this trip report is not so much about the trip itself as the process of saying farewell to a loved one who's expiration is near. it's about time spend together between two brothers and their father, who don't spend as much time together as they'd like. I hope you enjoy it, please feel free to comment
Frontier Jet Express 4303 and 4309 Denver-Spokane-Denver CRJ-701 N602QX
The call came in on a Wednesday Morning from Aunt Vi, had we spoken to Grandma? No. Aunt Vi then went on to explain that she had called the Nursing Home to wish Grandma an early happy birthday and got a very anomalous response, they couldn’t really say where she was, they thought she was asleep, but they couldn’t be sure. With mom being a bit concerned, I was drafted to call Dad. I got dad’s wife who explained that Dad had gotten a call the night before that Grandma had been taken to the emergency room, as the Nursing Home staff had come into her room after she had failed to appear for dinner, and found her nonresponsive. Dad’s wife informed us that Dad had left that morning for Spokane, where Grandma lived, and that as soon as he knew anything he’d call. I spoke with Dad later that morning, during his layover in Seattle on his way to Spokane, he was planning on meeting with the doctors once he got there and he’d call back with an update. My brother, in the meantime, jumped on the next FedEx plane to Spokane. All we could really do was wait.
The next call came while I was at work, Grandma, I was told, had suffered a major stroke, it was unsure how long she’d live, so again, waiting became the word of the day. I knew I needed and wanted to go up, but there was a question as to the timing because no one was sure how long Grandma would live. She wasn’t on life support, she was breathing on her own, and there was an understanding that Grandma could linger on for days, possibly weeks. I spoke with Dad again on Thursday, and we came to the decision that I needed to come up, time was short, Grandma was on DNR (do not resuscitate) and was taking neither food nor fluids.
Once I got the all clear to make the trip, I jumped online and madly began searching for the lowest possible fare and the best possible times. Not too early, but not too late either. I settled on Frontier and booked the ticket to leave Sunday and return Wednesday. While mom was squeamish about the fare, at 500 dollars round trip, it was, we decided the best I could do. the important thing was that I get up there as fast as I possibly could. I booked the ticket and waited out the rest of the week, having informed my job that I’d be taking Sunday off for a personal emergency. Dad and Eric made regular calls to report that there was really nothing to report, Grandma was in a persistent vegetative state, breathing on her own, her spirit coming to peace with moving on.
Sunday morning dawned early as mom took me to the bus station before dawn and I caught the bus from Boulder to DIA. Having checked in online, with just my rollaboard backpack, I could avoid the ticket counter and go straight to security. Being as I was on a nine o’clock flight, I left for the airport at six or thereabouts, getting to the airport at seven or seven thirty. Of course, I made my requisite trip to the smoking lounge, since I was going from the A concourse, I went to the one that was in the main terminal, had my wakeup cigarettes and a coke before I tossed my lighter and headed up the bridge, through the relatively light security and down to concourse A.
My gate was A-50, and since I had some time, I walked down to the lower level and took in the mass of Great Lakes Beech 1900s sitting on the odd side of the concourse, waiting for their trips to Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota and smaller cities in Colorado. On the Frontier side of the concourse, the even gates, Republic was just starting to replace Horizon as Frontier's Jet Express carrier, their E170s looked good painted in the Frontier colors. Of course there were also the requisite Horizon Air CRJ-700s some in Frontier colors and some in Horizon house colors. Funny that the CRJ-700 and the E170 have the same capacity, yet the E170 seemed like a bigger aircraft. It sat higher off the ground. Having flown on both, I prefer the E170, I like the huge windows. The first time I saw one, two years ago at Washington National, I decided they look like a mini 737.
I was still down on the lower level of the A concourse as I watched N602QX, my ride to Spokane, come in, resplendent in its Frontier Jet Express colors. I began migrating back to A-50, as we’d be boarding soon. At A-48 was a Frontier A319 going to mexico, Puerto Vallarta I think. Periodically, the youthful sounding gate agents came over the PA requesting passengers on the flight come to the gate for a passport check.
I was content to stay in my gate area, watching the CRJ-700, marveling at how Frontier can blow a photo up large enough to apply to an aircraft, and wondering how it was even possible that photos can be applied to aircraft.
Soon enough, we were called for boarding and I descended the jetway to the door of the aircraft. It’s always an odd sight to see a 70 seat regional jet with a jetway attached to it, somehow there seems to be something wrong with that picture. the jetway always seems larger than the aircraft itself with the canopy folded over half the roof. Naturally, because the bumper of the jetway can't meet the doorframe of the RJ, there's a ramp you walk across to get to the aircraft itself.
I took my window seat, towards the back, being thankful I got a window at all, being that I booked on such short notice. My rollaboard barely fit in the overhead bin, it actually took a little effort and crossed fingers to get it in there, but it fit, tightly. The leatherette seats were comfortable, at least as comfortable as seats on an RJ can be. The legroom was good.
With everyone onboard, the door came up and shut and we were pushed off the gate. The two flight attendants did their safety demonstration as the engines spooled up quietly and we taxied to the runway, wobbling into the air. We got a beverage service, but not much else.
Sitting on the wing, I couldn’t see much as we cruised Northwest. I thought about my last trip to Spokane, in January, and what a great visit I had had with Grandma, not realizing that would be the last time I had seen Grandma as Grandma. We talked, we laughed, we had fast foot as I shared the details of my recently completed round the world trip. It was a good visit. Not nearly long enough, but, we made the most of it, as we always did, whether i came for just a day or a week.
The current trip would be different, it wouldn’t be as much about seeing Grandma as about seeing Dad and Eric. It’s rare the three of us get to spend time together, with Eric living in Memphis and dad often traveling here and there enjoying his retirement. The two hour trip I’ve taken so many times over the years since I moved to Colorado in 1979, seem to pass quickly and soon we were descending on the airport I’ve been visiting regularly at last as early as 1974, when we came to the world’s fair on a Northwest Orient DC-10 when I was six, spokane's geiger field. Our arrival gate was 32, a jetway in the new Alaska Airlines dominated C Concourse, that makes sense, considering that Horizon Air is basically owned by Alaska. I think this was the first time I had been into this terminal since the jetways were installed. Overall, very nice, with overall green trim and gray carpet, very fitting for the pacific Northwest. It dawned on me as I proceeded to baggage claim and outside, where I called to get picked up, that this would probably be my last trip to Spokane. It was, for me, the end of an era spanning 35 years of regular trips to see Grandma. Grandpa, age 90, is still alive, but his reputation as an alcoholic and his unpredictable temperament when he’s drunk make visits to see him few and far between.
Once outside, I called for my ride, and waited and smoked some cigarettes.
I walked into room 848 at Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane and I knew that Grandma as we knew her was gone. her shell of a body was still there, being kept alive by her reptilian brain, but the essence of her, what made her her, was gone.
The next four days were spent mostly at the hospital, conducting a bedside vigil that was, honestly, a little vulturish. Dad, Eric and I sat around the room, talking, holding Grandma’s hand, reminiscing. The important thing to us was that Grandma not die alone, so we traded off spending the night at the hospital. The pastor of Grandma’s church came in and out, Grandpa came by regularly, friends also came by to bid their farewells. The visits were punctuated by various things the hospital staff needed to do to keep her comfortable: repositioning her, giving her pain medication, keeping her mouth moist. The constant stream was the conversation between Dad, Eric and I, about life, about Grandma, talking to Grandma even though we knew she really couldn’t respond. Grandma’s often raspy, sometimes irregular breathing was also part of the stream.
There was one occasion during those four days when we thought time might be near, we all stood at her bedside, hands held, heads bowed, but, it was a false alarm. Dad was telling her it was okay to go. He shared a vision I had had before I left home, listening to Enya on my computer as I meditated in my own way on the meaning of Grandma to me. The vision was of Grandma, looking as she did in the 1940s, young, healthy, buxom in a blue and white polka dot dress, walking down a hallway of light, at the end of the hall Uncle Denny and Uncle Rick were waiting for her, they took her by the hand and the three of them walked arm and arm into the light together. Uncle Denny died two years ago at 65 of Liver Disease, Uncle Rick died of MS in1986.
We all stood there, surrounding Grandma with love, Eric and I, her two grandsons holding her hands, as we let her know it was okay to go. I mentioned that the Heaven Express was on the horizon, a beautiful golden train, it was coming fast and she’d better be ready with her ticket, the train didn’t stop for long. Grandma wasn’t quite ready to board that train, we all stood down and resumed our conversation.
Tuesday, April tenth was Grandma’s 89th birthday, we got her some balloons to festoon the bed, sang her happy birthday and enjoyed the day quietly. It had been decided, since I was leaving at six in the morning on Wednesday, that I’d spend the night at the Hospital. Dad and Eric had been trading off spending nights in the room with Grandma, so that she would not be alone. I spent the night on a chair that converted to a surprisingly comfortable bed, listening to Grandma's halting breathing, a sign that death was near. Often, during the preceeding days, we'd watch the clock, counting the seconds between breaths, she'd stop for up to forty five seconds, we'd hold our breaths, then she'd resume breathing.
Dad picked me up at four a.m. and took me to the airport. My brother had already gone back to Memphis, he, his wife and baby were coming back later in the week.
Dad and i discussed my attendance at the funeral once the inevitable happened, it was decided it was not necessary, i had said my farewells.
I checked in with Frontier and got my boarding pass. I proceeded through security and to my ground level gate, gate 25. The plane back was the same plane I had come up on, N602QX. A little disappointment, I never like duplicates.
The trip home was uneventful. We boarded the aircraft from the tarmac via a ramp, versus the built in airstairs. My rollaboard once again barely fit into the overhead bin. I had a window seat again, and the load was fairly light. Once everyone was onboard we slipped the surly bonds of earth and took off into the early morning sky, I bid my farewell to Spokane. Two short hours later I was descending back to DIA, arriving at lower level gate A-62 and deplaning via another ramp onto the tarmac.
Overall the service on Frontier Jet Express was okay. Not great but not catastrophic either. I like the CRJ-700, it’s comfortable, with a smooth, solid ride. I like the way Frontier has put the picture on the winglet as well as the tail, it’s a nice small touch that personalizes the aircraft.
Coming off the aircraft I made my way into the terminal, then to the bridge and to the bus home, where mom picked me up at the Boulder bus station in time for me to go to work later in the day.
Grandma was the consummate hostess to the end, she didn’t leave until all her guests were gone. We got the call on the night of April eleventh that Grandma had slipped the surly bonds of earth. She had passed away. in the end, my dad, her only remaining son, was present, along with his wife. That was the way it should be. Dad, in the last years of Grandma’s life, picked up where Uncle Denny left off, taking care of Grandma’s finances and making regular trips to Spokane often on short notice. Irony dictated that when he got the call, at ten o’clock on a Tuesday night in April, he had just returned from a two week visit to Spokane, where he had reluctantly moved her from her retirement home to the Nursing Home four days earlier. The move was, in the end, too much for her system. She suffered a massive stroke from which she did not recover. It was okay. She had had a long hard life. She had served us well in so many ways, she had risen like a phoenix from the ashes on so many occasions, always able to reinvent herself and resume with her life. In the end, it was our pleasure to be by her side as she made her final bow and waltzed into the twilight of eternity.