Up to this point, navigating the unknown waters of a plane crash, was the most significant challenge in my life, until it wasn’t.
I felt my consciousness separate from my body and it was painless, beautiful in fact. I recall this unfathomable feeling of unconditional love. It was pleasant in the space in the in between.
For context and maybe comfort if you have lost someone, I knew who I was, what my history had been and that I was somehow beyond the struggle that I was witnessing below. Notably absent of fear with my physical body suspended upside down in that plane.
This is my story…
It was a perfectly sunny hot august day, a balmy breeze that was filled with the adventures of a 27-year-old. I was out flying with a friend. We had spent the day dropping in and out of the sky, having lunch at a hole in the wall café that bordered a farmer’s field. With a cheeky “got to fly” salute when asked if we wanted another cup of coffee. And then we pressed back through the barb-wire fence as the engine fired and I felt my back press into the seat and we were back into the blue.
With the windows open, the scent of freshly cut hay blew through my hair as we sailed above patchwork green fields, banked on either side with snow capped mountains, stitched together by a snaked river.
As the sun began to set, we turned towards home, just as another plane passed between us and the sinking sun, tilting their wings to say hello goodbye as they turned into a silhouette. It felt like the perfect day as the pilots’ voice erupted into my headphones.
My gaze followed his outstretched arm that pointed to the river far below, he would do a skip and go as the last hurray before heading home, ( like skipping a flat stone across water before powering back up to the sky) So, without a care in the world, I felt the nose of the plane tilt and we pummeled towards the earth.
And then we hit the water
And that plane flipped, driving the nose of the plane deep into the water. I saw him go under and my brain screamed TAKE A BREATH. But as I inhaled my mouth filled with water… and there I was, upside down in a capsized plane.
The sun had gone done; nobody was on that river; I knew there would be no 911 call… It was black, freezing cold, gravity was pulling me down, buoyancy pulling me up, the plane was being carried and was spinning in the current, stuff was bumping and colliding with my body, and I had a mouth full of water. I was disoriented as my brain raced hard to connect the dots.
The first thing I recall was swallowing the water. I needed any remaining oxygen in my body. Simultaneously, my feet hit the cabin floor hard, I bucked in my seat as I tried to twist myself out of the harness. But I couldn’t find the release. My life jacket cords had tangled around the 3-point harness obliterating my attempts to reach the latch. I knew I was trapped.
And that tinging sensation had begun in my arms and legs, weakening them. I knew that feeling well, I had been a lifeguard. And if you were ever that kids that tried to swim as far as you could under water, you know too, that it’s time to go up.
And then the thought went through my mind… I wonder if I am going to die.
And that thought, like a match that struck a chord, and my life began to flash in front of my eyes.
Billions of images, like an old-time ticker tape movie flashing from my birth all the way to that moment in time…. And when that moment passed, I felt myself separate.
My perspective had changed, I was floating somewhere above, immersed in a bright light shining downward illuminating the scene below. I could see my younger self upside down in that plane, with her long blond hair blowing wilding in the water. But from where I was, I was just fine.
I knew who I was, what was happening to my body, I had all my memories intact, and I felt perfectly at peace, unconcerned with the welfare of that body down there, and I felt fully saturated with a feeling of unconditional love.
But then I got a preview of what would happen if I were to die. And I watched that story unfold.
Two RCMP officers, walking across that chipped concrete path that led to my parents’ house. Up the big red brick steps before knocking on that old wooden door. My parents answering the door, looking confused… acknowledgment… horror.
My Mother dropping to her knees, covering her head with her hands and she SCREAMED.
She screamed so loud inside my head that is snapped me back into reality. I was drowning in a capsized plane, and I vowed that was not going to be my story. I was getting out of the plane and getting out now!
And that ignited the most amazing experience. All those pictures of my life began to flash in reverse, going back through millions of images and then it stopped.
In front of my minds eye, was a scene from a movie I had watched decades ago. I didn’t know the name of the movie or the actors, but the scene playing inside my minds eye was one of a commander training young pilots how to escape a plane that had crashed and overturned in water.
I followed the script, escaped the plane, and saved my own life.
Yes, my pilot survived, but he was in rough shape. It took us hours floating on that river before we were towed to shore. Time to contemplate that amazing experience.
There were 3 powerful lessons I learned that day.
- I was no longer afraid to die, I knew there is more to life than what we see at first glance.
- I knew that even in life’s most dire circumstances, out of breath and out of time, we still had the ability to make choices that could change the trajectory of our lives.
- That our mind is so incredibly powerful, and I wanted to know how to access that power everyday.
But even thought I no longer feared my own death, but that did not bring comfort for the next most significant life experience.
That would be, the death of my spouse, and it was unimaginable to me. He was the least likely person to die.
We had lost close friends and family, and I thought I knew something about loss. But I was so very wrong.
In fact, I understood nothing at all…
It was a hot August day, and Willis would be where he most often was, out in the yard, building something. This summer, he was building our dream home, and it was exciting to watch it go up!
Anyone who knew him, considered him a force of nature, at 71, he looked 50, fit, strong and living the life he dreamed of.
And what was about to change, was everything…
When I think of him, I see him as both physically and emotionally strong, but in a mere 9 months, I witnessed his emotional strength expand while cancer shrank his physical body into itself, eventually becoming so weak he could barely carry his weight.
And then…. he died….
The first thing I recall, at a soul level, is that forever, is a very long time.
I don’t think I grasped reality because it felt so surreal. And that feeling would persist for several months. I would catch myself looking at his picture, shaking my head in disbelief.
The day before he died, he asked me if we were watching a movie. My reply was, sadly no, we were living a nightmare.
But in truth we had lived the most loving year of our 30-year relationship, and that was a gift; philosophically speaking; worth dying for.
When it became clear that he was going to die and long before, he made a choice. If he was going to die, he would do it with kindness for all those around him. And he did.
Never an irritable word even while experiencing continual pain.
Where his illness was cruel, he was kind. He created and maintained inner peace, and that strength is something I will aspire to.
We had carefully set in motion controls to ensure his last wishes were granted. It is during these times, that the smallest details become ever lasting.
What I had less control over, was how his body would be removed from our home.
There was no grace.
I guess hearses are a thing of the past. Two people in black garb backed in with a black mini van. I watched them try to wheel this gurney through our un-landscaped yard. When they reached the patio, our daughter and I were employed to each take an arm, while they took his woolen clad feet, and we literally dragged him unceremoniously across the patio, before heaving his limp carcass onto the gurney.
At one point, we dropped him. If it wasn’t so absolutely horrifying, it would have been comical.
And then they got unceremoniously back in that min-van and drove away. leaving a gaping hole in my heart and soul.
This is death….