Say Hello To the Person In the Seat Next to You On the Burning Plane

So from me to you, I hope you’ll hear me and believe me when I say It’s going to be okay.

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I’m still alive! Just busy.

I’ve been watching a lot of movies, but haven’t had time to blog about them. I’ve been working on fiction, and wrote up an entry on Mudder of Dragons about my trip to New York and I’m working on another one for tomorrow. Go check it out if you’re bored or stuck in traffic!

Patricksponaugle linked to an amazing Oatmeal comic on Twitter last night and reading it really gave me pause. Here it is:

It’s going to be okay.  

You need to read it. Right now. Don’t save it for later, don’t scroll past and think ‘Oh I’ll read that later’ like I almost did, because I am NOTORIOUS for such and then forgetting. Just read it. It takes less than five minutes.

–Yeah.

If we are alive and reading this, we’re all on that burning plane RIGHT NOW, and we all have the opportunity to tell someone ‘It’s going to be okay.‘ Half of the act is saying it out loud – the other half is believing it yourself once you’ve said it.

It’s easy to gloss over the nuance of human suffering with what seems like a platitude… but really, it’s true. Holding on to hope in times of desperation is one of the best things about humanity – maybe that sounds like bullshit off a greeting card, and people say it all the time in situations when things AREN’T going to be okay and bad things happen anyway… but that isn’t what life’s about.

It actually reminded me of something that happened to me, one of my life’s great regrets.

The rest of this entry is behind a cut because it deals with the death of a family member and a personal failing on the part of the writer. I invite you to read it, but please be warned, it’s depressing.

In January of 2009, we visited my Granddaddy in the nursing home for his 92nd birthday. He was alert, chatty, and as always, overjoyed to see me. He was one of the few people in my family who weren’t moody or distant, who always put others before him, and who would put his strong will to work for others rather than against them. He cracked jokes and told us stories about the days he ran moonshine in the West Virginia mountains and sold to the governor of the state.

In summer, we got a call from Granddaddy’s girlfriend (my Nana passed a few years before, but Granddaddy was a huge flirt and found a lovely woman to spend his time with). Bad news— he was very, very sick.

We visited, and he was barely the same person. He lay in bed with a stricken expression, occasionally gasping in pain, or crying out at random. The visit was incredibly depressing, and we all knew we would probably be seeing each other at a funeral, soon.

My father was determined to have a good time and put on a happy face. He told me to stand next to Grandaddy and take his hand and smile so he could take a picture.

And I couldn’t.

I was angry, I was bewildered at Granddaddy’s sudden turn, but most of all I was wrapped up in my own dramatic bullshit and I couldn’t imagine pretending I was fine when I wasn’t. I sat down and held his hand, and my father took a picture of us anyway and I had the most hateful and angry look on my face, so he deleted it later. I almost wish he’d kept it so I could remind myself what I look when I’m being a huge, selfish asshole. Suddenly, it was about me being spiteful toward my father instead of being there for someone who was afraid and nearing the end.

A few weeks later my Granddaddy died.

I couldn’t put someone else’s happiness ahead of mine and tell them it would be okay, and it’s one of the great regrets of my life. 

So from me to you, I hope you’ll hear me and believe me when I say It’s going to be okay. 

And please, take a moment to say it to someone else, to pass it on and maybe add ‘is there anything you need that I can do right now?’

Author: jennnanigans

Orlando-area writerly person.

13 thoughts on “Say Hello To the Person In the Seat Next to You On the Burning Plane”

  1. Amazing stories – both yours and the Oatmeal’s.

    Don’t be too hard on yourself, though. You can’t help how you felt at the time. You can only make sure you don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Plus, I’m sure your grandfather knew you loved him. As I often say, we’re better than our worst moment. The same applies to relationships 🙂

    1. You’re absolutely right – all I can do is make sure I don’t repeat the mistake. Thanks so much for the observation, it means a lot! 🙂

  2. Your story hits pretty close to home, because I’m watching my father’s health decline in real time. I’ve been to the hospital three out of the last four days right after work. It’s exhausting and depressing and stress-making. I completely identify with both versions of you, the one who couldn’t smile for that picture, and the one who regrets that path now.

    1. Either way, I am sorry to hear it and I hope that things get better. Hang in there.
      I saw you took a break from FB, no wonder between that and all the vitriol splashing around the feeds. I will keep your family in my thoughts!

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