I spend the first twelve hours back in my house purposefully moving. Unpack the suitcase, sort dirty clothes from my trip, start some laundry, organize gifts I’ve brought back for friends, check voicemail on my home phone, make a grocery store run to fill my empty refrigerator, open the mail, take out the trash, feed the dogs.
In between my very intentional actions I make contact with a few people. A text to arrange lunch with a friend, a phone call with my sister in law, a call to confirm an appointment, a trip to the Apple store to buy a new keyboard, a conference call for a nonprofit, a chat with my friend when she drops off my suitcase.
None of this, not any of it, does a thing to ease the ache I feel returning from my trip to an empty house. I keep moving, keep doing things, because I’m afraid if I stop, the silence will swallow me.
Despite the tail wagging and kisses from my dogs when I open the door, despite the comfort of sleeping in my own bed again after moving through eleven different hotels during the past three weeks, despite everything, I simply hate coming home.
To be clear, I don’t hate my home, just the transition of coming home.
My love of travel, my wanderlust, is certainly not new. Long before Greg ever got sick, I was plotting and planning trips, trying to squeeze in as many places and experiences as my calendar and budget would allow. And that feeling of not wanting a vacation to end is also not new. For years I’ve silently played this little game when flying home. When I’m in the airport ready to depart, I listen to the gate calls and think what if I just got on one of those planes instead of coming home? Last call for boarding at gate B12 for Bangkok. Gate change for the United flight to Paris. Now ready to board at gate C37 for Capetown.
In the past, it was simply a fantasy, something to think about as I waited for my own flight to depart. Going home meant either returning to Greg or returning with Greg. For many years it also meant returning to our three kids. There were always plenty of reasons to return. But that’s all changed now. The kids are grown and living their own lives, Greg is gone, and going home is a return to living alone, which means it has become harder for me to come home.
A day after I’m back, my kids and I meet up with Greg’s older brother’s family for lunch and drinks. It’s sunny out, everyone is smiling, and we’re sharing the best deviled eggs and fried chicken. While we sip our drinks, my 19-month-old grandson is playing with his 8-month-old cousin. I chase him around the restaurant’s outdoor space because he’s a bundle of energy at this stage and curious about everything.
Afterwards, I bring him to my house to spend the night so his mom and dad can have a night off and sleep in the next morning. We snack on popcorn together, I read him books, he wants me to find a football game to watch even though I try to explain that it’s not the season. When I run upstairs to get something, he calls for me, by name, for the first time. Mimi!
The next morning, I fix him pancakes with honey, and when he asks for chocolate milk, I indulge the request. I’m his grandmother, after all. He helps me load the dishwasher and clean the outdoor patio furniture before I pack him up to go home.
As I’m dropping him off, I realize I’m no longer sad, and marvel that this is the fastest I’ve bounced back upon returning from a trip since losing Greg. I tell his parents that from now on, I want to have him spend the night the first night back from any trip I take. My sweet little grandson, who loves blueberries and bananas and my pancakes, who is obsessed with football, who tucks his little giraffe under his arm while he walks around, who sleeps with his bum sticking up in the air, who loves tattoos, and who carries Greg’s middle name, is the best medicine for the blues.