Loss and strangers

broome-2014-16The Kimberley moon at dusk

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Sitting next to someone on an airplane can sometimes be awkward. Do you want to talk. Would you prefer to zone out in your secure bubble contained between your armrests, headset firmly on. You were late 40s, 5 o’clock shadow, and looked decidedly friendly (after a surreptitious side glance). So, I ventured out and tested the waters, as I’m a chronic hater of awkward silences.

So is Perth home or holiday destination for you?

Neither! You replied, amiably. You were en route to Broome to work offshore on the ships out that way.

And so I latched on to the cheery but safe subject, prattling on about how much I love Broome, and the conversation meandered agreeably to talk about travelling and bucket lists, so on and so forth. We spoke about our occupations, the bits we like, the bits we find challenging. The conversation flowed effortlessly to and fro, both refreshingly interested in each other’s life experiences and opinions.

Then inevitably we started speaking about family. You’d mentioned a son and a daughter previously so I not-so-cleverly inferred that you had two children. You paused ever so slightly, then said yes. I noted the pause but callously soldiered on. After more questions you volunteered that your eldest son passed away four years ago. We nodded commiseratively together but I didn’t delve, I could hear the pain heavy in your voice. The attention turned my way. And for the first time ever because of your honesty and compelled by the way you spoke with both feeling and calm bravery, I was able to say and acknowledge to a stranger that I had two older brothers. But that I lost one last year.

You understood. You understood why I had to stop speaking at that point. Although you didn’t say much, your compassion and sympathy were apparent. Your sentences became cropped, your voice thick with emotion. You told me that family is everything. You told me that things do get better.

And I believe you. You’ve been there. In fact, you’re still there.

Thank you, John. I might never see you again but thank you all the same from the bottom of a torn but healing heart.

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2 Comments on “Loss and strangers

  1. What a beautiful and touching story, and I’m so sorry to hear about your brother…

    It’s interesting to think about when or why we choose to engage with strangers (or not). I think too often we are caught up in our own problems, and in the instance of travel just want to get from A-B as a chance to take a breather. I’ve found some of my most meaningful connections have been made on flights or public transport.

    At a very stressful time in my life I was on a flight from the South Island (having been away for work). The person next to me started chatting. I wasn’t in the mood for conversation; I’d just broken up with my partner 5-days beforehand and had 3 days to find a new flat, and the signs of stress were lareger than life on my face in the form of a massive coldsore which could not be concealed by makeup. By the end of the hour-long flight I knew how old he was, where he grew up, what he did for a living, and he was astounded that he was able to share some of the things he did, which he wouldn’t ordinarily tell a stranger. Today, that man is my husband (who was kind enough to advise me that he thought my coldsore was a mole!!!). Anyway…

    Thanks so much for your generosity in sharing such an intimate, beautiful and powerful story.

    Sonia x

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