Home is where the heart is
"Where's home for you?"
Before my father died, I would've never struggled to answer this casual question. The first two things anyone new learned about me were 1) I'm a North Carolinian, and 2) I went to Duke. I was never shy about either of those things. I would've said my home was Durham, NC, specifically in my family's house since literally forever: the first and only home my parents ever bought was the house my father died in.
I can close my eyes now and imagine the feeling of pulling up in the gravel driveway, my father casually awaiting my arrival for whatever occasion, me seeing his head pop up looking out the kitchen window when he heard my car. He'd open the front door for me as I was getting out of my car to give me a hug before I even walked in. Every single time.
The home where we'd meet unceremoniously but consistently in the kitchen at midnight for birthdays and exchange gifts.
The home where we'd watch Duke Basketball games and movies in the den, and yell and laugh and cry at the TV.
The home where Dad would read the paper in the living room and snuggle my dogs.
The home where we could just be together. Where we could just be. Together.
It's the only family home we ever lived in. My dad never moved, even when my mom died. He loved that house, and I think it helped him feel safe after such tragic instability with my mom's health.
On the Saturday my father died so suddenly at home, I got the call with the terrible news when I was in Raleigh – our team was in the State Emergency Operations Center figuring out COVID lockdown. I was about 40 minutes away from home. I remember at first my ex telling me he was coming to Raleigh to pick me up, but I told him to go straight to my father's house to be with my Dad's wife. And then I started my own drive.
My memories of those 40 minutes are surprisingly clear, including not being able to figure out how to get out of the Emergency Ops Center parking lot, which was a secure location. My adrenaline was in such high-gear that I remember circling around not being able to find the exit— I couldn't even focus on driving. I put my car in park at one point. Took a deep breath. And reset myself mentally to be able to go. "Just. Get. Home."
I was on the phone with my brother on my drive and he asked, "Do we even know where Dad's body is right now?" And I said I had no idea. So, I called my Dad's wife, and she said, "Your daddy is still here at home, Becki." I remember thinking – No. My daddy is not there. His body is there.
No one was at the door waiting for me when I drove up the driveway. No head popped up from the kitchen window. But the front door was open, I assume from EMS leaving, having not been able to save my father's life. A single police car remained in front of the garage.
I didn't want to go inside, but of course I went in. I chose to see my father's body before they took it away. And that, unfortunately, is my lasting memory of the house.
As of that day, that house was not "home" anymore. I might say now that it's my "childhood home." But not my home.
They say "home is where the heart is," but what happens when your heart gets ripped out and you still can't seem to find it?
I spoke about the concept of "home" recently at my sorority sister's wedding, where I had the honor of getting up there during the ceremony. She, an incredible woman who grew up moving a lot internationally because of her father's job, married a wonderful man who, by contrast, spent his upbringing in South Bend, Indiana, where his parents still live. Their love and their relationship has been the most consistent "home" that she has ever had. A strong marriage— so I’ve heard, anyway— should feel like home.
What I didn't say out loud but I felt so acutely around the time of her wedding is the sudden loss of that feeling of home for me.
My ex and I lived together in a condominium…that was the home I wanted to create together, especially after my father died. Home, to me, is about where your family is. Well, my parents are dead and now I'm getting divorced.
I feel like I have no home, for the first time in my life. I'm so fortunate to have a beautiful place to live, but I don't have a home.
A big part of this year of Grieve Leave for me is traveling and exploring new places to get outside my comfort zone as I focus on grieving. But the other part is spending those quiet moments when I am in North Carolina finding that feeling of home, just within myself. I'm doing that by meditating here where I live, and by exploring parts of my home state I've not been to before. I could tell you a million restaurants you should try in the Triangle (Durham/Raleigh/Chapel Hill), but I'm having to ask around for recommendations on quiet, beautiful places to sit in and think. And grieve. I've never sought that out before.
One of those new places for me is Lake Crabtree in Raleigh. Multiple folks recommended it to me as a place to just go sit and think. Something I'll keep reflecting on is finding a sense of home inside myself. That I, alone, am enough, and I think spending time in nature, especially in my home state, will help me do that.