Upside Down & Inside Out

English: American Airlines Boeing 737-800 taki...

English: American Airlines Boeing 737-800 taking off from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in October 2007. Français : Un Boeing 737-800 décollant de l’aéroport international de Los Angeles (LAX) en octobre 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I find people to be…fascinating. They are endlessly amusing creatures who like to think that the things that they do are based upon logic and reason, yet they aren’t. They rarely do anything that isn’t arbitrary in nature. We don’t like to admit these things. We don’t like stare at our own foibles or accept our own mortality.

It is late afternoon and I am seated on an American Airlines airplane waiting to fly back to Los Angeles. The seat belt sign is on and the flight attendants are preparing for takeoff.

My toe is tapping and my knuckles are turning white from gripping the seat. For a moment I wonder if I can crush the armrest with nothing but my fingertips. I am trying hard to think about anything and everything other than my father.

He lies unconscious in a hospital bed some 30 miles away from the airport. He is being kept alive by machines and medication. The flight home will take almost six hours and it is possible that he will die while I am in the air.

A short time earlier I sat next to his bed and spoke softly to him. In the midst of the beeps, clicks, clacks and whirling noises made by the machines that keep him alive I told him about his grandson and reminded him that his daughter-in-law is pregnant

Asked him to wake up for me, begged him to open his eyes and acknowledge me. Asked him not to die because I needed him. Told him that I want him to celebrate my 35th birthday with me and squeezed his hand, but he didn’t squeeze it back.

The captain makes a few announcements but I can barely focus. I don’t know what to do. I am not panicking because dad wouldn’t panic and so I won’t. But he is unconscious and I can’t do anything to help save his life- not from 3,000 miles away.

I close my eyes and think of my son. He is almost 3.5 and I can’t believe that there is a chance that my father will die before they really get to know each other. I can’t believe that he might not get to meet the baby who is yet to come.

Dad is a huge presence in my life and always has been. I feel guilty leaving him. I feel guilty leaving mom there. I hadn’t realized until this moment that he was/is human.

But I can’t stay. I am a father and I learned from my dad that I have to take care of my family.  My grandparents don’t know how serious this is. I didn’t tell them that I wasn’t sure if he would survive long enough for me to fly out and now I have to do it all over again.

I remember telling dad and grandpa about my uncle dying. I remember the pain in my father’s eyes and how I made grandpa cry. I told him that his youngest son was dead. Am I going to be forced to tell him about his oldest too.

The plane pulls away from the gate and begins to taxi towards the runway. For a moment I consider jumping out of my seat and demanding that they let me go. I am sitting close to and emergency exit. I calculate the distance between the door and my seat, figure that I can get there fast enough to open it and jump.

It is crazy and I know it. But my father might die. There is a voice telling me that I am betraying him by not being by his side.

He wouldn’t have left me. That is not how our family works. I am the only son. I know him differently than my sisters. My grandfather wouldn’t leave me either. I can see him crying, can hear grandma say no. The moment haunts me. It is one of a few that stick with me.

The engines roar and as the plane gains speed I am pressed back into my seat. Now all I can do is wait and make silent promises to the future.

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Comments

  1. A very poignant story! I’m so happy, for you, for the result! That said, nicely written.

  2. I’m so glad everything worked out! Your other post about your uncle was on my mind when I read this. I’m also glad you didn’t bolt for the emergency exit 😉 Beautiful writing Jack!

    • Thank you Stacie. That trip was when I really got to know Jughandles and the joy of New Jersey drivers, it was an experience.

      Wanted to bolt for the exit a couple of times, but my Lego master was waiting for me to come home so I had to go. Glad it is just a good story now.

  3. “He wouldn’t have left me..” That’s what I just lived through the month of December. Except mine was a seven hour drive back and forth. It is hard when you have children and jobs and life. At once point when I was visiting my sick father, I got a call that my child was acting up in school again. I’m like don’t you understand he is acting out because I am gone and he’s upset about his grandfather. I also know of seeing your strong dad hooked up to machine’s and him pantomiming because the oxygen tube was down his throat. First time I saw that I woke up in the middle of the night with a panic attack that a shot of Maker’s Mark hardly dented. I’m sorry. This is such a difficult thing.

    • Hi Jamie,

      If we are lucky we have the kind of parents who make us believe they will live forever and whose touch we feel long after they are gone. It is never easy to see them deteriorate or go downhill, but we do what we can with the time we have, or at least try to.

      Hope you are having a good week.

  4. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been to fly away. I saw your response to Gia and I’m so glad that everything worked out. Thanks for sharing with us.

  5. I’ve always lived a distance from my extended family, and post-college away from even my immediate family. I can relate to how hard it is to balance out the feelings. This was a very powerful story.

  6. This story is so well told. It so hard, I think, to be at a point in your life when there are two generations of people counting on you, depending on you, needing you.

    • Hi Samantha,

      It is hard to be sandwiched, but part of me really liked it. I was lucky and had grandparents until I was in my forties so I got to know them as both child and adult.

  7. I remember the post you wrote about having to tell your grandfather about your uncle. I’m so sorry you thought had to and experienced the feelings of doing it again. I’m glad it has a happy ending.

    • Hi Bee,

      Thank you. I appreciate that you remember the other post. That was an awful experience that I am glad I didn’t have to repeat for multiple reasons.

  8. Such a moving post. I’m sorry you went through that. So difficult when you know what’s coming and you are 100% powerless against it.

  9. That last line sent a shiver up my spine- beautiful. I will second the comment made previously about adult “choices”

  10. My prayers are with you. I hope you can maintain your strength to withstand the dark days that are ahead.

  11. What a torturous situation. An unbearable flight. Such conflicting emotions when you are in “the middle place” with so many conflicting obligations and roles.

  12. When we are young, we think adulthood is all about having choices. Little do we realize how tough those choices are or how often they don’t feel like choices at all. My thoughts are with you.

    • Hi MHAL,

      So very true. I remember dying to grow up so that I could be my own boss and choose to do whatever I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.

      How wrong I was. 😉

  13. Those moments when your heart is tugged while you are tugged in two directions. So difficult and sad. I’m so sorry. Your post was beautifully written.

  14. I can only imagine the torment of being forced to sit and wait like that. My heart goes out to you.

    • Hi Natalie,

      Thank you. It was hard to sit on the plane both directions. It wasn’t fun to be at the hospital nor was it much fun to be away from it, but we made it and I am thankful.

  15. Hugs and all that. My dad had 3 heart attacks last year and we rushed up, a 17 hour drive, to see him just in case. I didn’t like that just in case, and the trying to beat the clock of death. Happy ending, he was and is okay but those few days were horrid.
    And you don’t have to be physically there to be there for family. Family is a bond that transcends physics.

  16. One thing that continues to challenge me about this point of our lives is the way that we are responsible to our kids and to our parents (and grandparents if we’re lucky enough to still have them). There is a subtle dance that takes place in which we try to figure out where our time and attention must focus at any moment. You do a great job of capturing that tension in the memory your narrate here.

    • Hi Kristen,

      This is the “sandwich time” of our lives and it is challenging. When I think about the shuffle that took place when my dad was sick I wonder why I complain about anything now.

      Back then I had a pregnant wife, young son, three grandparents and siblings that I had to look after.

      Technically I wasn’t responsible for everyone, but I felt an obligation to each and that took a lot which is why I haven’t ever forgotten what that time was like.

      It was so intense it really was burned into memory so it made it “easier” to bring it back out.

  17. Your family needs you too. You did the right thing. I’m so sorry.

  18. I feel for the struggle that you are going through right now. I was fortunate enough to have all of my family near when my father passed away.

    Having to make the decision that you did must have been terribly difficult. Being with your family is an important choice, even though it doesn’t seem so right now. I think your father would understand that. I know mine would have. It’s a dad thing.

    • Hi Ken,

      It was definitely a challenging time and one that forced me to grow. When the outcome works out in your favor you can say things like “grow” with a smile but it could have gone a different way.

      We got lucky and I am grateful.

  19. Why does life stuff like this have to suck so much? So sorry for all that you went through with this, many hugs…

    • Thank you. I got lucky with this one. Docs told us that dad had about a 15% chance to make it..and he did.

      Can’t say how thankful we are/were.

  20. Jack, as always, your narrative is gripping. I think we all feel that sense of guilt, or possibly more accurately described as helplessness, when we are not in control of the situation that we so desperately want to – NEED to – be in control of. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Hi Jared,

      Thank you. It is hard to feel like you have limited or no control of a situation. I wonder if it was easier as a child to be in a position like that because children are used to having less control.

      Heck if I know. I am just glad it had a happy ending. Hope you are having a good day.

  21. What a tough spot to be in. I sympathize – I’m hundreds of miles from my family and can’t always be there when I want to be. They understand, though, that my life is here, and I think I judge myself far more harshly than they ever would. I’m sure your father knows how much you love him and understands that you have a family who needs you too.

    • Hi Jen,

      We talked about it at length and he yelled at me which is what I expected. Told me to focus on my family and to try not to worry about him.

      So I reminded him that he taught me well which is exactly why I couldn’t just relax. 😉

  22. Aww what a sad post 🙁 and a tough situation – I think it’s too easy to feel guilty if you can’t be there 24/7 in a situation like that

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