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Los Angeles Times

My Mother’s Plane Keeps Crashing

By Elayne Savage, Ph.D.

Dr. Elayne Savage is a communication coachI'M SO angry with him. I'm SO angry with him. I'm SO ANGRY with him. I'M SO ANGRY WITH HIM. For taking those unnecessary risks — with his own life and the lives of others. For being yet another disappointment. For dying.

I've been through a lot of plane crashes since my mother and grandmother died in a DC-3 crash 45 years ago. She was also too young, 40 years old, only two years older than John F. Kennedy Jr.

Usually, with news of each plane crash, I sit for hours in front of the TV, watching every image, every interview, every conjecture. As I watch, I go numb, reliving the not knowing — the endless waiting. When the expected confirmation of arrival doesn't happen, you can only wait for that other kind of confirmation. The alive or dead kind.

But this crash has affected me differently. This time I haven't been like a zombie, glued to the TV or radio for days on end.

This time the tears flow and don't stop, seeming to spring from the recesses of long ago. Coming from the soul of that 12-year-old girl who couldn't cry. Who wouldn't cry. Who didn't even go to the big double funeral. I was numb then too.

I remember the hours of waiting. My mother was escorting my grandmother to the Mayo Clinic and was supposed to call that afternoon, saying they'd arrived safely.

I was looking forward to her doing our little phone company trick — asking the operator to place a person-to-person call for "Aloysius." Then we could say, "Sorry, Aloysius is not here," and we would laugh and laugh.

But it was already turning dark and we hadn't heard from her. Maybe she forgot about calling or got too busy at the hotel or something.

We watched the evening news on TV while we waited. My younger brother, Lee, was already asleep.

The announcer had a dreadfully ominous tone: "A Braniff DC-3 went down during a storm... on a farm near Mason City, Iowa." Dad muttered something about that not being the right airline, but he jumped up and disappeared into the kitchen.

I couldn't bring myself to look in his direction, but out of the corner of my eye, I could see him on the phone.

I made myself concentrate on the sewing project in my lap, and I kept repeating, "It wasn't her plane. It wasn't her plane. That's not the plane they were supposed to be on." But why hadn't she called?
And why was my dad still on the phone? It seemed like an hour went by, maybe more.

I couldn't even let myself think about why he was making all those calls. I just kept clutching that scrap of fabric, moving the needle in and out, in and out. Numb.

I'll never forget the slump of his shoulders and that awful look on his face as he walked back into the living room.

"There has been a crash. Your mother is dead. So is your grandmother."

I can't remember what I answered. Something stupid like, "You're kidding, aren't you? Tell, me you're kidding."

Everything felt surreal. It had to be a mistake. Maybe they really didn't switch flights during that long layover. And besides, a bunch of people survived the crash.

So my mother and grandmother couldn't really be dead. Could they? Surely someone made a mistake. A really bad mistake.

But it got a lot more real the next day when their names were broadcast over the radio.

And news of their deaths in the headlines and their photos on the front page.

And the reporters who swarmed around us.

And the wisps of speculation about the cause of the crash, the condition of the plane — and of the bodies.

And those bosomy women who showed up, smelling of talc, pulling me close and clucking, "Oh, you poor baby."

I couldn't breathe. And I couldn't cry, either. But I'm crying now. A lot. And I seem to be having trouble separating my sadness from my anger.

I'm so angry with him. I'm SO ANGRY with him.

I'm SO ANGRY with HER. I'M SO ANGRY WITH HER. How could she leave me like that? It isn't fair.

The pain just doesn't stop. It doesn't matter what the media speculate about how far the debris might be scattered. For my brother and me, it's scattered over a lifetime.

Elayne Savage is a Berkeley psychotherapist, consultant and author.

© Elayne Savage, Ph.D.


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