Today, I’m very pleased to be able to bring you a guest post from fellow blogger, friend and griever Ellen Ross.
On Wednesday, I flew for my friend Wayne.
It wasn’t originally going to be for him. My husband gave me a “flight experience” as a birthday gift, for my own birthday in December. But the weather was not good enough for flying, and it kept getting postponed again and again, until it finally ended up being postponed to …… Wayne’s birthday.
I would like to think that my friend Wayne, with his passion for aircraft (along with cars, and motorcycles, and anything mechanical that he could tinker with, take apart and put back together again, to make it move really fast), might have had a little something to do with that.
I knew Wayne only online and on the phone. We “met” through LiveJournal in 2005, and began talking on the phone often. For several years, even though we never met in person, he was a huge presence in my life, through many late-night phone conversations, as well as many conversations on LiveJournal. Many of the people I “met” at his LiveJournal became my friends as well. In fact, the majority of the online friends that I have today are people that I met through Wayne, either as a result of his life, or as a result of his death.
In recent years, we had stopped having those long phone conversations. I missed that time with him, but I thought that he was doing well, and I was taken by surprise when he died by suicide in 2012.
On the afternoon of Wayne’s birthday, February 13, 2013 – the first one of his birthdays that we are celebrating without him – I took some time away from the Facebook event that I was co-hosting with friends to recognize his birthday, and I went out to the Fulton County Airport for my introductory flight lesson.
The plane was a 1968 Piper Cherokee. I was inspired by Wayne’s glider flight back in 2006, but this was just a little different.
I looked at all of the complicated equipment, running through endless pre-flight checklists, trying to understand exactly what each control did and to remember the names of everything (and a few days later, I have already forgotten most of them), and as I did, I tried to see it all through Wayne’s eyes, with the recognition and understanding and excitement that he might have felt.
I sat at one set of controls in that very small plane, with the instructor (and a duplicate set of controls) by my side. The instructor showed me what to do, step by step. Finally, we started to pick up speed, and the nose of the plane began to lift, and I couldn’t hold back a little gasp when I saw and felt us leave the ground.
High in the air, turning slowly as the instructor told me, and seeing the landscape shift below me, I was scared enough to shake more than a little, but also thrilled. (Well, maybe some of that shaking was the plane, even on a fairly calm day. I wasn’t accustomed to the way even the lightest wind would make it vibrate so hard. I jumped a little every time I felt it rattle around me.)
The local area was spread out below me, and the instructor pointed out various local landmarks, but I couldn’t recognize even one of them from that height. The world looks completely different from the air.
I was relieved when the instructor took over full control for the landing, but also just a little sad to take my hands off that wheel. When I came down to earth, I still felt a little shaky for an hour or two, as if part of me were still up there in flight.
I wanted to have this experience for myself, but I was also glad to be able to do it as part of Wayne’s birthday celebration, just as I had received it as a birthday gift to me. That was fitting, because the love in my life has been a gift to me. My husband, like my mother, shows me constantly that I am loved. It is in being loved that we find the strength to love and to reach out to others.
I have been blessed with many remarkable people in my life. My mother and my husband are the greatest influences on me, but after them, my friend Wayne changed my life more than anyone else I can remember.
I was very lucky to know this man, with all of his imperfections. There were so many beautiful gifts in the years that I knew Wayne, so many new friendships, so many lessons learned. Since losing him, I have received even more, by finding other new friends who are sharing the experience of grief.
The last decade of my friend Wayne’s life was shadowed by great pain, a pain which he ultimately could not tolerate any longer. But when I celebrated his birthday online at Facebook with his friends and family, all that I saw was the love.
It was the love that defined who he was, and who he still is, in our hearts, and in our connection to each other.
It was the love that we celebrated, through photos, music, and memories – his love for his friends, and ours for him.
We will remember him not for the pain, but for the love.
And in remembering him, we will fly.