Photo by Ida Vincent
Fall is here! Unlike spring where everything around us comes to life, fall is the season that reminds us that it’s all coming to an end: Leaves are falling, plants are dying, and the rain starts pouring. Fall has such a strong visual image. It reminds me that I’m far away from home.
Even though I love the gorgeous red, yellow, and brown fall colors, there’s also something sad about the change. Maybe it’s because summer is ending. Or because we’re back to alarm clocks, routines, and packing lunch boxes. Or maybe it’s because it’s getting dark and gray – it is for sure in the Northwest. But for me, it’s also because this is the season where I miss my family in Denmark the most.
Fall is packed with so many American traditions and holidays like football, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. And they are all about family – and the family that isn’t here.
My three kids all have birthdays in October, which always reminds me that they have never spent one single birthday with their grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts. They have never shared one single happy birthday song, blown out candles, or opened up presents in the presence of their large Danish family; that is, unless you disregard Facebook and Skype, which are indeed fantastic surrogates for the real thing.
It’s sad to be so far away from home. But somehow we adapt. Somehow we make it work. We make our own traditions.
We make friends our family and spend birthdays with them instead. They get the hugs and kisses that were meant for grandma and grandpa. I don’t think my kids feel they’re missing out. This is how it’s always been. But, I do feel slightly cheated since I remember all the precious hours I spent with my grandparents — my family.
We now have a lovely tradition where we spend Thanksgiving with our closest friends. It’s fun and feels very ‘familyish’ and I feel so blessed that we have them in our lives. We watch football, we have turkey, and drink lots of wine. We gather around the big dining table where we take turns telling what we’re grateful for. The message is pretty much the same from everyone…
“I’m grateful for my family and friends”.
I am. Saying it out loud makes me happy, and washes away some of the loss I feel. But, it also makes me feel guilty and sad to think of the ones who aren’t here — my old friends, my mom, sister, and father-in-law. But, most of all, my dad who sits all by himself. Day after day. Year after year. In Denmark.
The guilt is always there.
My dad had multiple strokes five years ago. It pretty much left him paralyzed on the entire right side. After a few months of rehab he finally recuperated, came home, and now lives on his own. He can walk (slowly) and do simple chores, but he pretty much needs help with everything else. Thankfully, the Danish health care system provides all the help he needs and that’s amazing. But, it also makes me feel even more guilty. Wasn’t I the one, who was supposed to help him with all this? What the heck am I doing here — thousands of miles away from home?
It’s at moments like these that I have to remind myself that this is exactly how I was raised. Not that we shouldn’t help one another, but that we’re independent individuals living in a modern society where we each have our separate lives.
Yes, we love each other. We used to have dinner together from time to time, and celebrated birthdays and Christmas together. But, we’ve never been this big traditional Italian family, where we are in each other’s lives. Where grandparents live in the same house and take care of the little ones. Or, where we have big family meals every night. I guess this is the downside of a modern and very individualistic family structure: Simply put, you’re on your own!
This is also the very same reason why someone like me could leave my family, my country, and my home eleven years ago. I felt like it was okay — I was a grownup. I was on my own. My focus was on my own family, which at the time was growing. But, as I write these words I know now that I write them to justify that I’m here and not there — to relieve some of my guilt.
Because no matter how I was raised and how independent, modern, and old I am, I still love my dad, my mom, my sister, my family. And it sucks to be so far away from them.
So far away from home.
I guess, the best we can do — besides visiting as often as we can — is to let them know how much we love them. Words like these can never be said too often.
Gotta go, I have a few calls to make…