Airlines, the LUV airline.
That growing back pain you experienced in early February was not from lifting carry-on luggage into the overhead bins or carrying tray after tray of drinks to passengers; it was caused by that absolutely nasty pancreatic cancer that claimed Mom and Dad.
Now, we’re all crushed that it’s going to claim you soon — way too soon. You won’t enjoy seeing your two sweet daughters blossom in their budding nursing and teaching careers, or enjoy the many life milestones they’ll have. You’ll never fly again on the LUV airline.
The three days spent with you this week as you started your home hospice care in Arizona were so hard to take in. The spreading disease is taking over your body, and the morphine to counter the incredible pain it causes is slowing you down and making you so tired. So very, very tired. But we all know that your determined spirit is still in your failing body. How else could you have insisted last Tuesday that we take you to the Neptune Society to arrange for your own cremation? That took some real courage and guts, sis.
I made the short trip to DC like you suggested to give you a break and recompose myself, but as I was waiting to board the plane in Baltimore to head back home I still felt so down and helpless. I hated feeling like I couldn’t help when you were simply miserable every waking minute.
It struck me that somehow in six short weeks you had taken care of nearly every possible detail relating to the aftermath of your terminal disease. Wow, sis. But then I realized that there was one loose end that you couldn’t have anticipated: ending your flying career on your own terms, which I’m sure you would have wanted to do. This was abruptly yanked away from you by the Big C.
I decided to try my best to make my BWI-to-LAX flight YOUR last, and to have you go out in style.
In the waiting area fifteen minutes before boarding, I asked a flight attendant two seats away who was also waiting to board whether there might be some of those little plastic Southwest Airlines wings on the plane.
“Yes,” she said. “What do you plan to do with the wings?”
“Well,” I replied, “my sister is one of you — a Southwest flight attendant — and she’s very, very ill. I’ll be seeing her very soon and thought that bringing her a few pair of wings from me and the crew might help her feel better. She never got a chance to say goodbye to the flying she loved so much.”
“Are you LouAnn’s brother?” she asked with surprise.
“Yes! Do you know my sister?,” I said with equal surprise.
“I flew with her in December, and just sent her a card this morning because I heard that she was in the hospital.”
Once I filled Jamie in on your condition, she started to cry.
Jamie arranged for me to board the plane right after the wheelchair-bound folks to get a good seat. It was all she could think of to do to help me out. I told her that I’d take a few of those wings and then probably just order a few whiskey drinks and sulk all the way to LA.
I soon boarded and nabbed a good spot — seat 3D — but the rest of the flight played out a bit differently (though I still managed to enjoy a couple of whiskey drinks).
Please enjoy this photo album sis. It’s YOUR final flight on Southwest Airlines: “Leaving LUV for LouAnn.” The photo captions tell the story; please read them all.
With all of my LUV, the LUV of the five capable crewmembers of SWA Flight #4463 from BWI to LAX on March 12, 2016, and the wonderful LUV from the other 121 passengers on the flight, this one is for you LouAnn Alexander.
I have made this a public album, so you and anyone else who reads this can share it with whomever they want and spread a little more LUV around the world. I hope the readers will appreciate the life you have lived, the service you have shown and the love you have earned.
— Rex Ridenoure
See some of the beautiful moments and messages captured on the “Leaving Luv for LouAnn” flight below as 121 strangers joined together to send off this Southwest angel in first-class style.
‘Okay, so sit back LouAnn, grab a box of Kleenex and immerse yourself in LUV!’ wrote Rex.