This post is not in my usual happy and feel-good tone that I prefer to write and live within. This post is what many of us in the aviation industry fear the most: something happens to our loved ones while we are 30,000 feet and beyond, unable to be reached until we land. I learned all about the process of this occurrence in training, but never assumed it would happen to me, let alone on my very first trip.
Last May I lost my grandpa, soon after graduating from Flight Attendant training and uprooting my life to Boston, thousands of miles away from my precious family back in Arkansas.
During training, I was not able to fly home for those seven weeks even after the phone call late one night where my mom told me my grandpa had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. I remember crying into a towel in the bathroom, thinking I was the worst person in the world for leaving all of my loved ones behind during one of the hardest times we would face as a family. My roommate kept me going for the next two weeks. My husband flew in to see me on my one day off. My grandpa assured me that he would be okay, though I could hear it in his voice… he was not up for the fight.
We have always been connected in a very special way. He saved my mom’s life when I was a baby, by forcing her to get clean as he and my grandmother took me in. We moved from our fast life in Las Vegas where mom was a singer at MGM Grand Hotel, to Altus, Arkansas where the population was just over 400. My grandpa taught me how to walk- one of his favorite memories of us- and how to fish, play cards, climb trees, enjoy the outdoors, and work. My first job was cleaning his dog pens (he bred and sold treeing walkers) as soon as I was big enough to handle a water hose unsupervised. We were close throughout my life, and I could always count on him to be around.
When I told my grandparents that I would be leaving my corporate marketing job in Dallas to become a Flight Attendant, they both protested. “This will ruin your marriage!” Ever the old married couple (59 years), they were most concerned about the toll my new job would take on Alex and me. I assured them it would be okay and moved to Atlanta for training a few weeks later. I might always have a slight ache in my heart for going against his wishes for the only time in my life to do this job, but I’m comforted with the thought that I’m taking him with me everywhere I go.
I had visions of taking him around the world to see places he’d never heard of or always wanted to see. I would bring him cool gifts from other countries and show him pictures of all the exciting adventures I had been on. I would show him that he had nothing to worry about, because Alex would go with me too. I had planned on celebrating his great grandchildren with him in the next few years, when Alex and I would start a family. But life is always changing our plans, isn’t it? I’ve learned to not count on plans and go with the flow of the Universe. We are never in control here, as much as we might like to think we are.
On my very first trip out of training, as soon as our plane hit cruising altitude, I felt my heart flutter and I couldn’t catch my breath for a moment. I knew something changed and immediately thought about my sweet grandpa. I would be going home in just three days for the first time in months to celebrate a late Mothers Day and my 29th birthday with my family. It was our plan. When we landed, I had the voicemail to confirm that I had lost my beloved grandpa. I’m thankful for my flight crew who understood my breakdown and comforted me. I’m thankful for this amazing corporation I work for, who immediately sent me home to be with my loved ones for the next week and a half even though I had just started working on the line.
On my 29th birthday, I kissed my sweet grandpa’s forehead for the very last time. I held his huge hand in my mine and promised him that I would stay safe and take care of my grandma and mom. We laid him to rest with beautiful red and white roses. We held hands and shared funny stories of his younger days- back when he boxed, drank too much whiskey, and worked harder than anyone else to take care of his family. I laughed like a little girl again with my cousins, stayed up late playing bingo with my grandma and mom, talked for hours with my family for the first time since I can’t remember when. I know he was with us and proud.
It’s been just over five months now and this is the first time I have been able to write this. When I returned home, I had so many cards from coworkers I hadn’t even met yet. We are family here and we are always reminding each other of that. No matter where I am in the world, I know I have family there. And now I have one more Guardian Angel here with me as I slowly learn how to live without him here.
Rest in Love Grandpa.