As the fortnight passed, and I ticked off the days in my mental calendar, the return trip to the airport began to assume a gigantic inevitability. The miasma of impeding grief got thicker and thicker, until by the time Monday arrived, I was suffocating with the pressure of unshed tears. Monday evening found Liz and I sharing a couch and a towel, as we sobbed into it and tried to talk in strangled, mewling sentences. Eddie and Michael were stoic and pragmatic; marshalling the kids, discussing the flight details, and studiously avoiding looking a the Scene of the Wailing Women. I felt as if there was an elephant sitting on my chest. The kids were eyeing me with curious alarm; Rebecca realised what was going on and went into instant meltdown. She lay on my chest, sobbing to go home with Liz. “Please, Mammy, please? Can I go home to Ireland with Liz? I miss Ireland, can I go back with Liz? Please, Mammy?” My heart was breaking. As the youngest, we had assumed that she would forget the quickest, but she talks about home constantly. We decided that going to the airport would be unbearable, and so the children started saying their goodbyes. Liz had agreed to call in briefly on the way to the airport in the morning, as I couldn’t stand the thought of waking up with her still in Saskatoon, and not getting to see her. Jennifer and Rebecca were hilarious. After all the tears, Rebecca became suddenly indifferent to the leave-taking, and Jennifer was equally neutral on the topic. “Bye, Becca,” she said cheerfully. “I’m going back to my white house in Ireland. Far away”. “Bye, Jennifer”, said Rebecca, one eye on the television. That was that. Christopher, Isabel, Benjamin and Nicholas were tearful and snuffly. Sam and Abbie were dry-eyed and calm. Off they went, with us standing at the door and waving. I was breathless with sorrow.
Liz rang when we got back to the hotel. They had a nightmare journey back to the hotel. Sam and Abbie lost all vestiges of self-control, and were completely hysterical all the way, with Jennifer providing the commentary. “Mammy, one boy and one girl are crying back here. Why are they sad?” “Well,” said Liz carefully, “they’re sad because they’re leaving their cousins.” Cue more shrieks from the back seat. “Mammy. They’re still crying. Why are they crying? And on and on it went. Liz and Eddie were eyeing each other in horror. They calmed down eventually back at the hotel, and LIz arrived the next morning with them firmly strapped into their seats and no possibility of a repeat performance. I had leaked tears all night, and now looked like I’d been hit in the face with a baseball bat. But I was calm. We chatted while Eddie got petrol, and said our goodbyes with a squeezy hug and a wave from the door. And so they were gone.
June had said her goodbyes to her dad a couple of weeks ago, and said that the worst part was being the one left behind. It’s so true; it was so difficult to watch them go, and know that they were going home, home to my mother and sister and brother, home to the country that will always be knit into our bones. It threw up all the big questions for me again – did we do the right thing? Will it ever be a good time to go home again? will the kids be happy here and not resent us leaving Ireland? It’s weird to think that they’ll be the “Canadian Cousins”, so far away from all our nieces and nephews. They’ll grow up more Canadian than Irish now. They won’t speak English the way Michael and I do (which will save them a lot of confusion and awkward situations….). They won’t be growing up in the fabric of Irish society, politics, education, culture and sports. There is a stark and harsh reality to emigration that is often glossed over, or swept under the carpet. There are, of course, hundreds of emigrants who head off into the world because they want to; they look for new adventures, new places and new career opportunities. Leaving Ireland in our forties; leaving our family and our friends; leaving our home, our village, the lives that we had built and that we never thought we would have to step out of; these were things we never thought would happen, and time and distance give our lives in Ireland a certain rose-tinted glow. Was it that bad? were we struggling that much? But yes, it was and we were, and this hiccup of saying goodbye will pass. Liz and Eddie both affirmed our decision to move here; they saw the opportunities here for both us and our children. Now that they have visited Saskatoon, there is a huge satisfaction in knowing that they are able to picture us in our new lives. We can talk about the people they met, the places we go, the neighborhood we live in, and know that they can visualise it too. A small thing, perhaps, but a comforting one.
Thank you both for travelling such a long way to visit us; for giving eight children the chance to catch up and be cousins again; for sisterly chats and a lot of laughter; for enjoying where we live and how we live; and mostly, for creating a fortnight of golden memories and re-energized bonds.