Lost places of our past

February 19, 2016

On the phone with one of our nephews the other day I was hit hard by hiraeth, a form of homesickness that I couldn’t put words to until I ran into this word. Hiraeth. Grief for the lost places of your past.

We were talking about his new job, his new apartment his new life, and while he was talking about his life I had a vision: he was standing at the beginning of a long, wide road–at the beginning of his grown-up life–a road on which he will, no doubt, encounter joy, sadness, frustration, love, grief, excitement–all of those little high and low byways that make up life on this earth. While I couldn’t see the details of the life that lay ahead for him, I could see the road and I was overwhelmed with sadness because there was more of my road behind me than ahead of me. At that moment I wished that I were in his shoes, just starting out on the open road of life, not knowing what lay ahead.

There are many blessings on this last part of the road of life, I can’t deny that.  But the excitement and joy of the unexpected gift are mostly in my rear view mirror and as my nephew and I spoke,  I grieved for those lost places of my past. When I saw that image, above, I wanted to step into a time machine and go back to my teenage years, when typewriters were manual, we listened to records and we had no idea what life would be like in the years ahead.

Is it nostalgia? Hiraeth is more than nostalgia. It’s gut level grief and it can be overwhelming.

We have no children, my husband and I, so we really haven’t had the opportunity to walk side-by-side with a young person as they came up. Maybe parents get acclimated step by step and never feel the kind of loss I felt.

But for me, I’d love to do it all again and I’d do it all the same way because I like where I landed in my senior years.  Still, I can’t deny that life is fairly predictable these days in a way that wasn’t so even 10 years ago.  The open road has always drawn me in and sometimes, I yearn for it.

I wonder, do other people my age feel the same way? Do you?

15 comments on “Lost places of our past
  1. Ruth says:

    I am excited to see where your next steps take you — all that amazing and wonder-filled stuff to explore!

  2. Lee Gaitan says:

    I think I have chronic hiraeth–or a remitting/relapsing form. Like you, I’m happy with where I’ve landed at this point, but sometimes the longing, the deep yearning to go back, to do it all again, for the party not to be in the waning hours, overwhelms–and nearly disables–me. It’s an affliction I share with my best friend of 50+ years, so when either of us feels an attack coming on–triggered by a song, a smell, the angle of late afternoon light–at least we have each other to cry to. And then we return to the present, grateful that we’ve been here long enough to have so many memories and hopeful that we’ll have time to make a few more. I’m not ready to leave the dance yet–even though nowadays I have out a song or two! Thank you for putting a name to my condition. 🙂

  3. hillsmom says:

    Thanks for this, as I can really relate. Had to look up the word, and listen to two pronouncing many times. (The woman was easier to understand than the man.) I’m much older than you, but recently the thought that I wanted to go home kept creeping behind my eyes. Yes, this is my home now and has been for many years. I think of Chicago, but no family or friends are left there. High school…I went to four of them. I would only want to go back if I knew what I know now. Yes, I certainly would make different choices. Do you suppose it’s a harbinger of the end of life? TMI?

  4. It happens to me occasionally, Carol. Sometimes I wish for the excitement of new love or feel regret for choices that are no longer an option. Still, I’m very happy where I am and know there are still amazing things ahead and I have more resources and knowledge to make them happen.

  5. I wouldn’t go back if you paid me. But, I understand it’s different for others.

  6. Your words struck a deep cord in me today. I put my only child, my 25-year-old daughter, on a plane this week back to Chicago, after a wonderful visit. At 58, I have only begun to think about the possibility of ever being able to retire. I was struck by beginnings and endings in a way that I’ve never considered. I savored every moment with her because I expect that future visits will eventually include a man in her life and then someday children. I love my life with my wonderful man, but I was sad this week for the past that is gone forever.

  7. Oh geesh, yes. I miss the farm on which I grew up; it had an essence and was an active entity in my formative years. My nephew lives nearby the farm, and I can see it from his place, but the house belongs to someone I don’t know, the fields and lanes are differently arranged and planted. I still own some of the land, but am selling it. Fortunately there is a nature preserve just one farm over where the elementals from my childhood hang out. The flowers and fairies of my youth, the essence of a temperate swamp goddess resides in bogs near there. I can walk the nature trails there, and when I close my eyes and inhale and I am back in my childhood. It is comforting to know it is there.

  8. Alana says:

    Now I have a word for an emotion I feel at times. I can not go back either emotionally or physically. Where I grew up has been, for some forty five or more years, a dangerous, slum filled neighborhood. One day, perhaps, I will be able to walk its streets once more. Perhaps, in a way, it’s a good thing. I’ve always had to move forward. I can wish I was starting out again, but I also know why my life started out the way it did.

  9. Camille says:

    You mention parents getting acclimated to the day-to-day experiences of watching their children grow up. While I do have nostalgia for the years when my daughter was younger, the feeling for the passing of my 10-year-old grandson’s earlier years is much deeper, more of an ache – hiraeth, perhaps. Thank you for this beautiful piece.

  10. This same kind of feeling hit me the day I turned fifty. I realized that my life was more than half way over, and I was suddenly terrified of not having time to do all the things I swore I would do before I died. This is why—despite dealing with depression issues—I try to appreciate every single day. Each one is a blessing, and we need to hang onto the memories we’re creating NOW because time passes far too swiftly.

  11. I read an article the other day about how our first loves hold a special place in our hearts – not so much for the person they are but for the person we were at that time of life. I know what you mean about missing the newness of our younger lives, but this midlife stage has a resonance to it that I am really loving – less uncertainty.

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  1. […] having a hard time expressing the nostalgia, sadness, longing–the hiraeth I wrote about a year ago here–that I feel when I think about the space program the way it used to be. The world the way it […]

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