Thoughts from a plane

So here I am on the plane back to Israel. It’s August 2 and we first left Israel just shy of four weeks ago. Over the last few days we have been receiving calls and messages from Guy’s family that his dad Aaron is very unwell. What started as needing oxygen at home has now developed into a critical condition and he is now in intensive care. This is what I wrote two days ago as part of a different post about Denmark:

Guy’s father has been very ill and we decided it was best to move closer to an airport that flies directly to Israel if Guy or all of us needs to travel. Guy’s father Aaron has been very unwell for years now and part of our decision to make this big trip was to be closer to Israel and see him at least twice within the six months and be close enough to travel there if there was an emergency. We are now in Germany and slowly making our way towards Holland as flights are best out of Amsterdam plus Holland was our next stop anyway.

We left Germany the following day on receiving further developments that Aaron was now in critical condition and that we should all come. We had spent one night parked outside Claudia’s place in Hamburg – breakfast again together, the girls playing and trying on ballet skirts, and our final farewell. And then the following night we edged closer to Holland again, near Munchen, at a wonderful campground with swimming pools and children’s activities and the best playground yet. It was a surreal 18 hours there – the beauty of the campground, the joy of the kids splashing down the waterslides, their shrieks filled with that happy kind of fear. And there looming in the background the knowledge that Aaron was fighting for his life and we were waiting for that call.

Once we received that call, we ate lunch, packed up, emptied the toilet, picked up our nearly dried washing from the laundry and headed straight to Zwolle to Jorien’s place as Guy could get the train to Schiphol airport that night and I could leave the following morning with the girls. Driving there, the girls asleep, Guy and I considered going to Amsterdam airport and leaving Danke in long term parking. It would be simpler in a way, especially for me and the girls in terms of less traveling time and less on-and-off transport. But in my heart of hearts it felt too foreign with too many unknowns as to where we would sleep and eat and the thought of spending the night alone in a foreign land with the girls, who I knew would be very sad that Guy had left, was too overwhelming for me. Friendly faces and a home is what we needed and this is exactly what we received at our dear friends Jorien and Sebastian. Dinner together in the garden, kids playing on the floor, and Jorien’s incredible assistance booking trains, speaking Dutch and walking Guy to the train and then making toast this morning for the girls with chocolate sprinkles and driving us to the train. This is what friends do in times of need. This is where the love seeps in and makes you feel human and connected and deeply grateful. Jorien and Sebastian also offered to park Danke at Sebastian’s work and move her for me once we had departed. Given that I can’t drive the van this option was very helpful. I also had my cousin Sara in Israel, a travel agent, on the phone and on Messenger trying to find us the best and most direct tickets to Tel Aviv. We were very supported.

So here I am now on the plane. Lina is sleeping and Noa is playing on the iPad. They have been absolute superstars this whole journey. There were tears from Noa when Guy left and Lina was playing up a lot last night and testing my threshold of patience to the max. And of course there have been meltdowns along the way and moments where I just want to flop down on the ground and cry. But given this whole situation and all the travel we have done since leaving Jorien’s house at 7.30am this morning – they are truly wonder girls. Noa has stepped up so much this trip – today carrying a bag for me, walking most of the time, paying for things at a shop and standing in the queue alone while Lina and I wait by the side, sharing her things with Lina without being asked because she can tap into the situation and empathise so well. Lina too has grown up so much and you can see she understands things more, is more emotionally mature and knows when she needs to nap or go to the toilet. They continue to inspire me and reflect back to me that a lot of our parenting decisions have come good. They are confident, friendly, sociable, curious. It is a pleasure to be with them. Noa now on the plane is eating her plane food – this is the highlight for her. She takes it very seriously and it’s a delight to watch her navigate her tray with absolute attention to detail. And pure wonder.

I think now about this trip and the challenges we have faced and conquered or failed at and I know that today and what lies ahead over this next week in Israel is a challenge that is incomparable. Traveling with young children is a practical feat – just going to the supermarket down the road from your house can feel triumphant. The last 24 hours of planning and coordinating under pressure while still tapping into the sorrow of the actual reason for these plans has definitely stretched my emotional and physical elasticity. My thoughts do keep coming back to my father in law. Memories surface and fade back into their cells, tightly cushioned by love and nostalgia. I ache for Guy and want so much to have time to be with him and sit with him and hold him and listen to him. We did have a few moments days ago in Denmark and he shared how he was thinking back to his childhood, memories coming in and out. And I too shared all the things I admire about Aaron especially in his role as father to Guy. I think of Marsha and her plans just a few days ago to get a carer for him at home, thinking that he will be coming home. And maybe he will. It’s not impossible. We humans hang on to hope, all of us. And what do we know of death? Not much.

I suppose we will look back at this part of our big trip and realise we were in crisis mode. Not knowing what will be, sadness filling the rare quiet moments, practical filling all else. There are big conversations all around. I hear Noa tell someone that Saba is going to die and then later she tells me she is keeping her pita from the plane to give to him when we get there. She also said something about nana and saba’s house and when saba is home. At this point it is possible but from the most recent reports from Guy it doesn’t sound likely.

I wonder how he is. Lying there in pain and discomfort. Does he know what’s going on? Did he wait for Guy to arrive? In my nana’s last few days on earth we all sat with her in hospital room. We held her hands, talked to her. Maybe we even sang. Noa was a baby and in the middle of the night she woke for a feed and I raced back to feed her. And then my nana died.

I have thought about not writing this post but I think it is important to write everything. It is a strange and uncomfortable feeling to write about someone who is potentially dying. And to be writing while things are happening on the ground, it feels ungodly and somewhat ridiculous because life is happening while I am writing – makes me think of John Lennon’s famous quote – life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

I catch myself in thought about the fact that Guy might not have his father anymore and how surreal this is. One minute someone is there, and one minute they’re not. I think back to when my own father’s father died when I was a young child of 3 or 4, and imagine Noa and Lina now too, seeing their father in grief, seeing all the people visit during the shiva – week of mourning. You don’t forget these things. Even if you don’t understand the sadness in a comprehensive way, you recognise sadness.

We are flying El Al to Tel Aviv. My father in law worked for El Al as a purser for 40 years. Whenever we fly El Al we think of Aaron. We meet his old colleagues from time to time. Guy recognises people from when he worked for El Al – a job Aaron arranged for him when he was studying at university. Years ago when he was still working we would try and coordinate our travels to Israel to fly with him. We would meet in Bangkok most times, but once we met in Mumbai. It was early on in my days with Guy and I got a little drunk at dinner with Guy and my future father in law. Later, slightly embarrassed but grounded enough to make a good decision, I took up Aaron’s offer to fly in the cockpit for take off. It was raining in Mumbai and night had fallen. I sat in the cockpit not sure of what I was going to experience but certain it was going to leave an impression. We took off into the rainy night and then flew above the clouds, above the rain, and it was, even until today, one of my most brilliant experiences. I cried.

Aaron I hope you feel our love and support. We are on our way. It feels good to be flying on your plane right now.

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts from a plane

  1. miriam, what a beautiful and deeply human piece of writing. thank you for honouring us all with your words and your experience.

    Like

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