There are many things in life that we encounter that seem overwhelming, difficult or important at the time. Then you come across a situation that puts it all in perspective for you and watch how others handle that situation with awe inspiring grace and it makes all your worries seem petty and insignificant.
I had such an experience today. Flying back to the states for the first time in a year in not the best of health on not the most of luxurious of airlines I was in a moaning mood at best. I first noticed this family of four children at the gate while talking to a fellow American I had picked up as a travel buddy on the last leg of the flight.
The little girl, not yet even a year and a half I would later learn, was crying non-stop and was being coddled by what we discussed had to be her grandmother. I couldn’t help look around for the mother. Our conversation about this family led us to discuss how it must be so difficult to travel with four little ones in tow. I said hello to the crying girl and she was curious enough to stop crying for a minute to smile. Then they disappeared onto the plane.
For the first couple of hours you could hear this little girl crying and crying. When I got up to go to the bathroom I passed the grandmother holding her and I stopped to rub her back and say hello again. I asked her if she was tired from traveling, The grandmother told me that their mother had died suddenly last Saturday from a heart attack. Just died. Collapsed and died. No warning. No pre-existing condition. A mother of four, a YOUNG mother of four, and a young wife, poof – just gone. It floored me.
A little later when passing them again I was speaking with the husband, now a surviving father of four children. His parents and her parents had flown all the way to Shanghai to help him with the trip back to the States for his wife’s funeral. He was amazed at all the support that was there for him and how much strength he and his older two girls had found. Their composure was incredible. I couldn’t help but talk to him and think about their future and about what they had just been through. He said they felt an outpouring of support from both loved ones and strangers. The eight and five year old understood their mom had died, while the three-year-old boy understood she wasn’t there and the one and a half year old just didn’t really understand at all.
I saw them from a distance one last time after I got my bags. The five year-old tugged at her father pointing at the carousel, “Isn’t that Mommy’s luggage Daddy?”. Holding the little one, he stroked her head, “Yes honey, that’s Mommy’s luggage.”