Homesickness, it’s a funny thing. It’s hard to describe exactly what it is. Sometimes it’s a fleeting notion that you wish you were somewhere or were with someone. Other times it’s a physical ache, for a person or a place. Sometimes it lasts just a few seconds, maybe brought on by seeing a Facebook post, a familiar smell, the mention of someone’s name. Other times it can last for days. Homesickness tends to have very negative connotations. It’s something that people are often ashamed of but to be homesick you have to have something, or more likely someone, back home that you love very much, and what’s the shame in that? That makes you very, very lucky.
Before I arrived in Montreal homesickness terrified me. I thought that if there was any reason why this move wouldn’t work out, homesickness would be it. I suspect a few people at home thought the same, ‘They’ll be back in 6 months, she’ll miss her Mum and Dad too much.’ and I can’t blame them, I wondered myself if this would be the case. Yet a year later and we’re still here and yet, yes I do miss them, I miss them terribly. But where I have surprised myself is that for the most part I am able to rationalise my homesickness.
Don’t get me wrong there are days when I find myself in tears, and my poor confused husband asks me what’s wrong, only to be met with a sobbing “I just want to go to my Mum and Dad’s for a cup of tea.” But in spite of these slightly irrational breakdowns I do know that I’m in a wonderful situation and that I’ve been given an amazing opportunity which I shouldn’t waste. I also know that my Mum and Dad are happy to see us happy. That’s a parent’s goal right? I’m not one myself but I think if your kids are happy then you know you’ve done a good job. Mine did a wonderful job, they are amazing parents, hence why I miss them so much. So even though I miss them terribly I do know I’ve done the right thing. I also know that the time I spend with them means so much more to me now. I truly value every minute I have with them, and this can said for my best friends too.
I will never again take for granted a catch up with a friend over a cup of coffee or nipping to my Mum and Dad’s for my dinner. I value every minute of the time I get with them. It might be much less frequent these days but at least it is now quality time. Last summer when my Mum and Dad visited I got to spend two weeks with them, a full two weeks! I would never have had that opportunity were I still back at home. This year when they visit I’m meeting them in Toronto and travelling to Niagara Falls with them, something I would also never have got the opportunity to do if I was still at home. Creating these wonderful memories with them is what gets me through the hard days. Because despite my rationalising, some days are still hard.
What I have found very surprising is that I can be homesick on a good day. Homesickness and happiness are not mutually exclusive and I didn’t expect this. I assumed the days I would be homesick would be the days when I’d had a bad day here or when I didn’t have much on but I can have had a lovely day, had great company all day and still have moments of homesickness. Because being homesick does not necessarily mean you’re unhappy. I’m incredibly happy here. I really do love my life here but there are still times when I miss home. When I talk about being homesick I seldom mean the place, I do love Scotland and to me it will always be ‘home’ but I don’t really miss it per se, other than living beside the beach, I do miss the beach, but for me it’s the people that I’m homesick for, my family and best friends.
I realise though how fortunate I am to be living abroad in today’s modern times where technology definitely makes it easier than it would have been, even as little as 5 years ago. It really is an amazing thing that there are now so many ways to keep in touch – WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber, Skype and the person that created FaceTime, well I will always be in their debt. As through FaceTime I was able to meet my best friend’s new baby when she was just a couple of hours old, I’ve watched a friend get married, I’ve been at baby showers, hen weekends and birthdays. I have however still missed not being physically there for the big things, these important events that, if there wasn’t an ocean separating me, I would never ever miss. But as hard as missing all of these milestones is, they’re other people’s milestones, not ours. Realising this was one of my hardest hurdles to get over to begin with. Although the big things are so important, I also miss the small things. The cuppas with my Mum, the Sunday dinners with my family, the impromptu lunches and drinks and coffees with friends. Moving the year that I and my friends turned 30 probably made things a little harder as well. I missed being there for so many friends birthday celebrations and not having my family or friends here to celebrate with me when I turned 30 was also hard.
Being so far away inevitably forces you to re-evaluate the relationships you have back home and some of our relationships sadly probably won’t survive this move, at least not in the way they once were. But you know as hard as it’s been to realise that, I have accepted it now. This is just the way of the world, people change and people move on and for some people out of sight is out of mind. But those who are meant to be part of our journey for the long term will be and the distance separating us won’t ever change that. Our family will always be our family and our best friends will always be our best friends.
The relationships I have with the little people in my life are also very important to me, my beautiful nieces and nephews, both those that are family and those that aren’t. I love them all and being apart from them brings a different type of homesickness entirely. They change so much every week and the differences in them from one month to another astound me and not being there to see them grow is tough. The fear that they won’t remember me or worse still that the littlest ones will never know me to begin with is hard to take.
When we went home for a visit at Christmas, having been in Canada for seven months at this point I went to visit a very good friend and her two little boys. One of whom I was meeting for the first time as he had been born while I was away but the other is 3 and before I left he lovingly called me Auntie Dawn and was my loyal little playmate. I wondered on the drive over there, with a lump in my throat, if he would even know who I was anymore. After all, 7 months is a long time when you’re 3! Well thankfully I needn’t have worried as he ran down the stairs and straight into my arms giving me the tightest squeeze of I think anyone I met on my trip home, before proceeding to play as if he’d seen me the day before. The relief I felt that I could pick back up my relationship with this special little man I can’t even describe. But I do know this won’t always be the case. There will be times I’ll visit home and these little people won’t know who I am. I do know though that their wonderful mummies who tirelessly send me photos and videos of them will make sure they know their Auntie Dawn loves them, even if she doesn’t get to see them as often as she’d like.
Not being there when people need you, whether it’s for good reasons or bad, is the hardest type of homesickness and at these times I can feel every single one of the 3000 miles separating me from them. There’s a part of me that I’m sure will, in a way, never forgive myself for having this adventure and so putting ourselves first – and in doing so leaving my parents at home, missing special birthdays, friends weddings, babies being born and not being there to support our families and friends when they need us. Because as wonderful as technology is, it can’t let you be a shoulder to cry on, or give someone a hug and there are times when a FaceTime just doesn’t cut it. I’m sure that the thought of having let people down by our selfishness of moving away, is something I won’t easily forget. You see moving away does makes you selfish, just by the act of doing it in the first place, and by knowing that realistically you can’t just hop on a plane whenever someone needs you, despite how much you may want to.
Here again I have to force myself to rationalise or the guilt this brings will eat me alive. I have to hope that all of this is worth it. That one day I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren about when Gran and Papa moved to Canada and all of the adventures we had here. And I hope that they’ll be proud of us, because I’m proud of us. I’m proud of us for trying it and even more so for making it work. I hope that wherever we are in the world by that point, be it Scotland, Canada or somewhere else entirely, that we will have given ourselves and subsequently one day our children, a better life because of the experience we had here and the people we became as a result and so for that I hope that the homesickness and the events and people we miss will have been worth it.