Recently, I went to a flight simulator night for a Courageous Flier I had not yet met before. I instantly recognized him from the photos of previous events because of his bright, multicolored hair. His dad later informed me that he has to wear a uniform to school, and the rainbow haircolor is the only way the students can really express themselves.
Walter is in his third and final year of Courageous Fliers, and was not nervous at all as he climbed into the simulator. As is often the case with established families that I meet, I found myself wondering what brought them to our program. Walter didn’t appear to have any current health challenges. His father, Henry, was cheerful and friendly. There weren’t any clues to what medical situation may have impacted their family and Walter’s confidence.
As Walter began his takeoff procedure with the flight instructor, I sat outside the simulator and began to talk to Henry. First, we chatted about what side of town they lived on, where Walter goes to school, what Henry does for a living, the usual. I don’t remember how it came up, but somehow he revealed that his oldest son, Walter’s brother, had died suddenly six years ago. I shared with him that I, too, had lost my oldest child four years ago. His eyes (and probably mine, too) welled up with compassion, meeting a kindred spirit of one of the most difficult experiences in life.
For the next hour, we compared notes of the first terrible year after a loss, the new challenges of the second year, the ongoing challenges of parenting and relationships in the subsequent years. Finally, the conversation turned to Flight1, and what it has meant to both of us. We talked about how sometimes it is difficult to talk to your child about the sibling they lost, and the best you can do is find something challenging and fun for them to turn their attention to. Death is such an uncontrollable event to a child, and flying offers them the chance to feel that they can make decisions in life. You can’t always change what has happened in a kid’s life, but you can at least help them shape how they react to it. Flight teaches us that there are always options. There are always different courses to take. There is always a chance for clearer skies.