When my children were small and my mom would make trips out of town, we would make it an “outing” to take her to the airport and send her off. We would watch her airplane leave and mosey around the airport a little and head home. Then 9/11 happened and security tightened up so we started dropping her off at the curb. She eventually decided that she liked taking the shuttle, she enjoyed the ride in the bus and felt like she was well taken care of and really I think she felt she was making life easier on me. I appreciated that as our family size increased and life got busier.
Now that my mother is becoming more fragile at the age of 85, traveling isn’t quite as easy for her. She hasn’t made her long treks back to MI for her family reunions in the past couple of years. Recently she decided she wanted to travel south to see my sister and we got her set up to fly to California. The more I thought about her taking the shuttle and getting airport assistance to get to her plane, the more I felt it was time to watch over my dear mother and personally make sure she safely got to her destination. I decided to take her to the airport myself for the first time in a long time, and when I got to the airport the fella at the luggage check in counter offered to give me a pass to take her to the gate. I hadn’t sent someone off at the gates since before 9/11… that’s over twelve years ago.
Something my mom and I have in common is that we really prefer to get to the airport with lots and lots of time to spare. For me it’s just part of the traveling experience that I enjoy, to spend time in an airport and for her it helps her to feel calm without needing to hurry. And go along smoothly it did. We got her boarding pass quickly and went through security with ease. It was such a blessing to see the TSA agents’ kindness and gentleness towards my mom as they processed her through. From there we stopped at Starbucks for a morning coffee, found a salad to share at a restaurant, took a bathroom break and then, before we knew it, it was time to line up for boarding. I could have left her once we were there, but I felt a desire to sit with her and visit with her. Soon they came to get her, pushed her wheelchair onto the jetway and she disappeared onto her plane. I stayed for a little while and then casually walked back to the parking garage to my car.
I was a little caught off guard with a feeling I hadn’t really anticipated when I decided to spend the time seeing my mom off. It was a familiar old feeling, that feeling one has when an enjoyable visit is over and your loved one is going away. That feeling one has when we know we are going to miss someone. I suddenly became aware that I had been missing out on that feeling for the past many years that my mom had been taking the shuttle. There was no time of visiting, no sending her off and encouraging her to enjoy her visit away with other family, there was no memories in the making between her and I. When she took the shuttle I was doing whatever it was that I was doing and I didn’t realize I was missing out on being present to my mom leaving town, and experiencing the emotions that come with a clear and concise realization as she boarded the airplane that she would be missed.
That was three weeks ago. Today as I was getting ready to pick her up, and this time taking my daughter with my to help collect up Grandma and her luggage, I was reflecting on that familiar old feeling that I had been missing out on. I was thinking that, yes, it really is a bit of a sacrifice to drive 40+ minutes (depending on traffic), to find parking, to go through getting a pass and going through security and all that would follow, and that yes, THIS is what “life” really is about. This is what “love” is about. There was no sacrifice in my mom taking the shuttle, and there was no “life experience to reflect back on” in it either, there was no relationship in it. I was grateful for having this experience to reflect on.
In addition, I was thinking about how my daughter and I were going to have a new memory together today as we left early together, just the two of us to make a few stops, to maneuver through the airport together (after getting lost twice driving there – don’t ask!), and having lunch together. I was also thinking about what a blessing it is for us to be creating this memory of helping Grandma together as a team. An additional blessing for my mom is that we dropped her off at my niece’s home to have dinner with them and then go home from there. Lots of family time for my mom.
As I have been writing this out, I was thinking how this trip has provided my mom with a more relational experience and memory of getting to and from the airport as an added blessing to the memories she and our family in California made together. I hope she has several more trips in her to take. Though her traveling is slowing down, as long as she is eager to travel I hope to be in a position where I can make the sacrifice and create memories and continue to experience that old feeling of realizing how much I will miss my mom while she is away.