homesickness

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You know, I have all of these mostly-written blog posts that have never been posted. In a way, a compilation of them would sort of explain my MIA status. They include info. about our on-going sickness saga, seemingly over now that Estella no longer goes to the crèche. (Tentative YAY!) We pulled her out four weeks ago, at the recommendation of the GP, for a ‘trial’ healing period, but it’s gone so well that we’ve decided to keep her home. Eight months of sickness has been long enough. So Frans and I have been on our toes exploring other day care possibilities, work possibilities, moving-house possibilities, all kinds of life-changing stuff. I’ll keep you in the loop.

But for now, I want to share that I’ve been winking back a lot of tears in the past couple of days.

“Are you homesick?” or “Heb je heimwee?” are among the most frequently-asked questions when people first learn that I’m from the States. It’s a sweet and thoughtful question, and I don’t mind answering with “sometimes.” Grief is all about ebbs and flows, flux, and waves. It comes often softly, unexpected, like a small child coming up behind you and gently touching your arm. Asking you for something, asking you to pay attention.

Did you see that? it asks. What does that remind you of? And the waves come. Or steel myself against ‘all the feelings’. Go away, I don’t want to think about that now. Or I feel surprise/shame. Where did you come from? I thought I was doing well.

But the mistake I often make is concluding that the presence of homesickness means the absence of joy, contentment, settling in. Doing well.

For example, this just happened: I spotted a little place by the window in “my” café where I work, and as I scooted into the booth, saw the little café cat, Sammy, lounging next to my intended seat. After hesitating, I sat down and reached over to scratch Sammy’s proffered chin. Sammy’s coloring and paws reminded me of my childhood cat, Muffin, who shared naps with me in my crib, moved with us when we came to Florida, and died an old cat when I was fifteen, right before my brother left for college. Scratching Sammy’s chin, I was reminded Muffin and home. Tears in my eyes. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder at my initial hesitation to touch Sammy. He’s a pet of the café, not a feral cat, Sammy and I know each other. I wonder if I unknowingly spend energy trying to avoid triggers. Trying to prove that I’m doing well.

And by avoiding triggers I don’t mean fun distractions. Those I have in abundance. Watching episodes of Fixer Upper and 19 Kids and Counting. Laughing along with Seinfeld in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon clips. I order the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks as often as I can. I love the smell of all hardware stores. Hardware store smells are global. Sometimes I like to buy a donut on Sunday morning, and sometimes I can talk Frans into driving by the bakery on the way to church. I’ve figured out how to make pretty impressive Chick Fil-A copycat nuggets. Decorating for fall, y’all. Using the word “y’all” on Facebook. Little things to connect for a moment with the old home.

What I mean by the Sammy example is considering if I avoid confronting homesickness when I given a choice. To feel or not to feel.

Today on my morning run, I nearly ran into a father dropping his son and daughter off at the elementary school around the corner from our house. The brother was teasing his sister, giving her a hard time in a sweet way, and she was half-annoyed, half giggling. And just like that, the tap came. Man, I miss my brother. It feels weird, vulnerable even, to admit it. But there it is. I choose to feel.

As time goes by, I’m learning to welcome homesickness as a sign that I am grieving people and things that I knew and loved on a more frequent, present, ‘being-there’ basis. And grief can be symptomatic of something good: We have loved, and we love still. And nothing can replace this person or that proximity.

My choice to live and remain in the Netherlands with Frans and Estella doesn’t mean that I am either happy here because I would be unhappy there, or visa versa. I have thirty solid years of other experiences in other places with other people that have formed me. And there was a lot of good, a lot of beauty in it, and I will grieve it. I will feel all the feelings. I will be homesick from time to time. And it’s all good.

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One thought on “homesickness

  1. great processing of emotions. I loved the line, “To feel or not to feel.” I’m Glad you are choosing feelings. Yes, they are associated with a sadness, but they also bring a joy of the memory — that you did love a cat in another time and space and it was wonderful! And I like how you expressed that you don’t have to pick a place to be happy — you can be happy in both your physical location and your memories. Well done!

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