Last night, having burst through the door, pizza boxes in hand, sun-kissed and happy from our fishing trip to celebrate Jonah’s 10th birthday, we slumped down on the sofa, kicked off our flip-flops and chatted animatedly about the 10lb rooster fish we were going to fry and eat. The kids were smiling, eyes shining with excitement, Chris was pouring drinks, and then I saw the message…
‘Unfortunately, Nan has passed away, very peaceful. Sorry’.
In an instant, my smile disappeared. The noise filtered out. My life temporarily paused. Everything turned to a blur, other than those tragic words.
My beloved Nan Murphy has gone.
I knew it was coming. I was prepared for the news. But still, the words penetrated like a knife.
Pre-empting death does not make it any easier to bear. The finality of death is so significant that one cannot truly prepare the heart until it experiences the loss.
My nan’s passing came just six days after the funeral of my 33-year old cousin TeeJ, and three days after Chris’s dad’s birthday. It was our first birthday without Joe following his passing in July. More momentously, it was the day Chris’s mum and sister were scattering his ashes back home in Cornwall. It was the final act of letting him go.
Never before have we felt more absent and separated from our loved ones than over the past few weeks. Knowing that they were coping with these poignant, heartrending challenges without us, made us feel guilty, selfish and regretful.
We should have been at home. We should have been present.
Suddenly all of our decisions seemed so wrong.
The decision to leave. The decision to stay. The decision to leave so soon after Joe’s departure. The decision not to tell my nan we were emigrating to Nicaragua…
Instead, I kissed my nan in her hospital bed and told her I would see her soon. I left her thinking she would see me again. I never said goodbye in the true sense, even though I knew it would be the last time I saw her. I didn’t want to upset her, so I deceived her. And in doing so, I denied myself the chance to say what I really needed to say.
I never told her that I have this warm bubbly feeling when I think about her. Like the briefest scent of a perfume, passing all too quickly to harness and savour. If I could seize it, it would feel like comfort in a bottle…
Dark nights sat on a stool in front of a black and white TV watching Dallas, Saturday afternoons listening to the football scores on the wireless, drinking hot tea with two sugars, roast dinners in a bowl, dressing up games with Trixie the dog, being tucked into bed so tight I couldn’t move, blankets warmed through with a ceramic hot water bottle, long walks to the park, sherbet sweets, talcum powder and Avon perfume, 50p pieces, Happy Shopper biscuits, the sound of a teaspoon stirring, a knitted tea cosy, cactuses on the window sill, spot the ball coupons, layers of tablecloths on a cluttered table, Ivor Dewney pasties in a paper bag, cracked walls, Pink Panther, Marmite on toast, trinkets, envelopes and of course, opening the back door before bed, feeling the chill, watching the street lights and whispering goodnight to fairyland.
My nan was a beautiful person. She had a good, kind heart, rarely speaking ill of anyone. I suppose, compared to our life, she led a quiet solitary existence after her husband disappeared and her three children left home. She never loved again and lived in the same house, alone, for the rest of her life. She told me she never felt lonely. It was, to some extent, the life she chose for herself. She was content listening to her radio, waiting for visitors and watching the rugby on TV.
Her life always seemed so sad to me. In comparison, she never saw the world, nor knew the love of a good man. I often wondered how different her life would have been had she been presented with different circumstances, but then she wouldn’t have been the sparky, fiercely independent, stubborn as an ox, sharp as a pin, hoarding witty genius that I know and love.
Her life taught me many things, not least, that we all have different dreams and notions of happiness. She was proud of her achievements, and so she should be. My nan was both mother and father to three young boys in an era where gossip and judgement could have crucified her character. Instead, it was the making of her. She showed this world fortitude, gumption and pride. I hope that I have inherited just an ounce of her iron-willed spirit, because right now, I could do with a some of her stamina.
2016 has been a shit year, with hurdle after hurdle, curve ball after curve ball, loss after loss. We barely seem to rise from our knees before another blow sucks our energy and enthusiasm.
Perhaps the hardest part of it all is being so far away from home. Beyond the palm trees, warm oceans, sunny days and golden sands are two people flailing in the heat. Even the greatest paradise in the world seems unappealing when you desire to be elsewhere.
Chris and I have both recognised that we are suffering from homesickness. It took us a while to identify with the symptoms given that we were convinced it couldn’t happen to us. After all, we have been absent from the UK since August 2015 (other than a brief pit stop between Europe and Nicaragua) so we didn’t anticipate a delayed reaction.
At first, we thought it must be Nicaragua. We never once, not even for a second, felt homesick during our whole tour of Europe in a motorhome. But then we realised that there is a significant difference between travelling and becoming an immigrant. In Europe, we were perpetual transient tourists. Here in Nicaragua, we are trying to integrate and make a new life in a new community. The two experiences cannot be compared.
I read that homesickness is defined as ‘an instinctive need for love, protection and security – feelings usually associated with home’. It is unsurprising given these difficult times that we desire the love, protection and security of home. Our brains are designed to protect us. We know that. It would be easy to return and feel the immediate relief of security. It would also be easy to self-diagnose ‘homesickness’ and allocate a sufficient amount of time to ‘get over it’. I’m sure after another three months, everything will seem easier. We will settle in. We will be glad we never surrendered to our fearful thoughts. We will laugh in the face of normality, familiarity and routine.
But what if these feelings are not fearful thoughts? What if they are accurate judgements based on well-founded principles? What if recent events have made us question our own values again? What if we have changed our minds?
This past week in Nicaragua has tested our resilience in more ways than one. Not only did we say goodbye to three loved ones, we also had a hurricane, earthquake and tsunami warning to contend with. There is nothing like a good crisis to test the power of friendship, human compassion and kindness. Adversity exposes the virtues and flaws in the people you surround yourself with.
I was disappointed to find that the ‘I’m alright Jack’ mentality is alive and kicking in San Juan Del Sur. Many fellow immigrants exhibited a distinct lack of concern for our Nicaraguan neighbours. It felt like Brexit all over again – that horrible despairing feeling when you see the values and opinions of your fellow people exposed – only to discover they are uncomfortably opposed to yours. I realised in that moment, how vastly different we are as individuals. If doubts were already seeping in about a future in San Juan Del Sur, then last week’s events opened the flood gates.
I’m not sure we are unhappy here because we miss home – I’m not entirely convinced on the whole homesick theory. I am starting to doubt that we can live in one place. As crazy as it seems, I wonder whether we are happier travelling in a motorhome because it enables us to avoid human interaction. Our insular, introverted personalities make us rather unsociable but happily self-sufficient. My unbending moral compass, together with Chris’s distinct lack of effort towards anyone he does not like, makes for a very odd couple indeed.
Living here has made us appreciate the very few people in this world whom we consider dear friends. Good people, with similar values, are incredibly hard to find. We deeply miss the quiet reserved, quick witted sense of humour of our British friends. We miss deep ‘heart to hearts’, meaningful debates, (semi) intelligent conversations, nights disputing the presence of God, the ethics of politics, or the meaning of life. We miss belly-laughing so much it hurts, private jokes between old friends, shared memories and joint hobbies. Above all, we miss being completely ourselves. Not having to make an effort. Not needing to bite our tongues. Not needing to try.
Familiarity and comfort should not be undervalued. Especially when it comes to friends.
As I ponder on the trials and tribulations that continue to test us, I reflect once again on my nan’s solitary life. Perhaps we were more similar than I ever imagined. Whilst she chose to live alone, in the comfort and surety of her own company, I choose to move constantly – each of us trying to avoid the bitter disappointment of humanity.
It’s funny that neither of us could understand each other’s chosen lifestyle. And sad, that it has taken her death to make me realise how in tune we were.
Goodnight my dearest nan.
I’ll see you in fairyland x