As the ambassador for Children’s Hospice International, I have been blessed to be a part of an organization that celebrates and uplifts children in all stages of life despite diagnosis or prognosis. In early December, I conquered a deep-rooted fear of mine and boarded a plane by myself and headed to Washington DC to participate in Fantasy Flight. Taking place at Dulles Airport, Fantasy Flight is an annual event hosted in partnership with United Airlines. While 13 airports now host Fantasy Flight annually for different causes, Dulles Airport always saves their event for children with terminal conditions. They set up bright and early and check in families and assign them their airplane tickets to take them to their anticipated destination—the North Pole. Now if you know me, you know I am terrified of flying. I like to be in 1000% control of my life, and apparently, I have to have a pilot’s license to fly a plane. SO silly. You can imagine my sigh of relief when I found out we wouldn’t really be flying, but that we would be using reindeer magic to fly supersonically fast to the North Pole. Perfect. I met so many people while waiting at the gate. Parents with huge tears in their eyes as their little ones got glittery tattoos and watched Ronald McDonald perform magic tricks. Some explained to me that they wait for this every year, as it is their Christmas. No hospital, no beige walls, no restrictions. Just pure joy. It wasn’t until I boarded the jumbo jet that the head flight attendant told me a heartbreaking truth that I wasn’t even thinking of- some of these children seated on this plane will not make it to Christmas. Our job is to make sure that this day is the best day of their lives.
After everyone had boarded and the doors were shut, we proceeded to the runway for “takeoff”. Flight attendants checked our seatbelts and passed out stickers and maps, and with that, we were speeding down the runway for liftoff. I was amazed by the lengths they went to to simulate this flight. Complete with exhilarating hydraulics and turbulence! After hitting a rather rough spot of fake turbulence, my gut told me to look out the window (the blinds were shut so that the reindeer could do their job…). I ever so slightly peeked out of the window and my stomach hit the ground. CLOUDS. Nothing but clouds. We were really flying! As Casper-White as I must’ve turned, I pledged to live a year without fear during my reign and honestly, I would do it one thousand times over again just to hear the squeals of delight from the children. Most of whom had never been on a plane. When we finally landed (Praise God!), we were greeted with the greatest cheer and holiday joy. The normal drab tunnel leading to the airport was filled with tinsel, songs, and chatter. Upon exiting the tunnel, absolutely nothing prepared me for the thunderous celebration awaiting every child and family. Dancing characters, waving princesses, singing elves, and cheering attendants welcomed each of us to the North Pole. I was instantly brought to a place of wonderment as I had no idea how overwhelming this must be for the children in awe of the North Pole, and the sobbing parents in gratitude for the love of strangers.
I was elated to finally meet Ann Armstrong-Daley and C.K. Steele in person, as they run every detail and facet of CHI, and granted me this incredible opportunity.
Now when I say this place was magical, you might understand HOW magical when I tell you there were tables and tables of CHICKEN BISCUITS from CHICK Fil A, and cupcakes and every other food my childhood self would have flipped for. I grabbed a cupcake and hid behind a Christmas tree to quickly eat it before meeting with the families who were still pouring off of the plane. But when I got tapped on the shoulder by a volunteer who was hysterically laughing as she foiled my plan of secrecy, I laughed with her and ate my cupcake and cheered on the children walking in. The most amazing part was seeing the sacks of toys brought by Santa for each and every child. Watching him spend so much time and taking so much care for every child was indescribable. I could write forever about the littles I met, the moms I hugged, the staff that I was able to educate and inspire with my words and knowledge of pediatric palliative and hospice care, but these moments I will forever hold in my heart and thank God that I was trusted with them.
As I headed back to catch my flight home after Fantasy Flight, I couldn’t stop taking deep breaths. Even now as I write this, my heart shatters for the beautiful faces that won’t light up opening Christmas presents this year. For the families gathered around a hospital bed watching a sleeping child rest. We are so fortunate. One of my greatest fears is flying but that is nothing compared to the immense fear of losing a child. It was undetectable amongst these parents who know that fear is an impending reality. Let that be a lesson for you as much as it has been for me. Fear is what you make it. Let it control you, or let it motivate you. Whether that fear is flying, competing, or so much more—let it be known that when faced with the greatest fear of all, these families were able to celebrate with grateful hearts. This Christmas, I hope you do the same.
Making the minutes count,