First, there's the preparatory grief about leaving home. This time, I had to depart just as the bluebells down in the woods were reaching a state of perfection, the hawthorn tree outside our bathroom window was bursting into leaf and the dawn chorus each morning was a crescendo of delight. It's a particularly tough time of year to have to go away, especially when one is a keen gardener. But when family members set their wedding dates they don't usually consider the annual bluebell cycle or the needs of seeds. So this time, I had no choice.
The pain of leaving, when blended with the excitement about the forthcoming trip and reunion with distant loved ones, always creates such a weird state of mind that checklists are for me an essential guide to staying sane and focused in the week before departure. Thanks to my lists, I usually make it out of the door with everything I need and all the necessary switches and taps turned off. Even so, I worry for several hours that I have forgotten something important that will cause the house to burn down as soon as I am out of sight (despite the fact that it has been sitting there intact since 1733).
Then there's the travel itself, with all the physical and mental disruption it causes. I really don't think it is good for the human body to be hurtled around the stratosphere in a pressurised, steel capsule at six hundred miles an hour, strapped into a narrow seat, breathing stale, endlessly recirculated air, and eating weird substances out of little plastic containers. Neither is it easy to find oneself disgorged at the other end into a completely different time zone. The reward, of course, is the ecstatic hugs of reunion that wait just beyond the customs hall. I'd suffer anything to get those.
Despite the delight of being there, homesickness still grips me the very first night away from home, just as it did when I was a child on a longed-for visit to grandparents. Like many other animals, I sleep best in my own, familiar den, where the walls hold me safe, the night-time creaks have known origins and the sheets smell right. During my youth, I learned to suppress the homesickness but now I am in my seventies it seems to have become worse again, for some reason.
I adjust, of course. And within three or four days, I feel perfectly fine and normal. But then, all too soon, the trip is over and we have reached the most horrid part of all – the tearful, agonising goodbyes. "I just can't keep doing this", I said to myself this time, between sobs, while tying my shoelaces back up again on the other side of Security. But I can, of course. And I shall. For as long as I am physically able. It is what goes with having a geographically distributed family. My daughter and I like to think of each painful parting as a beginning – our 'payment' for the next batch of happy reunion hugs.
Now I am back home, waking late, dealing with a mountain of mail, a garden-turned- jungle and all the problems of re-adjustment. Nothing feels normal again yet. But in a few days, it will. It always does.
The view from the bathroom window is like a snow scene now, for the hawthorn tree is flowering. So are the wisteria and the campions, the hedge parsley and the wild garlic. While I was away, the swallows returned. I wonder if they find their annual comings and goings easier than I do. They probably do. Since most of them hatch in May, they are not Cancerians. That must surely help.
And speaking of help, I have some in the form of Bach flower remedies. There is honeysuckle for the homesickness, walnut for coping with change and mimulus for fear of all the things I am afraid of, like flying. I also take melatonin tablets for a few days at each end and try to get as much sunshine as I can, both of which help to re-set the body clocks.
There's to be another family wedding in July. Two overseas trips in one year is bad news, environmentally, and I feel guilty about that. But I am going, anyway, and will try somehow to balance the carbon debt in other ways. So I've just started on a new checklist. And I have already paid for the arrival hugs. They cost me a lot but they will be worth it.