The energy of the last day’s drive was a mixture of exhaustion and excitement. I knew that this day was the day I would be home, finally in the arms of family and friends again after a long absence. My body was tired but my heart was invigorated at the prospect of being on the cusp of the end. That morning, I crossed briefly over to Kentucky before finally plunging down into Tennessee.
The aura around my environment seemed to change as I knew I was back in my home state. As I approached Chattanooga, the surrounding mountains, with their lush trees of vibrant leaves freshly sprouting from the spring air pulled me back into the familiar. These mountains are ancient and eroded but still hold a quiet majesty about them that is undeniably home to me. They are the womb of my soul and seeing them again filled me with all the fervent energy I needed to drive those last few miles.
The final drive around Lookout Mountain following the bend of the Tennessee River gave me my first visual of downtown Chattanooga, and home. It’s funny how a place can hold onto so many memories and emotions that erupt back into your being upon moving through it again. The feeling of coming home is a complex one. There are joys and traumas and love and anger and frustrations and hopes and dreams that all emanate from this place. They sort of hit you all at once and the nuance of emotions washes over you like some sort of holy baptism. But above all, coming home to me feels like falling into a warm bed after a hard day. My shoulders relaxed, my breathing became more purposeful and deliberate, and my arms and legs tingled with a newfound vigor.
I suppose home is not just a place, it’s the people who have made an impact on your life that breath home into a place. It’s the fellowship and comradery of a people mended by love and shared experience that give the feeling of home its power. I couldn’t help but feel a wave of gratitude as I made my way past downtown and into the familiar neighborhood where my home resided.
But my home wasn’t quite the same. To add to the drama and emotion of coming home, my neighborhood had recently been hit by an EF3 tornado a couple nights before I arrived. My neighborhood no longer resembled the neighborhood I had left. Trees were down everywhere and a majority of the houses had damage, even significant damage. My house was luckily spared and there wasn’t much damage save a tree that fell on the corner of my backyard fence. It could have been much worse but still, the pain and loss for so many families could be felt in the air.
There was a sense of community in the air though, as I finally met my next-door neighbors for the first time. We were able to talk and share stories and it was nice to see the kindness of their actions through the disaster. People would come from other neighborhoods bringing food and water for the people working cleaning up the debris. Even in the midst of devastation, it is the small acts of kindness and compassion by everyday people that really shine through and bring hope to a situation. Even among the wreckage, it felt like home again in a special way I can’t describe. Faith in my community and faith in humanity had been restored.
The heightened emotions wouldn’t stop there. I had also arrived home just in time, for my grandmother was at the end of her life from terminal cancer. She had been battling cancer for years, originating in her breasts and eventually spreading all over her body. She had undergone chemotherapy and radiation but the cancer continued to resurface and only seemed more aggressive. She had been on hospice for several months and now was at the end stage of her hospice care.
The last time I had seen her was three months prior. She was on hospice care then but still mobile and independent. Now as I approached her bed, she appeared weak and frail and bedridden. Her body was riddled with cancerous tumors and I can only imagine the pain she had endured, but she managed to acknowledge my presence with a smile one last time. I will never forget those last moments with her and the family sitting quietly by her bed. I will never forget sitting by her bed holding her hand watching her struggled breathing and thinking about how much she meant to each of us. She was a matriarch of love, endless flowing love.
I feel fortunate to have gotten to see her and to spend time with her in her last moments. The family had several nights quietly sitting by her bed. We sang hymns a couple of nights, we shared stories, and we tried our best to keep her as comfortable as possible. She passed a few days later in the evening surrounded by family and loved ones. It was a powerful moment for my family and me. We cried together and embraced one another in ways I had not seen. The sense of love and fellowship I felt, not just from missing my family from afar, but from getting to have those intimate last moments with them during my grandmother’s passing will always be cherished. It was a powerful moment personally, as I had never felt a greater sense of love, family, and fellowship before then.
Amidst this greater draw to be with family in these moments and the pandemic dampening travel OR nursing jobs, I have decided to stay at home for now. As much as I have enjoyed living around the country, I feel drawn to create and build something anew here. New friendships and relationships have sparked here and I see a great promise for the future. Amongst the sadness and grief of loss and devastation, there is hope on the horizon and I plan to embrace my future wholeheartedly. Perhaps someday, maybe not so far away, I will decide to travel again, but for now I will rest in the quiet assurance of home and the family and friends that make it so. ❤