As the many people who arrived on Wednesday for former Senator Ted Stevens' funeral found out, there is no easy way to get to Alaska. Flights here, there, and everywhere, all of them long, are required for access to the 49th State. Conversely, the same is true for Alaskans trying to go South for important occasions.
My sweet aunt passed away yesterday due to complications from Alzheimer's disease. Expected yet ultimately surprising in its swift arrival, her death placed our family in the realm of so many other Alaskans who need to get Outside (anyplace other than here) within a certain span of time.
Schedules seem to take on a completely different meaning up here; our lives are defined by flight times of airlines that frequently end almost constant service to the Lower 48 mid-August. That my aunt would pass away on the day Alaska Airlines suspended summerime schedules was a reminder that we do, indeed live thousands of miles away from our families. I am reminded of this every three months as I wearily climb aboard a red-eye flight to Salt Lake City to visit my son.
I talked to a mother yesterday whose husband had just accompanied their freshman son to Washington State University. Airfares were too expensive for both parents to settle he and his gear into his dorm and attend all the parent orientation sessions; plus, their other kids were beginning school back in Anchorage and the thought of trying to navigate such a schedule was, understandably, frightfully overwhelming.
While talking to my parents, my uncle, and even the mortuary in Santa Rosa, California, people were more than understanding my inability to fly down in time for my aunt's service on Tuesday morning. "After all," the owner of the Parent-Sorensen Mortuary told me, "Alaska is not an easy place to get out of."
In this age of email, companion fares, and Skype, I know I am in better communication shape than the sourdoughs who would go months without any mail, not knowing if family members were alive, dead, or somewhere in between. I cannot imagine the sorrow of reading via an outdated letter the death of a loved one. I forget, sometimes, where we are. I love it. But sometimes the miles on the map seem not-to-scale.