Going Home

What does it mean to go home? For those of us who have lost our parents, it can be a difficult question to answer. 

My father died when I was twenty-five years old. I still had my mother and six siblings in or near my hometown. 

Going home was different, but it was still going home. After my older sister died, it was the same. Home, but different. 

But, when my mother died in the summer of 2017, everything changed. 

Where do you go when your home is no longer there? As a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I travel. 

Of all my siblings, nieces, nephews and their families, I live the farthest away from home. When my mother died, I was commuting from Austin, Texas, back to Alabama, where my husband, Jim, and I lived in Huntsville. 

My mother’s home was where we could be with my large family and reconnect with the community that raised me. After my mom’s passing, we did what families do– we closed the house and sold the property. 

How do you go home? 

I was not there when my mom died. I arrived at her home, and she was already gone. 

We spent time in the house, planned the funeral and said goodbye. We returned to our home in Huntsville and slowly started to live life without the glue that held us all together.

That meant finishing my master’s degree, returning to Alabama and accepting my first pastoral call in Tennessee. Deciding that was not a good fit, I returned to Alabama but never returned to live in my hometown. I would go home for a quick day trip, funeral or celebration, but never stay. 

Fast forward almost seven years and I had not spent a single night in my hometown. Where do you stay when your parents are gone, when the places that link you to them have been sold, and life has moved on? 

To add to the complexity, I accepted a call in southwest Oklahoma that made getting back to Alabama even more difficult. Before I knew it, it had been two years since I had seen my siblings and family. 

Planning a trip home meant finding time off from work. When is a good time to travel when Christmastide flows straight into Lent? 

We settled on a date and got the time approved. We hoped for a quick trip to visit my siblings and then back to our home to start the complicated process of closing her up to go on the market. After talking with my brother, we decided Jim and I would stay with them for two nights, then leave to visit my mother-in-law in South Alabama. 

The funny thing about making plans is that God always knows best and is the master travel agent of our lives. 

We left Oklahoma knowing we would likely miss the coldest air of the year and, hopefully, the snow. Day one was fine. On day two, we woke to heavy, wet snow, which passed quickly and turned into a heavy wind warning. 

We arrived safely at my brother’s house and settled in. That is when the news announced the weather would take a turn. 

The next day, we drove around my hometown, visiting my parents’ gravesite and family. We decided to have a family dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, Rancho Viejo, in Russellville, Alabama. 

After dinner, we returned to my brother’s house and planned to rest on Sunday before traveling further south. But the inclement weather arrived earlier than expected.  By Sunday evening, heavy sleet began, and we realized we would not get on the road anytime soon. 

God’s plan was that I face the reality that I can still come home and reconnect with my innermost self. Over the next few days, we did what families do. 

We talked, laughed, slept and cooked. My husband even discovered that my brother and I watch the same type of YouTube videos. 

I got in the kitchen and cooked all the food we regularly avoid in our daily lives. Fresh biscuits, bacon, eggs, chocolate gravy, fried bologna sandwiches, grilled cheese, pot roast and topped it off with our grandmother’s teacakes. 

Most clergy live in a constant state of stress and anxiety. Our focus is on our congregations, communities and work. We tend to miss all significant holidays, and if you are single or don’t have children, that is even more likely to be the case. 

On day two of being iced in at my brother’s house, I remembered my dad and brother built this house together. For the first time in a long time, I could just be a sister. 

I realized being in this home, where I spent many nights as a child, brought me closer to my dad. Being there was like being surrounded by a dad hug from beyond. 

What does it mean to go home? Going home is being with the people who look like you, sound like you and have a shared past. 

Going home is being with those you have lost through those who carry on. I always joke and say I don’t miss my mom as much because I am my mom. I see my dad every time I look in the mirror. 

Sometimes, it takes a well-thought-out plan and an ice storm to remind you that it isn’t the place but the people who matter most. God’s plan is always the best plan. We just have to be smart enough to follow God’s lead. 

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