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A Facebook post recently revealed a lovely new word that has remained with me: hiraeth. It’s a Welsh word, pronounced “here-eyeth” with a rolled “r.” It’s really untranslatable because there are no English words that fully encompass its meaning, but the definition in the post was “a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.” The definition immediately brought to mind my childhood home and its loss.
That was one of the major transitions of my life, which left me grieving and lost in the liminal zone—that difficult time in between the ending of the old way and the beginning of the new. The process began early one morning in July 2010, when Mom had a major stroke that meant she had to move to a nursing home. When the EMTs came, they whisked her away, and she never again saw the home her husband, my dad, had built in 1952. We five kids grew up there, and then scattered all over the map, as far away from Indiana as Arizona, Texas, and Alaska. But I always knew that no matter where I roamed, I could come back to that home, the geographic center of my life, and Mom would always be there, welcoming me with open arms.
Except that, of course, one day Mom was gone from that home, and soon after, the home itself was lost to us. Somehow, even with my grief for what had happened to Mom, the sale of our home came to represent the loss of all that-had-been. Just as Mom couldn’t return to her former self, I could never return to the warmth and shelter of the place I loved so much.
Just like the word “hiraeth,” my feelings about this loss feel untranslatable. They run deep, tugging at me still, all these years later. The loss has dulled with time, yet I struggle to find the exact words to describe them, even to myself.
As I have come through that particular liminal zone to my new way of life without Mom and our house, hiraeth remains. I have decided to let those feelings simply rest in my heart. I am content that my love for Mom, who died last January, and for the home so carefully built by my dad will never change. They are part of me and will always embrace me, no matter where I go.
FOR YOUR JOURNAL
When has hiraeth come to you? For what are you homesick, knowing you can never return to it? It could be an actual place, like a home, a city, a country. It could also be a time in your life or an experience that is somehow significant and which has passed, but for which you still feel nostalgia or even grief.
Write about your hiraeth in some way. Even if, like me, you can’t really describe it, write about where it comes from, what it represents or means to you. Open your heart and let your words flow to the page.
(Photo by Lea Böhm on Unsplash)
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