Coming Home

We returned this week to Switzerland from five weeks in the USA. Our summer was focused on family and practical matters. My mother-in-law passed away in the spring at the age of 89. She lived a full life and passed peacefully in her favorite chair. We are happy for her. 

My husband is an only child so the responsibility and honor of her funeral and clearing out her home fell to him. He rose to both occasions beautifully. The funeral was a loving event. It was wonderful for our two boys to hear stories about their Grandmother from others – enlarging their perspective of who she was as a person outside of her role as Grandma.

Clearing out her home of 50-plus years was both challenging and sweet. The challenge was the sheer volume of things collected; some forgotten, some cherished over a lifetime. There were dumpsters involved, countless trips to Goodwill, boxes and boxes! of book donations to the local library, and saving or shipping sentimental items to other family members. The sweetness was found in treasures like old passports – Pat was a world traveler and had visited more than 20 countries long before I met her. Our teenage sons enjoyed the different currencies she collected from her travels – many no longer in circulation. 

I was able to break away to fly across the country to visit my 93-year-old mother who was staying with one of my brothers and his sweet family. My time with them was grounding and fulfilling. Living in another country with a different language and distinct culture often feels like I inhabit two different worlds. The experience has sharpened my ability to be present because I realize that time with people I deeply love is rare. 

Air travel with a dog is full of complexity but given the length of our trip, we took our dog, Chester. If there was an award for the most well-behaved and optimistic traveler – Chester is a shoo-in. There are a lot of humans who could learn from Chester. He traversed the two continents with ease – 6,800 miles/11,000 kilometers one way. His presence on this trip provided a sense of stability that we all craved amidst the chaos of boxes, piles of organizing belongings, and the dwindling seating and sleeping choices due to furniture donations. He also gave our boys a sense of duty. There are coyotes on the small island my mother-in-law lived. And, Chester’s size while perfect for flight travel is also perfect coyote prey. Our boys kept a watchful eye on him during walks and in Pat’s beautiful backyard that abuts the forest.

Our two ginger cats remained in Switzerland under the care of a kind and gentle Ukrainian refugee. It was a win/win for all of us. Five weeks is a long time even for independent indoor/outdoor cats to be without their people. We have been home five days now and the cats have barely gone outside. Instead, they prefer to sit next to any one of us and soak up the touch and love they dearly missed. As I write, a feline is laying on my arm unencumbered by the up and down movement of my typing. He’s just happy to be with me. I feel profound love and empathy for our cats. I recognize the fragility and preciousness of their dependence on us and our connection to them. 

As I headed out to the grocery store to re-stock the refrigerator after the 25-hour door-to-door journey. I kept the meal plan simple – a salad. At self-checkout, I realized I forgot to get a cucumber. Tired, I decided not to go back to the produce section on the other side of the store. I paid for my groceries, took three steps toward the exit, and glanced at the self-checkout station next to mine. There sat a lone cucumber! I immediately laughed out loud! I looked around to make sure it didn’t belong to anyone, paid for it, and said a sincere prayer of thanks.

I am blessed to return to a place and life that I love. I am humbled that I also am able to leave it for long periods to connect to people I love. I also see the Universe’s amazing sense of humor to bring us cucumbers just when we need them most.


  1. Emsia | 1st Sep 22

    Beautifully written, Ellen! Being in a similar situation I relate very much to your story.

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