Flying and Loss

When I was a kid, I thought about my own death a lot. When other kids worried about crushes and boy bands and what to wear to the dance, I worried about drowning and AIDS and nuclear holocausts. I didn’t sleep much, because I became convinced I was going to die in my sleep. My parents tried, unsuccessfully, to calm my fears. To get me to, well, relax.

But I couldn’t. I tried to just not think about it. It never worked.

I  couldn’t understand how other people even functioned with death lurking around every corner. How did they not worry that robbers were going to kill them in a home invasion? How did they not stay awake all night, listening, so that they could at least have a chance against this nameless faceless death that was surely coming for me, and them too.

You see, you can’t fight death. Once it’s your time,  there isn’t much you can do.  It’s something you have no control over. I think that was what bothered me the most. Everyone dies, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Pretty much everyone else on the planet is aware of this, and yet they go on about their lives like everything is normal, happily ignoring the inevitable.

It terrified me.

For years. For the majority of my childhood, in fact.

No wonder my parents were convinced I was nuts.

Eventually, I suppose I outgrew it, though mostly I just had a bunch of kids got distracted by life, and didn’t have time anymore to think much about the random ways I could eventually die.

(For the most part anyway, the fear did re-emerge in the form of panic attacks for awhile after my ex-husbands brother died for no apparent reason.)

But yeah, for the most part, now I sleep without worrying about aliens invading and giving me cancer and AIDS just for fun.

Except for this one thing, that is. This one thing still manages to keep me awake at night.


Surprisingly enough, flying was one thing that didn’t bother me as a kid. I would travel alone, on 14 hour flights from the furthest corner of the country to another without giving it a second thought. (Besides puking a lot, I mean. )

Now, however, just the thought of an airplane is enough to make my insides liquefy. And it’s gotten progressively worse as time goes by. I can’t even watch people fly on television without getting sick to my stomach. Just the thought of a plane trip starts the cycle of panic and terror.

And yes, I have read the fear of flying website. I know you are safer in a plane than you are in a car. I know its really really rare for planes to just “fall out of the sky”. I have heard and tried it all. Rationally,  I KNOW.  It doesn’t matter.

The last time I was forced to fly, I had to ingest copious amounts of Valium just to get ON the plane, and still had a panic attack mid-flight. (Husband was thrilled)

And then the plane fishtailed upon landing.

(At this point, the gods were just fucking with me, I think.)

I can’t tell you how relieved I was when the Doctor vetoed me flying up to New York for the wedding this weekend. Yes, I would have loved to go. But I would have rather spent over twenty hours in my car, eight months pregnant, with a 6 year old that talks nonstop and two dogs, then even attempt to get on a plane, especially un-medicated.

I’m serious, I actually considered that a reasonable alternative.

I hated myself for this fear. I want, more than anything else to travel. To see the world before I die.

How the hell am I going to do that if I can’t get on a damn plane?

So I spent way too much time analyzing my fear, trying to figure out WHY it has gotten so bad. Trying to figure out what exactly it is that I am afraid of.

At first I thought it was simply the death thing, revisited yet again, in another form. But yesterday, I realized something.

I am just as scared of them flying as I would be if it was me flying. Because, it’s not my death I fear anymore.

It’s theirs.

The plane fears didn’t start until I started flying with people I loved. My husband. My children. Alone, it never bothered me, but the thought of them having to feel that fear that I can imagine so vividly-The fear you must feel when you are on a plane and you know it is going down and there’s nothing you can-My god. I just can’t handle that.

It would destroy my soul to have to look into the eyes of someone I loved as they experienced that.

And I’m not really scared of my death anymore, because I have something far more precious to lose, something I value more than my own life.

My family.



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5 responses to “Flying and Loss

  1. Why has it gotten so bad? First, we all get a specific amount of ability to gracefully calm ourselves. Most of us never get enough, so we make up for what we don’t get by controlling things, or maintaining a way out.

    But it gets worse when we shift from identifying with invincible superheros to realizing we are not invulnerable.

    It gets even worse when something hits close to home and we realize bad things don’t always happen far away to other people.

    And it gets worse when you read the news. Each additional accident or scare adds to your collection of “what ifs”.

    Then, when you start thinking of flying, and think “what if number one”, followed by what if number two,” etc., etc., since each one causes anxiety, the total number of “what ifs” can cause a great total of stress hormone releases which cause the feelings.

    The “trick” is to stop the brain from reacting to your “what ifs”. If you want help with that, I’m sure I can help. Some reading on this is at

  2. Aww man, I’m sorry to hear of your fear of flying!

    And I’m totally with you on not being afraid of your own death, but the deaths of your loved ones.

    My oldest son had a fixation about The Black Plague for a while. It cracked me up.

  3. I think the only thing that bothers me about death, is not actually dying…its HOW (what, where, when) I am going to die that bothers me.

  4. Stephanie, exactly! What I have heard so many times indicates it is not being death that is so awful, but it is GETTING dead.

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