Friday, 4 July 2014

Feeling homesick

First view of Cork City we always see as soon as we leave the airport
As I have mentioned previously I am quite happy and content with my life here in Algeria, mainly because I’m a boring so-and-so.  But there have been times when I have felt really homesick for my family back home in Ireland and just felt as if I was on the outside looking in. 

I was six months pregnant with my fourth child in England, when my wonderful Dad was taken into hospital with a brain aneurism from which he died after 5 weeks.  I don’t remember much about that time except that I spent most of it sitting staring into space.  I just wasn’t present for all of that time, and I can still remember, as clearly as if it was yesterday, the moment that my brother rang me at 3.15 on a Sunday afternoon to tell me that he had gone.  My family were amazing, so understanding, so kind and comforting, and so determined to keep in contact with me during all that time so that I didn’t feel left out, but I did feel as if I grieved alone.  When someone as important as your parent dies you really need those who knew them as you did, who loved them as you did, to talk to and to share all the memories and experiences, and also the grief that their loss leaves in its wake.  No matter how kind your friends are and how gentle and understanding your husband and your children are, sometimes, at these times, only the members of the family you were born into will do.

The first Eid al Adha (one of the two main Islamic feast days of celebration) was only a few months after we arrived in Algeria and, while my husband and children were busy with my husband’s family I found myself going around in a daze….and feeling very tearful.  I just couldn’t understand why I felt so emotional…..and why I couldn’t get my Dad out of my mind, even though it had been 6 years since he had passed away.  But I found myself writing to him in my head, knowing that he would never read it, and out of the blue, like a kick in the stomach, the pain of his loss hit me.  I still don’t know why on that particular day I missed him so much.

When my brother remarried the whole family came together to celebrate with him and his lovely wife.  It was one of those occasions where everyone was having such a wonderful time that nobody wanted it to end… it didn’t… least for a few days at any rate.  I kept in contact through mobile texts and Facebook pictures and I was sincerely happy for everyone who was able to be there and who had such a good time.  But I missed them…..even though I could not have attended even if I lived in Ireland, or if my one of my daughters didn’t have a very important exam and whom I didn’t want to leave at that particularly stressful time.  Islam is my choice, one I’ve embraced wholeheartedly and with deep gratitude to Allah for His Guidance, and this has meant some sacrifice, and, in this case, a wonderful family occasion due to the alcohol and music and dancing that is always a big part of any celebration in Ireland, with the latter two especially so in my family.  My nephew took a family photo of all my siblings together…..and……with the wacky sense of humour that permeates all of my family, he included me in the picture by putting a stand-in to represent me… brother’s black and white collie sheepdog.  I wish I could say that this was the first time a dog stood in for someone absent in a family photo, but alas and alack I can’t, as it seems to be a family tradition.  I was quite chuffed as it’s the only photo of me that doesn’t make me cringe.  Now….what does that say about me? (That’s a rhetorical question so no answer necessary……please)

The view from our kitchen window at home in Ireland
I wasn’t there when my Mum celebrated  her 80th birthday and my sister brought her a cake with trick candles – every time she blew them out they lit up again, and she laughed so much her false teeth flew out of her mouth (mercifully not on the cake!).  I thought she would lose them again when, afterwards, she was on the phone telling me about it and laughing so much she could hardly get the words out.

The day my sister told me that Mum wasn’t going to be coming out of hospital this time and the phone call I received a few days later from my other sister telling me that she had gone, were days on which it was extremely difficult to be so far away from home, as were the days that followed. Again, I am indebted to the kindness, consideration and understanding of my family during that time and the constant texts and telephone calls I received from them. The Eid al Adha that followed her passing was extremely difficult for me with me writing to her in my head and missing her dreadfully, especially as my husband’s lovely Mum and sister were staying.  This is the day when we Muslims celebrate Abraham (may Allah’s peace be upon him)’s willingness to sacrifice his only son (as it was then) because it was something Allah had asked him to do.  Allah was testing him and his loyalty and his obedience and stopped him from slaughtering his son, and asked him to slaughter a sheep instead, and down the centuries, Muslims have sacrificed a sheep in memory of this wonderful obedience to Allah.  And I discovered on this day the best remedy for grief – physical work.  I didn’t want the others to see me so emotional and ruin their happy day, so I volunteered to clean out the bedding of the sheep, which I did, and promising myself while I did so, to never to eat the breakfast chocolate cereal in the shape of little balls ever again (anyone who has seen a sheep’s ‘droppings’ will totally understand!).  By the time I had thoroughly cleaned the garage and wept a thousand tears, I was able to pull myself together and sit down with the rest of the family and have a lovely, happy, Eid meal together Alhamdulilah.

The day I heard that my nephew had been in a terrible car accident, not being able to be there for my brother, to give him a hug, the day his son passed away, and having to satisfy myself with just phone calls were hard, not as hard as they were for him and his two daughters, of course, but hard and lonely all the same.  Again, I could not have coped with being so far away at such a difficult time without my family’s support.

If you are going to move so far away from home you have to prepare yourself for the day when you receive ‘that’ phone call and face the possibility that you may not be in a position to be with your loved ones on such an occasion and that you may have to grieve alone.  I have to say at this point though, that the kindness and understanding I received from my husband’s family, English speaking friends and Algerians who visited me during these times of pain and loss were very much appreciated and did help to alleviate my sense of loneliness Alhamdulilah.

My family have a history of get-togethers for all occasions, birthdays, Christmas, Easter,  etc. etc when aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters, their children and in later years, their children’s families have come together to eat and to laugh together, and I’ve missed out on all of them.  I do not say this with any self-pity as it’s my choice to live so far away and also my being a Muslim has precluded me from being with my family on these occasions, but what gives me great peace of mind is that my loved ones back home in Ireland understand and never make me feel guilty, and from that I gain immense comfort and peace Alhamdulilah. Of course…… it could just be that they are glad to see the back of me…….

Although I miss the scenery of the place in which I grew up which is very beautiful, I miss Cadbury’s chocolate,  I miss being able to walk along a street in Cork and understand everything I overhear, and more importantly, BE understood, I miss Cadbury’s chocolate, I miss  being around people whom I instinctively understand, I miss Cadbury’s chocolate,  I miss chatting with my brothers and sisters and the ‘great craic’ (‘fun’ is the nearest translation!) we have together, and….. did I mention how much I miss Cadbury’s chocolate?????? I don’t miss it all enough to make me feel down and lonely and heart-sick. But what these times of loneliness and grief helped me to understand, is that some people suffer these emotions much more acutely and more often and not necessarily as a result of a climatic event, but on a much more mundane and daily level, and I hope this understanding helps me to be more gentle and kind and compassionate to those who suffer dreadfully from homesickness.