The Grieving Plane

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.

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