A few years ago a cousin of mine posted a meme of a vocabulary word on Facebook.
Hiraeth: A homesickness for a home which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for lost places in your past.
I almost didn’t read it, but when I did, it took my breath away because sometimes I have this feeling so badly that my heart hurts.
I have always been a day dreamer, it is written on more than one of my report cards, staring out the window and dreaming. That classic moment when you realize that someone is speaking to you and you have no idea what is going on. But this was different. I remember the first time I had it, hiraeth. I had come across a photograph. In the photo, it is a snowy day on the street outside of my family home. Bonnie and my dad are walking Christopher and Laura down the street. The kids are about two or three. They are all holding hands. It is a brilliant, sunny day, bundled up because it is snowy and crisp and cold outside. You cannot see their faces, but I could just imagine rosy cheeks and bright eyes. And I knew in the house it was cozy, coffee brewing, babies sleeping, Sarah and my mother playing cards, dogs pacing.
So I saw this picture and I day-dreamed, and I thought, and I wished that I could go back and be in this picture and talk to my sister and listen to what the kids were saying. To feel the winter-fresh air on my cheeks to laugh with my mom and cuddle with my kids. Give Gator hug around his big neck, and kiss the cheek of my sleeping Gracie. And I realized this was more than a day-dream, it was a homesickness for something I could never have.
I came across this picture not long after my mother died, the family house sold, Scott and I living in Ketchikan, far away. So this was the first time I had a sense of wishing I could go back, and knowing I never could. My mother was gone, and I realized now that nothing would ever be the same. There was no going home. And now I knew there is a word for that. Hiraeth.
While hiraeth can make me sad, depressed, I recognize that it is a paradox, because I also think it is beautiful. What is wrong with the memory of a home long ago, tinged with a certain melancholy? When I see that picture, I know I can never go back, but I am also so grateful for that time we did have, and I am OK with it, with hiraeth.