“Mrs. Thoma?”  says the sweet flight attendant with the handful of Kleenex.


“Your ticket comes with an in-flight breakfast.”

It does?

“Yeh, that’s odd,” says the seatmate from Australia with an accent rendering him barely intelligible, “I had you pegged as the brown bag type.”

It’s been a day of odd I admit to him while attempting to dry my eyes.  Below us the fuchsia sunrise is slowly carving out the pinnacles of New Zealand’s south island.  I can’t help but cry under this grief.  The immediate losses are those mystical mountains that we had no chance to explore and the newly bought car that we abandoned in Christchurch not knowing if we can sell over international phone calls.  The distant loss, however, is incomprehensible.

While consumed with this newborn personal crisis, I begin to realize that this is indeed a worldly experience – one that every human must eventually know, but that I hopelessly wish we didn’t have to come so far to learn.  Our dear brother-in-law and newest member of the Thoma clan, Jamie Brokaw, was killed just after takeoff while flying cargo out of Afghanistan.

We have no details, but our departure is immediate.  A 10 hour tearful drive thru dramatic pastures retraces our path from Invercargill to Christchurch, where we ditch the car at a new friend’s farm, catch three winks of sleep, and then leap on a plane with a hastily bought ticket whose extraordinary expense ensures that we get the most premium of service while stuffed into coach.  Hot breakfast and Kleenex are absurd niceties in this newfound hell of multi-faceted anguish.

Sunrise over Fjordland, NZ.

Departing during sunrise over Fjordland, NZ.

Pain this deep came always with a break-up that you weren’t prepared for.  In a single minute the person would vanish from your everyday life.  But that happens TO you; you are fully present and know the details and can immediately begin the long process of recovery.  THIS, however, this is an assault of grief from every angle, and your brain can’t comprehend the endless layers of sadness.

For one, a person whom you like very much is dead, and you will never even see his body. Secondly, those staggeringly gorgeous mountains rolling past your window will not be explored during this perfect New Zealand autumn, and the ticket price to return to them is equally breathtaking.  Thirdly, there is a beloved Thoma sister back home whose life, which hasn’t ever been easy, just literally crashed and burned and all of the happiness and security and love that came with her marriage to this delightful man ONE YEAR AGO has just blinked out of existence.

My husband is residing in his own heap of panicked and shocked silence and we are just beginning a series of 26 hours of planes and airports and physical misery.  The layers of sad run very, very deep.

Sunset for Jamie somewhere over the Pacific

Sunset for Jamie somewhere over the Pacific

Our future is an immense and uncomfortable question mark.  We have the strange luxury of being untethered to jobs or kids and can remain after all of the friends and family and casseroles depart from the house of the bereaved.  We will wash her dishes or remodel her fixer-upper house or sit around and drink and curse because that’s what makes Elizabeth feel slightly less awful.

So it seems that Monroe, Michigan is next on our travel list.

Let’s go see what grief is all about.

Jamie and Elizabeth Brokaw.  Dammit they were a nice pair.

Jamie and Elizabeth Brokaw. Dammit they were a nice pair.



NOTE: there is a backlog of adventure that will soon post.  Stories of penguins and tropical fruit eaten straight from the tree seemed unfitting to share in the midst of utter misery.  Please stay tuned.  We will continue to post thru our time back in Michigan and will return to  our adventures abroad in due time.

2 thoughts on “Expletives

  1. :( quit making me cry!
    Beautifully written. So glad y’all will be hanging out with Elizabeth in the coming months.

  2. This makes me even prouder of Jamie for getting himself into such a wonderful family as the Thoma’s. Even with him now gone, I look forward to many years of memories formed with a new-found combination of the Brokaw-Thoma clans.

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