The day of Madeline’s funeral I was surrounded by a great number of people who cared about me. There were relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors – you name it. Many traveled long distances to be with us, including two who came all the way from New York. In what was the absolute worst time of my life, it was incredible to receive such overwhelming support. Of everyone who came, however, there was one person whose presence was totally unexpected, and for that reason it was extra meaningful.

Alexis was the teacher’s assistant in my first screenwriting class at USC Film School, and I remember being pretty impressed with her right away. She was older (a senior), beautiful, smart, funny, and – most impressively – as big a film nerd as me. She was the kind of girl the guys in my freshman class hoped we’d meet at Film School, but, alas, there weren’t many like her.

Beyond all of that, though, Alexis was very kind and supportive. Toward the end of my first semester I finished my first screenplay, and she agreed to read it and then meet for lunch to discuss. Eighteen years later I can tell you that script was pretty terrible (as all first scripts tend to be), but Alexis gave me constructive feedback that both encouraged me about my writing and made me aware that I had a lot to learn. I was fairly awkward and green back then, and she really went above and beyond to help ease my transition into film school life.

Alexis graduated at the end of the year and went off into the world never to be seen again. Actually, that’s not true. One night, a couple years after I graduated, I was watching “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” when, to my shock, Regis introduced Alexis as his next contestant. I’m not sure how she ended up on the show, but she did pretty darn well – winning $125,000!

Many more years passed, and by the time April of 2009 rolled around I was no longer that awkward, wide-eyed eighteen-year-old boy but a relatively worldly thirty-three-year-old husband and father. I may not have been a big shot filmmaker like I imagined I’d be fifteen years earlier, but I had a very good life, especially because of my amazing Maddie. And then the seventh came…

At the reception following the memorial I was thanking people for coming when all of a sudden Alexis tapped me on the shoulder. She’d seen the segment on the local CBS news station about Maddie’s passing, and then read about the memorial online. I don’t remember what she said exactly, probably the usual condolences, but it meant something to me that she came. Her attendance told me that – in addition to all of my friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors – there were people from my past, players in the narrative of my life who had come and gone, who still cared about me enough to be there for me.

Alexis probably deliberated over whether she should attend or not, but she made the right decision, just as a number of other people from my past made the right decision in reaching out to me after losing Maddie. Everyone is different, of course, but I would imagine most people are like me. So if you ever hear that someone you once cared about is going through something tough, don’t be afraid to reach out no matter how long it has been since you last saw them. In the worst of times we need as many people to hold us up as possible.