Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Flight of Family


Sitting in seat 22C waiting for the free DirectTV preview to end, "This happened" was running through my mind.

I was tired. I won’t pretend to be as tired as I’m sure the rest of my family must have been from their long overnight vigils, but I was tired nonetheless. After getting the call at 5:21am to tell me, "He's gone," sleep had not come back easily. It shouldn’t have, if I’m honest. I should have gotten up right then and began planning my trip to Kentucky for his funeral, but I didn’t. I laid in my bed and willed myself back to sleep. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t face the day. I didn’t want to face that day. If I went back to sleep I was buying myself a few more hours, or minutes, without having to process that the inevitable had happened. The only sleep that came, however, was light. It was more a resting of the body, but not a resting of the mind. So that inevitable processing began working its way from the knowledge center of my brain to the emotional center of my heart...

Granddaddy died. I’m never going to talk to him again. Is Momma going to be okay? How am I going to do this? That was the phone call I’d been dreading. All these days of ups and downs over. I wonder if anyone feels relief mixed with their sadness. Everybody's there. I wish I was there. Granddaddy went to sleep and never woke up. Granddaddy is gone.

...when I finally threw the covers from my body and placed my feet firmly on the ground, the sadness hung over me like Charlie Brown's cloud. I could feel it penetrating my soul as the day progressed. Once a flight was booked, the car ordered, and my bag packed I was left with the mundane things like taking out the trash, washing my breakfast dishes, getting cash from the ATM. I passed the remaining time watching television programs recorded on my DVR. As the time for my car pick up arrived, that feeling in the pit of my stomach began to ache--slight at first while riding in the car to the airport; growing in intensity as I sat waiting to board the plane; more intense once up in the air.  

Sleep came to me on the plane, but brought with it dreams that were so vivid I was afraid I might call out or moan. It was a sleep that was just on the cusp of fully under, hovering in a purgatory between alert and dozing. It wasn't restful. The turbulence that accompanied parts of our flight added to the distraction and inability to fully relax.

Of course that aching in the pit of my stomach that continued to grow was the dread of seeing my family. Don’t misunderstand. I wanted to see them. I needed to see them. But I had kept myself together from the moment I’d heard the news of Granddaddy's passing. The vision of seeing my sister waiting for me at the airport gave me pause to question if I could hold myself together in that moment. I would have to wait and see.

No one could blame me for crying. Sadness does that to you. The death of a grandparent will do that to you. The death of your last grandparent--and your mother's last surviving parent--will do that to you. There's the desire to be strong for my mother, but the acknowledgment that I'm human too, and I’m going to feel the emotional impact of this situation when I see the members of my family who loved this man as much as I did.


I wasn't alone on the Paducah leg of my flight. Steen was with me. Marshall Steen Fischer. He's married to my cousin, Leah. When I first met Steen, Leah told me some people call him by his middle name, Steen, instead of calling him, Marshall. I latched onto it right away. It never fails to bring a smile to both of our faces. I think it started out as sort of a joke, but has become a term of endearment. I almost always refer to him as Steen. It’s become my thing. His thing is to call me Big Mike. 

So Steen and Big Mike connect in Chicago and fly to Paducah. I sat in seat 4B. Steen was two rows ahead of me and across the aisle before he moved to the window seat of the unoccupied row directly in front of me. Even though we weren't sitting together, it was a comfort to know that I was not alone. I think that was a big deal for me as I had been reliant on the texts and phone calls from my family--most of whom had been at Granddaddy's bedside for days--to get information on his condition. I could have been there myself, but his symptoms seemed to constantly change from better to worse and back again. To fly to Kentucky to sit and wait seemed like a death watch to me. So I chose to stay at home in NYC and work knowing I would have to leave at the drop of a hat when the inevitable happened.

To have weathered that waiting without the companionship of family made Steen's presence on that leg of my flight home a comfort that I hadn't even known I wanted. That's the power of family especially when family doubles as a friend.