A few years ago, I was on a business trip travelling throughout Asia Pacific. As business trips go, it was my favorite of all time. I loved spending time in China and found its people to be incredibly kind and sincere. I also spent quite a bit of time in Perth, Australia. I loved that country and its people, too.
On my final leg of the trip, I was in Sydney for a few days before I embarked on the long journey home. By this time, I was tired and anxious to see my family. I knew Mitchell’s heart was in trouble, but I never thought I would lose him within 6 months. Time was precious and every moment, more precious still.
While in Sydney, Natalie and the kids each took turns to have a Skype conversation. I loved talking to each of them … I loved hearing their stories, seeing their faces and listening to the sound of their high-pitched voices. Though I was grateful to see their faces and hear their voices, I couldn’t wait to give each of them a big hug.
A few weeks before I left on my long trip, Mitch said, knowing a little about Asian art and culture, “Dad, will you find me a gold dragon?” Mitch loved gold, not because his heart was set on material things, but because he understood gold was a precious metal and that it was both rare and beautiful. Rare and beautiful, just like him, only he didn’t know that.
I searched for a gold dragon but couldn’t find one I could afford – so I came home empty-handed. On my 30-hour journey home I worried about disappointing my tender son – and when I told Mitch I didn’t have one, he said softly, “It’s okay Dad, I’m just glad you’re home.”
Later that night I thought about Mitchell’s words and I cried. Not because I was sad, but because I was overwhelmed with gratitude. “I’m just glad you’re home.” Those were my son’s words yet they were the words of my heart. I couldn’t wait to get home. Though I loved seeing the wonders of the world, none of them compared to the little souls that lived under my roof. Though I was grateful to see the world, my family was my world and everything else was a distraction.
Home. A beautiful word. Family, more beautiful, still.
In many ways, grief is the longing for home. At least to me, home isn’t so much a place, but a state of being. If my physical home were swallowed up by a fire or an earthquake, I’ll have only lost things, not my sense of home. Where I live is immaterial, because home, as that old adage says, is where the heart is.
So, when we lose a loved one, the home in our heart changes forever. I can replace a couch or a television, but I cannot replace Mitch. Even with billions of people on the earth at this moment, there is none like Mitch, nor will there ever be again. My heart … my home … was my wife and 4 children. Now, one of them is gone and my heart and soul searches for him. That invisible sense of home we built by service and sacrifice … that place in the heart we lived in, was forever changed. My kitchen table will always feel profoundly empty. Family photos, missing a sweet smile I yearn to see. My heart will always have an empty space that Mitch once occupied. Thus, I will always be longing for home … the home I once knew. The home I so deeply loved.
Though painful, I am learning to channel my longing for home into making my new home better. There will always be a sacred, empty room in my heart – but the rest of it will be filled with more love and more moments that matter than ever before. The paradox of pain is that it can push us forward, if we’ll allow it.
I miss my old home. I miss little Mitch. But I know he is in that place beyond the hills and one day I will go there, too. I hope to hear him say, “Hi Dad, I’m glad you’re home.”