It’s a bird; it’s a plane; it’s Grandma!
BY CHRISTINE CROSBY
Recently, GRAND’s own Christine Crosby had a conversation with high-flying grandmom, Rebecca Byrom.
There isn’t anything a grandmom won’t do for her grandkids, right? Rebecca Byrom (aka Grandma Bee) proved it by jumping out of an airplane! She freely admits she hates to fly. She even passed on trips to exciting locales because she didn’t want to deal with the anxiety of getting on an airplane.
So, why would she get off an airplane this way?
As originally reported by EastBayTimes, on July 22, 2017, Rebecca Byrom, 71, jumped out of a plane. Is she crazy? Yes. She’s crazy about her grandsons – Alex, 12, and Patrick, 15. They are blessings, she says, who brought new life to a family devastated by the death of Grandma Bee’s oldest child, Cyndy McLin, in a car accident four days after Christmas in 1995. Cyndy was 29. After Cyndy’s death, Rebecca channeled her grief into training to become a counselor for bereaved parents.
Then, in April of 2016, Grandma Bee and her husband Tom were heartbroken again when their grandson Alex was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer– osteosarcoma— in his left leg. Fewer than 1,000 cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, mostly in children. The past year and a half have been a grueling marathon of hospital visits, surgeries, scans, and recovery for Alex and his parents.
Alex’s diagnosis motivated Rebecca to do something to raise awareness and money for children’s cancer research, especially after finding that only 4% of the annual national research budget goes to children’s cancer research.
She decided to do her first-ever skydive. Her husband’s friend, a Navy Seal trained to do tandem jumps, offered to facilitate her skydive as a fundraiser. Grandma Bee “jumped” at the chance to do it when she realized what it could mean for her grandson and other kids like him.
“I know I’ll be terrified,” Grandma Bee said. “But I just know I’ll do it.”
Her husband Tom agreed to do it too. When asked about it, he responded, “Oh, God yes, I wouldn’t let her have all the fun.”
The plan called for seven skydivers: Grandma Bee and Tom plus their tandem jumpers, two videographers, and Tom’s friend. Both Tom and Rebecca felt confident as the support team members were pros known as the Patriotic Parachute Team.
“I know I’ll be terrified, but I just know I will do it!
Rebecca and Tom worked with Skydive San Diego, asking for pledges to the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (no relation to her Alex). To date, she and Tom have raised more than $28,000. Rebecca told people, “You can pledge any amount and I’ll jump out of the plane.”
“My jump is not entirely about money,” explained Rebecca. “The other big part of it is to show Alex how much I admire the courage he has shown throughout this. He and other kids, their lives are out of control, and they’re having all these horrible treatments done, surgeries, all this suffering every day. I just want to tell him, ‘You had to use all your courage. Grandma’s going to have to use all of hers to do this.’
I would have given my life, I would give everything I have if I could just fix Alex. But I can’t. The only thing I can do now is maybe help future children get better treatments and have a better chance of a cure, and maybe not have to suffer. And maybe help other parents not have to experience grief.”
When not jumping out of planes and spending quality time with her family, Rebecca is an avid gardner and loves crafting. Her current project is a fragrant holiday wreath.
“The intense connection of love for a grandchild is hard to explain. Only another grandparent can understand.”
Asked if she’d do it again, the answer was an emphatic,” NO,” but she’s glad she did it.
Rebecca reports, “I thought I’d learned to expect the unexpected, but when I was on the plane, I didn’t know what I’d do. I could have a heart attack, throw up, or panic. But instead, I felt a sense of complete calm. I was smiling because it was absolutely thrilling, astonishing, and amazing to see the earth from that perspective. I did not expect that!”
“Being a grandparent has brought me the greatest joy and other grandparents will understand that. When I had my children, I fell in love. Being a grandparent takes it to a whole different level. The intense connection of love for a grandchild is hard to explain. Only another grandparent can understand.”
“When my kids were little, I was very conscious of keeping the house neat and was always keeping after my children to not be messy. However, when I had my first grandchild, one day we were working in the garden and he came in and put a muddy little handprint on the wall. Do you know I left that handprint on the wall for four years before a painter came in and painted over it?”
When asked what advice Rebecca has for new grandparents, she responded, “I think all family relationships are different, but first you need to respect the parents, their rules, and guidelines and support them. Then just relax and enjoy and love your grandchild. Try to share your experiences and your passions. Tell them your stories. They may find them funny, but they will be empowered by your sharing.”