My Most Memorable Journeys #2: flying home for a death

Another memorable journey, although for entirely different reasons than in my previous story. Oh, and this time, there was no vomit. So read on…

Picture it: Narita airport, Tokyo, a couple of months after the 9/11 attacks, in 2001. The airport is eerily quiet. My flight is less than half-full. I have an entire row of seats to myself.

Stuffed into the seat pocket in front of me is a photograph of my grandparents. About a week ago, I found out my grandfather has a brain tumour. Yesterday morning I had a phone call, letting me know that he doesn’t have long to live. He could die at any moment.


I have been living in Japan for the past two years, teaching English, far from home.

Friends helped me book a flight, and I traveled across Japan last night on a bus. I am racing home to England to see my grandfather for the last time.

Some eleven hours later, the plane lands in London. I have tried, and failed, to distract myself with in-flight movies and meals. As I walk through immigration and customs, I don’t know if my grandfather is still alive.

My parents greet me in the arrivals hall. He is not dead. We get into the car, and drive straight to the hospice, an hour away.

Now I am here, I don’t want to go in. My legs somehow make me walk through the front door, and I follow my parents to reach my grandfather’s bedside.


He’s shrunk. His big hands look out of proportion to the rest of his body. He has no strength. My sister is spoon-feeding him ice cream.

My vision blurs and tears stream down my face.

He will die a few days later, and his funeral will take place the day before I fly back to Japan. I am changed by my first taste of family grief.

My Most Memorable Journey #3 is here

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