There are a few things that you leave flight attendant training unprepared for. Six weeks of training packed with everything from applying bandaids to evacuating aircrafts to delivering a baby. There were very few surprises when I first started on the line.
One thing that I was unprepared for, was the how often I would be serving passengers that were traveling because of an undesirable situation, and how willing they would be to confide in me as a crew member. Passengers traveling home for funerals. Traveling to say goodbye to a loved one. To be with a family member in a time of need. They come to you, you make them as comfortable as possible, and you make yourself available to them as much they need.
I have never minded this. I enjoy helping people through times of need. I enjoy helping people in general. That's part of why I love my job so much. I get to help people.
Though, this past week, I found myself on the other side of this situation. I was the one traveling home to say goodbye to a loved one.
A little disclaimer for you before you continue reading: This is my blog. My story. I am not going to hold back any feelings in this post. I am not doing this in order to shock you, I am sharing something personal that (what I assume) all people who travel for a living go through. So you not only understand me a little bit more, but also my traveling peers.
I was spending my days off in New York visiting some friends. Four days off and it felt good to be back in the big city for a few days. Drinks on rooftop bars and broadway shows. On the fourth day of my trip I was looking through flights to find a good choice to fly back to Denver (my current base), when I got a text from my older sister.
She explained to me that my aunt wasn't doing well. I knew that she wasn't. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a little over a year ago. I had plans to come home later in the month to see her. I called my mom and we talked for a few minutes about the situation. I decided to call off work and book a flight home to Chicago instead. I'm glad I did. I arrived at Midway Airport in Chicago and took the train home in Indiana. My sister's picked me up and we went straight to my aunt's home.
They had done their best to prepare me on the way over. They kept telling me that this was more for me than it was for her. That she didn't look like herself and that I needed to sit with her and talk with her. I felt so confused. I was just home two months ago and she fine. She was up and walking and laughing and smiling. There is no way that it could have gotten so bad so fast.
We got to her house. My throat was dry as I walked up the stairs to see her. I stopped at the last step and couldn't move any further. I could see just a little bit of her and it was enough for me to realize the full extent of what was happening. How did this happen? I know that cancer is no joke. I understand how serious of a disease it is, but cancer has always ran in my family. A great amount of my aunts and uncles and cousins have all been diagnosed with some kind of cancer and survived it. I didn’t think my aunt’s would be any different. I thought she would have a rough year or so and then be better. I was very wrong.
This was going to be a goodbye. I stood there for a few minutes before my parents got to the house and came up behind me, reassured me it was okay, and I took a step forward to talk to her. She couldn't speak back to me but I sat there and I talked to her for a few minutes, praying that she could hear me. Hoping that there was still a part of her somewhere in there that could comprehend that I was there for her.
She passed later that night. I found myself on the balcony at her house crying so hard I couldn't breath. Dry-heaving between tears. Standing between my sister and my mother as they tried to calm me down. I felt so angry. So incredibly angry. Why didn't I come home sooner? Why was I in New York drinking and seeing broadway shows when things here at home were so bad? Why did no one tell me sooner? I felt so incredibly angry that I wasn't home when my aunt was still lucid enough to speak back to me. For me to hug her and for her to feel it and know that it was coming from me.
The tears kept coming until my mother eventually got me to calm down.
After a long phone call with my supervisor the next day, I was able to get enough days off to make it to the funeral. The next few days consisted of making picture boards, sharing memories and sipping on strawberry margaritas. (They were her favorite)
Wednesday and Thursday were full of tears and apologies and hugs and comfort. I have an absurdly large family, and it was amazing how there we were for each other during these days. It was like we took turns breaking down and comforting each other. Going through this horrible process together and growing from it. Sharing funny stories and embraces to bring a smile to each other's flushed faces.
So then it was Friday. Time for me to fly back to Denver and go back to work. I wasn't ready, but that's what you sacrifice with this job. You're always on the go. No time to stop. No time to grieve. I was incredibly lucky to even make it home for the time that I did.
Through the interview process and training to become a flight attendant, you are told more than once how difficult it would be because of the time and travel commitments that you are making. They tell you over and over how hard it will be to miss out on life. I understood the sacrifice. I had always known it would be difficult not being around my family for holidays and birthdays. Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years, Fourth of July, and even birthdays. But what's even worse, what they don't warn you, is how even more difficult it is not being around you family to grieve the loss of a loved one.
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