Losing a partner/wife of 21 years commands one to pause and reflect on one's own mortality.
Especially. when you traveled the world together flying stand by as "non revs" (revenue) on her retired flight crew benefits. Doing so can be trying at times, but also an adventure. The early day flight attendants, "stewardesses", "air hostesses", etc. were a special breed of woman that wanted more than very respectable, but less adventurous careers. Many had additional jobs, like Mel, who was approached on a flight after talking with a F/C passenger that worked for the NFL. He was impressed with Mel's deep knowledge of football, so much so that he told her that the Oakland Raiders were toying with the idea of putting a woman up in their press box. He said "you'd be a natural" and when she said she could fly during the week and go off schedule on weekends, he convinced her to interview with the Oakland Raiders as the 1st woman in an NFL Press Box. She was hired on the spot and articles began to appear speculating who "the mystery blonde is up in the Raider's Press Box"? She became an instant hit with the team, management, and head coach John Madden, even though she was a Wisconsin girl from Wauwatosa Wisconsin, Badgers alumni graduating from Madison, and a rabid Green Bay Packers fan.
Mel worked 14 golden years for Oakland becoming close friends with Madden, his wife Virginia and team members Kenny "the Snake" Stabler, O.J., & Marcus Allen among many others. She was there the day of the "Immaculate Reception", one of the most famous plays in the history of American Football. (Dec. 23,1972 AFC Divisional Playoff Raiders v Steelers). By becoming, and succeeding with the Oakland Raiders Organization, Mel paved the way for women like Kay Adams, Melissa Stark, Pam Oliver, Michelle Tafoya, Erin Andrews, and many others that grace the sport today, all the while flying to Paris, Cairo, Moscow, Athens, Rome, Barcelona, Prague, Budapest, and other destinations between weekend games. She loved Egypt, which was our first trip together while she still worked for TWA. We went to Paris numerous times where she spoke fluent French with our best trip planned as a two week vacation turning into a six week stay. We loved New Zealand so much we ended up buying a house there. Big Island, Alaska, Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, New York, tennis at Indian Wells........ all great memories.
Each Sunday, Madden had a regular practice of having Mel join him 1/2 hour before game time. John would have the room cleared except for him and Mel. He would ask her where she had flown that week, which are her favorite destinations, which celebrities had been on the flights........ they talked about art, museums, and life in general. ANYTHING OTHER THAN FOOTBALL. Then he'd say, "well it's time for us to get to work" and each would head off in separate directions.
Madden also had a deep fear of flying while Mel lived for it. He needed to fly to the games with the team, and when she married her first husband, Keith, a pilot for United, Madden said he'd travel with the team if Keith would fly charter for the team and John could ride in the cockpit! The deal was struck and Madden was allowed up front, something that would never happen in this day and age. Even more ironic, Keith wasn't interested in football stating he "got bored watching it".
Inevitably those golden years are gone forever, just as my days with Mel are. It isn't easy watching your partner waste away as time marches on, stealing a bit of them a day at a time. There is a point in time that you realize that all the sniveling or fighting over who gets the remote, really means nothing at all. To love and be loved might become the most important revelation in your life, at least one can hope so.
Mel passed away August 16th after my taking care of her around the clock, so she could have the privacy & dignity most of us would really want and hope for. She was in a lot of pain and an ambulance took her down the hill to our little 11 bed hospital. I wasn't allowed in due to the pandemic. A half hour later I received a call that her liver & kidneys were shutting down and they would make her as comfortable as possible until she passed. I drove down the hill to be by her side and she was gone by 11:30 that night.
I knew what to expect, as I had done hospice for my father who died from bladder cancer. I stayed with him for a month allowing him to die in his own bedroom at home on New Year's Eve. I had been prepped on what to expect, and was told "you will know when he is near death, his lungs will begin to fill with fluid, as the lungs fill, the breathing will become more labored, this is when you will hear what we call 'The Death Rattle', the heart will work harder and harder until eventually it stops..." and so the inevitable progression I had experienced before came back to revisit me a bit at a time over five or six excruciating, heart wrenching hours until there was silence and a finality that assaults sensibility launching you into new unfamiliar ground. There is a surreal sense of starting your life all over again while emotions swim over you at any time without warning: guilt, anger, anxiety, longing, relief, regret, confusion......... all take a hand in the grieving process. that promises to come back and visit you for an undetermined amount of time if not forever. The saying goes "time heals all wounds".......... that's bullshit, enough time will numb the pain, but the sense of loss will never go away.
Losing a partner you've spent a third of sharing your life with puts things into perspective as to what is truly important.... the rest just being details. Grieving is an individual process left for the living to handle in whatever fashion they choose or have to endure. It is different for everyone, but it reminds you of your mortality. As "the Hound" said in "Game of Thrones". "Death is the enemy, and the enemy always wins"...
New Year's Resolution: Less "spam" aka details in 2021. Here's a piece celebrating a partner that never had to walk in my shadow. She was my equal and I became a better man for it.