I recently went back to the States for three months to spend time with my mom at the end of her life, and with my family after she passed. Despite this being a very difficult time for obvious reasons, I found it additionally painful to leave behind my ‘home’ in Peru and temporarily move back into my parent’s house. My handsome husband, chicken-eating dog and dream house were all back in Cajamarca and I was in Concord, NH feeling grief-stricken AND homesick.
This didn’t make sense. I was with my family, in the house I grew up in and always go back to. But as mom’s cancer advanced into her brain and ultimately ended her life, I realized that for the past few years everything I had considered home, the place where I felt anchored, had been defined by my mom. My father, siblings, extended family and my sense of self all seemed to be a direct result of my mom. Without her, I felt like Concord could never be home.
Five years ago, when Mom was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer she was told that at best, she had 12-18 months left to live. At the time, I was finishing up grad school with an internship in Colorado and about to start a highly sought after position as an occupational therapist at a clinic in Steamboat Springs. When I learned of mom’s cancer and bleak prognosis, I abandoned the job and moved back to Concord. I eventually found work and an apartment in nearby Vermont, but the thought of loosing my mom was too much to handle and I spent much of that year silently battling depression and anxiety.
Mom, on the other hand, was visibly upset for about two weeks then decided that if her time was limited, she might as well have a good time! She continued to enjoy her life taking advantage of every opportunity that came her way. In the Spring, I decided to spend the money I had saved up from my first year of work as a therapist to take mom on a vacation to Florida. I thought we could both use a get-away.
Mom and I had a blast shopping, talking long walks on the beach, going out to bars, and sitting on the hotel balcony chatting until all hours of the night. Our last night we went to a bar for cocktails, then to dinner, played two very tipsy rounds of mini golf, and finally returned to the hotel balcony with a 6-pack of beer we had bought on the walk back. The discussion turned from silly to serious in a matter of seconds when Mom told me she wanted me to move back to Colorado. “You haven’t been happy in New Hampshire, you miss your friends and the mountains and whatever you do out there. Move back!”
“But Mom,” I replied, trying to swallow the lump in my throat “I want to be close to you in case…” I trailed off.
“Well, what if I try not to die while you’re gone?” She said in a smart-alecky tone. Mom went on to disclose that since I had moved home, she had felt guilty. She desired for me to do as I did before Cancer infected our family…to live my life to the fullest and tell her all about it. “Go to Colorado so that I can come visit you! And if you miss me, you can always come back home.”
Two months later, I accepted a position as a travel OT and since then have lived in Colorado, New Mexico, Seattle and then Peru. Mom visited me in most of these locations. She even got Rosetta Stone to learn basic Spanish and made two trips to Peru! We would chat on the phone or Skype every morning as we drank our coffee then e-mail throughout the day. I made frequent trips home and prioritized spending time with Mom above all else.
Upon arriving home in August my world began to deteriorate as I heard doctors use phrases like “palliative care” and “symptom management”. I’ve worked in healthcare and know the meaning of these words all too well. I cleaned the house, organized things and ran errands. Anything to have some semblance of normal as I fell apart inside. I didn’t feel like myself and home no longer felt like home. If “home is where the heart is” and your heart is broken, I guess it’s easy to feel lost.
Fortunately, there is something about Concord, NH that I had been neglecting to appreciate since mom had been diagnosed. From the minute I got back I was surrounded by a warm blanket of support from my enormous circle of family and friends. They cooked for my family, took me out for coffee, and spent hours at the hospital, not only to see mom, but to support my dad, sister, brother and I. They sat with me, grieved with me, walked with me, drank with me and listened to me without judgement. When mom died, dear friends and family put their own grief aside to help plan the memorial service which more than 450 people from the Concord community attended.
I stayed for a month after the service to be close to my family and friends and to participate in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer fundraiser that is so important to my family. During my last week in Concord, I struggled the most. Home, although not the same as when mom was there, is a place when I am surrounded by family, friendship, support and love. It was a comfort I did not feel ready to leave behind.
I am lucky enough to have an awesome husband who knew it would be hard. Charlie met me in NH, took me on a mini-vacation to Colorado (another home of mine) and traveled back to Peru with me. I returned to Cajamarca feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and…surprised! As the taxi neared my house, I saw the children from my neighborhood, my little English students waiting for me. I got out of the vehicle and was surrounded by another blanket. The kids drilled me with questions. They were eager to know where I’d been and why for so long. Each child handed me a card they had made…in English! I sat down with the kids and read the cards out loud. Every one varied on the inside with expressions such as “I am 10 years old” and “Today is Tuesday” or my favorite “You are pretty”. But on the outside each had the same words written on it: “Welcome Home”.
If home is where your heart is, I guess I’m lucky enough to have two. After all, there’s no place like home.
23 thoughts on “Returning Home”
Wonderful. Thank you for sharing with us. Glad you are back and surrounded by so much love!
Wow, Danielle, I’m so glad to have read this. Thank you.
THinking of you Danielle. So sorry to hear about your mom. You are an amazing writer!
There is so much growth from these hard steps in life and you wrote about it very sweetly and with clarity. May you continue to feel that blanket of support and love. Your mom gave you an amazing gift of compassion and caring and I am lucky to have experienced it in your presence.
Danielle, this is such a beautiful story. It’s sad, but beautiful. Your mom must have been an amazing lady.
Kathy Perkins, my stepdaughter, has known and worked with your family for several years. I have followed your Mom’s story through her. As a result I have heard her speak of you and your great adventures.
She is here in Baltimore with us now and has just shown me your blog.She was in tears reading it and I empathized after reading your story.
Good luck to you I am sponsoring a Teach for America teacher here in Baltimore and know how young children can touch your heart with the purity of their love. You are lucky for that.
I have a 17 year old grandson I’d love to have know about your program in Peru. Could you send me contact info. Anne Grieves
Good thing you have such a big heart since you have so many homes. 😉 Really glad to have you back in your Peru home. Un abrazo fuerte mi amiga!!
Danielle. You are such a talented lady in so many ways. Thank you for sharing your stories.
You are so wise and write so beautifully. My mother poassed away 9 years ago and I miss her every day, but the things she taught me, her funny expressions and the quality time we spent are treasured by my sister and I. I treasure my friendship with you and consider you my friend and “third daughter”
Danielle I don’t think you spoke enough about me 🙂 I am glad you are doing well in Peru but I miss you a lot here in NH! Come back soon!
Danielle, your story so well written is touching and your little students in Peru are so attached to you and learning so much from you,
it’s wonderful. Thank you for sharing with us.
Danielle, Beautifully written, thanks for sharing.
Daielle, you are such a wonderful daughter. I know your mother went in peace knowing how well she raised you. Continue to enjoy (and share with us) your adventres in Peru.
So touching …………………….. lots of feelings, no words.
I am so very glad to hear that your homecoming was so warm and uplifting. Your life is very rich there with the kids that adore you and your plans for the Liz Parker School of Life and Language! Tell Charlie hello from me and thank him for being such a wonderful husband. Oh, and keep on writing. I will be there to witness when you win your first Pulitzer, so you might start thinking about a book.
Love and miss you,
Beautifully written. Loved the story and will be thinking of you when I’m home this week with the fam. Lots of love to you, Charlie and that Chicken-eating pup!
Thanks for sharing what’s happening with you. I was moved to tears. It sounds like you’re finding your purpose in life. So proud of you!
Thanks for all the kind words. And sorry to make so many people cry. In the end, I hope the piece to be uplifting. Charlie and I had a very nice Thanksgiving with some American friends and look forward to a mellow Christmas in Cajamarca.
Hi. I’m so excited to see your stories on this website!!! I live in Massachusetts and married a Peruvian 3 years ago. I am also an Occupational Therapist! I have visited Peru 4 times. We try to go every February, and consider it our home away from home. We have an apartment in Pulpos (km 41) about 20-30 mins. south of Lima. Your story was found by my husband because we were talking about maybe moving there for a year! We are stressed with the lifestyle here. I love my job at the rehab hospital in Cape Cod, and have been an OT for 18 years. My husband works for the MBTA driving a bus in Boston. My kids are 11 and 8. They actually like the idea! We love it there… for so many of the same reasons you mentioned! I would love to talk with you about it! Please send me an email at Chelekat99 [at] hotmail [dot] com! Michele
Danielle, Sorry it took me so long to read this. You expressed your feelings so well. But I am worried that you will get too comfortable in Cajamarca and, with no Mom to tug on your heartstrings, you won’t bother to come back here. I’m glad you are enjoying life in Peru, but don’t forget your family back in the states. We all love you and miss you. Hope your Thanksgiving was nice and I hope you have a great Christmas. We will miss you. Love, Lee
I finally got time to read your “returning home”. I loved it and it was so touching and heartfelt. Your Mom was an amazing woman and has passed her wonderful mind and resilience on to you. I hope when you are back in NH for a visit, we can meet for lunch again. I will continue reading your blog and all the fascinating things you write in such a unique way. The little children’s cards were so amazing…you obviously have touched their hearts as well.
sorry to hear about your Mom
We just drove back to Lima from Cajamarca and we loved Cajamarca. I like your side of town and I really like the La Colpa area
I can see myself living there some day
next time we come through maybe we could buy you a chori pan
TE AMO PERU!
Jim and Johany
Such a beautiful post, both in the portrayal of your relationship with your mum and your description of home. Thanks for sharing.