Ghosts At The Gate

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Airports are a trigger for me – my husband traveled all over the country, and the world, for work. He always had a bag packed and a trip on the calendar. He could zip in and out of security with his pre-approved security clearance and his wallet was stuffed with frequent flyer and hotel reward cards. His passport is a work of art – filled with extra pages and all those haphazardly placed entrance/exit stamps. When the kids and I traveled with him he was our trusty airport guide, telling us when to take off our shoes and of course, where the nearest Dunkin was to our gate.

Airports are a place of comings and goings, reunions and farewells. Even though I live in our same home, drive his car, work in his office, nothing hits me like airports.

Two weeks ago, one of my kids was returning from overseas and I wanted to greet her at the airport. I wanted to be at those wide doors that lead from the land of customs to the last leg of a journey home. I have a dysautonomia (POTS) that sometimes makes driving at night tough (wondering -? for more on POTS click here) so I asked a friend to drive me. Asking for help is hard. My husband used to shuttle the kids to and from the airport or do the night driving if I wasn’t up to it. I miss that. So many offers to help have come our way, yet it is hard to ask. I want to believe I can do it all by myself. But I can’t, so I did, and she enthusiastically said yes. I am grateful.

My friend waited in the cell phone parking lot while I went in to greet my daughter. At international arrivals there is always a crowd waiting, some carry signs or even balloons. Whole families turn out to greet a returning loved one. Everyone stares at the doors, shifting position when one swings open to see who emerges. It is a happy spot in the airport, no goodbyes here, just hellos. As I waited, I saw my husband everywhere I looked and sorrow started to sink me – I had to sit down. Blue blazered men flying in on a Friday night, eager to get home, expertly rolling a carry on bag through the crowd, wearing the weary look of a tired traveler – where all around me. Accents and foreign languages, like the easy sounds that rolled off my husband’s tongue filled my ears – I saw him and heard him. I wondered how many times he had walked through those exact doors while the kids and I waited at home. 100? 150?

In this place of homecomings it hit me hard, again. He isn’t coming home. When the grief strikes it can freeze you.

But soon the doors swung open and I spotted someone who was coming home and with a sprint and a shout I greeted my returning traveler. The car ride home was full of laughter and stories. We were buoyed by having that third person, my friend, with us. There is no substitute for life before but building in support for these hard moments helps. Not everything should be done on our own with sheer will and strength. 

Airports are haunted places for me – I wonder how it is for you? Can you ask a friend to help?


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