Death and loss are not convenient. Even when we expect a loved one to
pass on or a relationship to end, it feels sudden and too soon. We want
to go on with life hoping we can avoid it just a little longer.
My heart sank as the reality set in that I would have to fly 6,000 miles in
order to get to my stepdad who had been with my dear mom as she
took her last breath. I wanted to be there with him instead of stuck in an
airplane for hours, but I had made the decision to go on with my life.
This meant taking a trip to Alaska with our grandson that we had been planning
for over a year. Now I needed to make the trek back.
I was exhausted after the overnight flight to Texas, as I wearily took my
seat on the next plane to California. It all felt surreal with everyone wiping
down surfaces and wearing masks, fighting sickness or possibly something worse. There
was a woman in the window seat and I had the isle seat, so I assumed
the middle seat would remain empty for precautionary reasons. Then a
young woman stood beside me trying to fit her carry-on bag into the
overhead compartment. It wouldn’t fit so she grabbed it and said
excuse me and stepped over me to get to her middle seat. The bag
wouldn’t go underneath so she just sat it at her feet. She looked so
Right before we were ready to take off, the pilot came over the
intercom, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have the honor of carrying the
remains of a fallen soldier back to his home. As we drive down the
runway, we will have a water salute for his bravery. This will take extra
time but we hope you will join with us in honoring this soldier.” The
woman next to me started doing breathing exercises as tears ran down
her face. I reached over and patted her shoulder. She shared that she
had just broken up with her boyfriend and couldn’t seem to stop crying.
That’s when it hit me, I was aboard the grieving plane.
The internal process of loss felt heavy on my tired body. The water from the two
large fire engines sprayed high over the plane and in that moment we
mourned together. We mourned the loss of my mother, the loss of her
love and the loss of a life that had been given to protect our country.
Once we were in the air, I decided to watch a movie just to get lost for a
few hours. The movie I chose was Collateral Beauty, with Will Smith. It
didn’t clear my mind but confirmed that I was truly on the grieving
plane. Will Smith is grieving the loss of his daughter in the movie. He
writes letters to his emotional pains: love, time and death, searching for
answers to help him through his grief.
As the movie ended, I looked around at the people on the plane. We were all
hidden behind our masks grieving the loss of life as we knew it; life before COVID-
19 and so much national unrest. And yet, we had all been given the gifts of time
and love, to carry us through and assist us in working through whatever we
grieved. Love, time and death were part of every life on that plane, they
are part of every human life in the world. We are so much more alike
than we realize.
I departed the plane thankful for this time to grieve the loss of the mother
I loved so deeply. I entered the airport and watched through the window as the
casket was brought out of the plane to soldiers saluting below.
I pray I will be one who “mourns with those that mourn” and never forget my time on
the grieving plane.