Eat the Chocolates

It’s often said that in Alaska, you choose your family. And it’s true. Many of us live thousands of miles from the families we were born into, so friends become a proxy for this pivotal role.

This is my Alaskan family. We jokingly refer to ourselves as the McCoxlers, and we’ve been part of each other’s holidays, birthdays, and every days for decades. Our children have grown up together, and I am so grateful for all the memories we share. This is one of the few photos we have of our entire crew together, taken in October 2017 at an Escape Room in Anchorage:

Three weeks ago we lost one of our finest. Steve is the stoic man in the center, who lived with ALS for nearly a decade. And when I say he lived with it, I mean that in the most literal sense. Two days before we lost him, he was cheering on his daughter at a high school volleyball game. He continued to work, love, live, and celebrate until the very end.

An end that – despite his diagnosis – came suddenly, unexpectedly, and shocked us all to the core.

It still doesn’t feel real.

I remember our families traveling to Vancouver before we even had kids, falling in love with Donairs and rating every restaurant’s restroom. I remember when Steve and Nancy traveled to China; I did not sleep all night because I couldn’t breathe until I knew Lia was finally in their arms. I remember them rescuing me from the Providence emergency room at 3 AM when Clark was out of town and Maggie had a terrifying asthma attack. I remember how much our dog Tess loved Steve, and Steve loved her right back.

I remember.

Steve was always the best card player in the room. Over a decade has passed since I first noticed his hands trembling when it was his turn to deal. It would take another few years before he let someone else deal for him, but he still sat at the table and dominated the game. Only recently did he relegate himself to the sideline. Sorta. Even when he declined to play, he always hovered and offered his expert opinion!

I have a vivid memory from February, sitting around Steve and Nancy’s kitchen table. Clark and I were ecstatic after booking our family’s first international vacation to France, Switzerland, and Spain. (The trip would eventually be cancelled due to Covid, but of course we didn’t know that at the time.) Steve and Nancy were world travelers, and spent the evening enthusiastically offering us advice.

At one point Steve mentioned Frey chocolates, one of his favorite delicacies that are only available in Switzerland. We were all shocked when he went downstairs to retrieve a secret stash he’d been hiding since 2013! I was in awe at his self discipline to ration such a beloved and coveted treat for all those years, and vowed to bring some home to restock his supply.

I hope he knew my promise was genuine, and allowed himself an extra indulgence. We all enjoyed the chocolate squares he shared that night, but he was a connoisseur who appreciated them on another level.

It’s such a strange and silly thought, in light of all that he has lost, that I find myself hoping he allowed himself a few extra pieces of those chocolates.

The past three weeks have been a whirlwind, and I am gutted for Nancy, Lia, Steve’s parents, and their families. Sometimes my entire body convulses with the shock and grief of it all, yet I know my pain is nothing compared to theirs.

For these first few days and weeks, we simply survive. That is enough. We hold them up one step at a time. We stop trying to find the right words, which escape us because they do not exist. We are there, and our presence is all that matters.

I hope Steve would approve of his obituary, which I share below, with love. Lia made an especially touching slideshow tribute to her dad, and it’s linked below in the obit.

In honor of Steve, lift your children up with encouraging words, as he constantly did for Lia. Love your spouse fiercely, as he did Nancy. And more than once in a while, go ahead and eat those chocolates.

Obituary of Stephen Wayne Boxler

Anchorage resident Stephen Wayne Boxler, 54, passed away in October 2020 with his beloved wife and daughter at his side.  He was much too young and left us much too soon.

Steve was born in Garden City, Kansas to Wayne and Karen Boxler, the second of their three beloved sons. He attended Olathe South High School and Johnson County Community College.  While studying at the University of Kansas, he met and successfully wooed his future bride.  Nancy Taylor and Steve Boxler were married in June of 1990, and they have been a united team ever since.  They shared a deeply loving commitment built on a foundation of common values, and celebrated 30 years of marriage this summer.

In 1993 the couple moved to Fairbanks, where Steve finished his Bachelors of Science in Accounting at UAF.  He held a variety of jobs over the years, from a fine dining waiter to house painter.  He spent the final decade of his career as a senior accountant for GCI.

Steve’s most important job, by far, was as the father of Lia YuLin Grace Boxler.  Most men are lucky to have one great love in their life, but in Lia, Steve found his second.  Steve and Nancy adopted Lia as an infant from the Chongqing Province of China, and their family was finally complete.  Steve spent the first years of Lia’s life as a stay-at-home dad and popular preschool volunteer.  He was a gentle, patient father and fiercely protective of his daughter.  He loved nothing more than watching Lia grace a dance stage or dive on the volleyball court, never missing a single performance or game.  

Nancy was Steve’s rock, and Lia was his smile.  He was, quite simply, their world.

Steve was a master chef, card shark, and devoted fan of the New England Patriots.  He was tech savvy and always the first to master new gadgets and software.  He loved board games, and was impossible to beat at Trivial Pursuit.  He greatly admired his parents’ creative talents, which led him to explore a passion of his own:  photography.  He had a gifted eye; nature looks even more beautiful when captured through his lens.  His photos adorn walls of friends and family all over the country.

We hope Steve is now in a place where he can relax, finally free from ALS, and listen to Norah Jones or binge watch the 2017 Superbowl.  Many hearts are broken at the loss of this humble, hard-working family man.

In addition to his wife Nancy and daughter Lia, Steve is survived by his parents Wayne and Karen Boxler; brother and sister-in-law Len and Mary Liz Boxler and their children Dan and Marlee Boxler and Zak Boxler; sister-in-law and husband Tracy and Charles Rathbun and their children Brooke and Bronson Brewald, Evan Boxler, Emma Rathbun and Wesley Rathbun.  Steve was beloved by both sides of the family, and will also be missed by his parents-in-law Bob and Sue Taylor and a large number of brothers and sisters-in-law including Ken and Cindy Taylor and their children Alex and Tyler Sedlacek, Hannah Taylor, and Lauren Taylor; Terri and Jim Raudenbush and their daughters Halie and Paige; Carol and Phillip Blea and their children Taylor and Bella.  

Steve was preceded in death by his brother, Keith Boxler.

Arrangements were made by Anchorage Funeral Home & Cremation Services.  A small ceremony was held on October 23rd to spread Steve’s ashes, and it included the reading of his obituary and excerpts from one of his favorite short stories.  A public celebration of life will be held at a later date when it is safe for larger groups to gather and family members to travel.  

Those who wish to give a memorial can contribute to ALS Therapy Development Institute or contribute to Lia’s college fund.  College fund donations can be made by mailing a check to:

Charles Schwab fbo Lia Boxler
101 S. Capitol Blvd., Ste 1603
Boise, ID 83702

(FBO = For Benefit Of)

Steve’s daughter Lia put together a slideshow featuring her dad’s photography, and she would be honored if you would view it:

Steve Boxler Photography

Please sign or visit his online guestbook. Steve’s family will be checking it regularly, and your notes will bring them great comfort during this difficult time.

One thought on “Eat the Chocolates

  1. What a beautiful E Mail! What a great friend you are! It actually brought tears to my eyes. Love you tons. Gramma

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