The past month has been a major struggle for me on the homesick front. It has been really ugly. And I was in this weird writing funk. Then my momma had to say goodbye to Abby, the sweetest dog that ever existed, and I couldn't be there for either one of them. And all that seems like small fries compared to the past seven days.
A week ago today, I was in London, sitting at my friend Hillary's table eating breakfast. She made me a toasted bagel with loads of cream cheese and smoked salmon, and I had a steaming cup of English breakfast tea by my side to wash it down. Patrick was back in Birmingham. It was the first time I had left him on his own since we arrived in England and I went on that whirlwind trip to Dublin with my momma. We had received a text at 7:32am from my father in law, Charlie, on our "England" WhatsApp thread telling us that Granddaddy, Patrick's maternal grandfather, had a heart attack. Just over an hour later, we got the message that Granddaddy had passed away. Patrick's Granddaddy was gone. We weren't anywhere close to home, and I wasn't even in the same city as my husband. I got on the earliest train I could catch back to Birmingham, and my sweet saint of a husband met me at the train station with a huge bouquet of pink and white flowers - including two stargazer lilies that are still blooming as I type this a week later.
The next 24 hours were some strange form of torture as we had to decide if/how we were going to go home. We wanted so badly to make it home. We tried to make it home. But we couldn't. Even if we depleted our savings bundle that we've set aside for our trek back home for good, the plane tickets we could even think about affording wouldn't get us home in time for the memorial service. But it wasn't just the memorial service. We wanted to be there for Patrick's mom and for the rest of the family. Bernice is such a huge blessing in all of our lives, and it was so important to us to be there for her if we could. But we couldn't. And it was one of the most frustrating and heart-breaking realities we've had to face since being here.
And part of the grieving process is being with people, talking about your loved one, celebrating that soul who you loved and who is no longer here, and sharing the joy and the sorrow as a burden to bear together. We wanted to be home for that part, too. Because as much as I love Patrick and that sweet Granddaddy of his, I don't have lifelong memories of him to share with my husband. I didn't spend my childhood staring up in awe at that giant of a human being; I just got to know the wonderfully sweet and sometimes stubborn teddy bear of a grandfather who had shaky hands and a slow southern drawl. Listening to Granddaddy say grace at the dinner table time and time again is one of the sweetest sounds I think I've ever heard.
As if that weren't enough, then I had some personal issues of my own that I had to try to sort through. Because people can be hurtful (myself not excluded) and I'm not good at understanding why or what I should or shouldn't do about it. That's never pretty. I just want to love people and not get hurt. But that's the biggest contradiction I know, so there's lots of love and lots of hurt. And that's never pretty either.
And then I got sick. Super sick. That definitely wasn't pretty. I'm talking high fever for 3 days (topped out at 102.4 degrees), bed-ridden for... well, a while. I was in bed for 5 days, but it started on Wednesday and it's currently Monday and I'm still sicker than I'd ever like to be (For the record, I got sick maybe once a year back home. Maybe. Now I get sick every other month... bed-ridden, high fever, pill-popping kind of sick. I'm not digging this new trend one bit). So now my husband had to take care of his ill wife on top of everything else when it was clearly supposed to be the other way around. And tomorrow is his birthday and I'm highly doubting my ability to do anything to make it special. I'm just thanking my lucky stars that I got my act together and ordered his (teensie weensie) present really early. Sigh.
I should also mention the whiney, crying self my poor husband has had to put up with. Not only have I been terribly sick (it takes a lot to keep me down for more than a few hours), but the minute I became sick was the minute that Birmingham decided to embrace spring in all its glory. The 4 days I was completely unable to get out of bed were the 4 most beautiful days I've seen in Birmingham since we moved here. The sky was clear blue, free of clouds, full of sunshine and warm weather. We hadn't seen 70 degrees once this year and all of the sudden we had 4 days of weather above 70 degrees - heck, yesterday it was 79! It was so bright that I had to have the curtains closed in order for me to get some rest. (As I write this on the first day I've been well enough to do anything aside from breathe - while I've had to take a couple of breaks because even sitting up to type this is exhausting - it's the normal grey, overcast day. Of course.)
To say that I was bitter and angry is an understatement. I had a sick-person meltdown. I couldn't breathe, my head was going to explode, I gasped for air every time I coughed, I sounded like a man, and I was sobbing because I couldn't go outside. Because the weather was so gorgeous, Patrick made me go outside on a walk with him. Oy. I've never been one to sit and fall asleep in public, but I nearly did once we made it to Saint Paul's Square due to sheer exhaustion. But the sun was nice and the air was warm and the square wasn't overrun with weed-smoking teenagers or out-of-town shoppers, so I was grateful for it in the end. And grateful for the man I'm lucky enough to call my husband and my best friend.
Sometimes living abroad really, really sucks. Not because of the things you have to endure, but because of the things you miss. We've missed holidays. Birthdays. Friends getting pregnant. Friends having babies. The weddings of dear friends. All the "firsts" of our only nephew's life, including his first birthday and first birthday party. Grandparents getting ill, going into the hospital, having surgery. Grandparents passing away. Parents going through chemotherapy. Parents saying goodbye to cherished pets and embracing the new babies that fill that hole. The growing up of younger siblings. Being there to lend a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on for family and friends alike. You miss it all.
But that's part of the decision to live abroad. We knew this stuff was possible when we made the decision to move to England instead of Boston. You hope and pray, of course, that the really bad stuff doesn't happen. But it does, because life goes on whether you're there or not. And it's something we have to work through.
There's nowhere to go from here but up, I suppose. Thankfully we have a greater hope to cling to. And we always have each other.