Home: A Relative Term
What or where exactly is home?
Six days, 30 plus hours of driving, thousands of miles, and endless conversations — and we are finally home. Home. It’s a relative term.
This week, we went home to Illinois to say goodbye to another cherished family member. Though I was with my people, in a place that once felt like home in every wonderful way possible, it felt sad and empty this time. Somehow, the color has faded and the vibrancy has peeled away over the years. I missed those that didn’t make the trip, and those that would never make the trip again. This used to feel like coming home, but each time it is a little less so. I think we all felt a little homeless as the glass doors of the funeral home closed behind us once again.
We also went home to where my in-laws live this week, even more aware after the funeral that none of us are promised tomorrow. We ate home-cooked meals, sat on the porch visiting, and enjoyed the comforts of home that only a parent can provide. We visited the home of friends, enjoying the sunny days and being able to breathe in the wilderness, without a cell signal to interrupt it. We drove endless miles of roads toward one home or another all week before finally arriving back in our home late last night, or at least the place we get our mail.
I have come to realize this week that home is not just one place. Each of these places we visited were home and yet not, familiar and yet foreign. Home is not just where you were raised or your grandparents resided, but is instead this eclectic collection of places where you’ve lived, where you’ve loved, where you’ve left, and left something of yourself behind. Home is not a static location at all, but rather the place where you are welcomed, where family gathers, where tears are shed, and laughter is shared. Home is where love resides, despite the building materials or changing scenery.
My home has always existed in each hug hello, each promise to stay in touch, each silent reminder that we will one day say goodbye a final time. As we left the cemetery on our way out of town, I stared at the empty spot beneath my mother’s name, a final monument to the fact that one day she will stay behind as I return alone. I looked back at the bench bearing my aunt and uncle’s names, the looming granite memorial to my grandparents. I watched my in-laws waving in the rear-view mirror until we turned and they faded out of sight. I committed to memory the faces of my cousins who I only manage to see at funerals, of which there have been entirely too many in recent years. I couldn’t help thinking that they are my home, too, as much a part of my personal landscape as the rolling hills and rippling lakes. They are all home. Home. It’s certainly a relative term.