This is a direct copy-paste from my off-line journal. It’s fractious and broken. I offer no apologies for this fact.
I got a Facebook message from my brother’s wife, Charlotte. She let me know that my grandmother Palmer had been moved to hospice care. I knew just what that meant. “Hospice” is a nice, padded, sanitary way to say that someone is dying and medical care is at its limit. “Hospice” is where hope has gone to die, life is fading away like the last flames off a bed of white-hot coals. “Hospice” was the word that punched me in the gut, caused the clench in my jaw, and I fired off a message to Raymond.
I came home to find Raymond on his laptop. The airfare website he loves use was up in front of him on the screen.
“I found this,” he said, showing me a flight package.
Flying around the holidays is usually accompanied by Black Out dates on airlines. This means you can’t use your rewards points, and you need to pay a premium – something that is in direct relation to the volume of people trying to access and take those flights.
Raymond had found a deal in a field of horrifically high numbers. $400, round trip, from Portland, OR to Boston, MA. I had told him that getting to Maine from Boston was not an issue – I’ve navigated those roads many, many times before. The trick with the flight was the dates. I was to land on a Tuesday, make my way to Maine, and see my grandmother for such a short period of time. I also wanted to talk to my dad and my aunt, and my mother. I then had to be up early on that following day, Wednesday, and make my way back to Boston for a 1p flight back to Portland, OR via Atlanta, GA. In less than forty-eight hours, I needed to fling myself across the lower-forty-eight, and find a way to tell my dying grandmother just how much she means to me, just how influential she’s been in my life, and how much I wish her a sweet, peaceful crossing into the life beyond this one.
Less than forty-eight.
We booked the flight. Anything else that would have given me more time would have costed double, if not triple. Fuck you, Christmas.
The flight was at 11p that night. I told Raymond to book it, and took a deep breath, feeling the rush of suddenly needing to pack and pull myself together wash over me. It was an adrenaline rush. I’d spent the better part of that day in a state of excitement over the purchase of a new-to-me vehicle. I’d finally bought the jeep I’ve always wanted, finally crossed a massive adulthood bridge. I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to mark the occasion. Instead, I was trying to figure out how cold it was going to be in Maine in December. I couldn’t decide, so I packed too much, in a huff and hurry.
Raymond grabbed my hand and helped me keep my cool. We relaxed for a bit, napped, cuddled. He held me while my mind raced. Eventually, though, the clock struck that time, and we needed to get to the airport. I had an overnight flight that had one plane change in Detroit, MI. I knew I wasn’t going to sleep, but I assured Ray that I’d try.
I stood in the security line at Portland Airport and realized in full-detail that these lines were how the bad guys won. I had so much anxiety about what was to greet me on the other end of the flight that to stand in security for thirty minutes, among a throng of holiday travelers who, like me, chose the overnight option as a means of saving money at the expense of sleep and/or sanity, was a herculean effort.
Eventually, I made it to the gate, to the plane, and into my middle-seat at the back of the plane. I hate the middle seat.
I tried to sleep on the way to Detroit. The turbulence wasn’t too awful, and the plane was mostly full of adults – no screaming children who hadn’t figured out how to pop their ears at altitude. I listened to podcasts, music, attempted to play some video games – but what I was really doing was distracting my mind. I didn’t want to think about death. I didn’t want to feel grim. Who wants that?
The plane landed in Detroit. I took a deep breath and made my way into the terminal. I flicked over the switch on my phone from airplane mode to normal mode, wanting to check in on social media to alert those that needed to know where I was. A voicemail came through.
It was my father in what I can only describe as the grimmest voice I’ve ever heard him make.
“Your grandmother passed away around 5:30 this morning. She doesn’t want a service, so you don’t really need to make the trip back here, if you don’t want to, or cant.”
I texted my friend Andy who works overnights and would be awake.
“She died. I’m in Detroit and didn’t make it in time.”
I kept my composure, and boarded my next plane. It was nearly empty, and boarding was quick. In my row, all by myself, I stared out the window and felt the tremor of a wail surge through my body. My grandmother Palmer was dead. I could feel the tears. I could sense the tremble in my lips. I called Raymond, woke him up from a deep sleep, and told him.
I shut down my phone and wiped my eyes. I didn’t want the airline people to see me upset. I didn’t want to get ejected from the plane. The bad guys win because we can’t be emotional on airplanes. I had to keep it together.
I landed back in Boston, back in what used to be my hometown. I went into complete autopilot for the rest of the journey. I’d done it so many times before. Concord Trailways from Logan Airport to the Portland (Maine) Transportation Center. $29, one way. Booked and boarded. I found my seat, made myself as comfortable as possible, and drifted in and out of sleep. I felt defeated.
My mother and her husband picked me up once I got to Portland. I remained awake, like some automaton, keeping my voice level, keeping my spirits level. I wasn’t here for me. I was here for them, to be supportive, to show them that I can be an adult and be a part of the family at a time of need.
I got to my grandmother’s house. My father was there. My aunt was there. My brother was there. My mom and dad hugged. My mom and aunt hugged. I hugged. When asked how I was doing, I only replied “fine,” just like my grandmother would have done. Nobody needed to know just how lost and upset I was on the inside. I needed to shove that aside and be the good oldest member of my generation. I had responsibilities. I had to show strength.
I visited with my dad and aunt and brother. I recommitted to making more journeys home to see them. I stayed over with my mom and her husband and their loving dog. When asked how I was doing, I simply replied, “okay.” I needed to be strong, be stalwart.
This is how the bad guys win. We aren’t allowed to be emotional. It’s a sign of weakness.
I’ve carried this grief with me for nearly a week now. It’ll be a week as of tomorrow. I’m tired of keeping up the good face. The fact is, it’s coming out of me, through the cracks. I’m sad. I’m really sad. My grandmother, a pillar of my life, has passed away.
I wish I could have stayed in Maine for a bit longer. I needed to sit in that house, among her things, for a little while longer. I wish I could have said my goodbyes on that soil, standing on that ground.
I loved you so much, Grammie. I hope you know this. I hope you knew this as you drew your last breath. You made my life livable, and gave me shelter and support in the darkest parts. You were a voice of reason and gravity when I needed it most. You were an adventure buddy. You were a champion of peace and calm. You were a solid rock in our family. I will not forget you, nor will I ever stop trying to make you proud. I loved you. I still love you.