Waiting for flight EK 161 from Dubai
The emotions raised by the return of your emigrant child are overpowering, writes Barbara Scully
My phone pinged with another text. “We have just been called to board. Next stop Dubai. Excited. See you tomorrow.” I hurriedly replied “safe journey, love you” and pressed send. A smiley face and a row of Xs pinged back. I imagined her with bag slung over her shoulder as she texted while making her way to the departure gate in Perth Airport.
In the evening another text tells me she has arrived in Dubai. “Over halfway now.” She would shortly be boarding for the final leg back to Dublin. As I settled into bed I searched her flight number on my phone’s Flight Radar app.
“She is over Iraq,” I whispered to the sleeping lump beside me. I mentally calculated that by the time my alarm went off in the morning, she should just be arriving over the UK.
I wondered if I would sleep. I could feel bubbles of excitement coursing through my veins. I tried to distract myself by wondering if I had turned off the Christmas tree lights. Then I mentally went through my fridge, making sure I had everything for the mega homecoming fry in the morning. Finally, asking God to keep her and her flight safe, I drifted off.
Sure enough, by 7am next morning, there she was, just crossing the channel and about to overfly England. I roused the younger girls. And despite the cold and the pitch darkness of mid-winter this was not difficult. Although only December 21st, the entire house seemed to be effervescent with anticipation. It felt like it was Christmas, everyone’s birthday and a Lotto win all rolled into one.
Huge welcome banner
My younger daughters had spent hours making a huge welcome home banner which they now carefully rolled up to take in the car. The front door was festooned with multi-coloured balloons and another banner. The dog, sensing something in the air, wondered hopefully if it included him. Not yet it didn’t.
We chattered our way to Dublin Airport, himself driving while I kept an eye on flight EK 161 from Dubai. We arrived just after it touched down.
In Terminal 2 we unfurled our banner. We were surrounded by families, just like us, all fizzing with the excitement of a Christmas homecoming. We judged our banner to be up there with the best.
Then the nonsense began.
“Is that her?”
“I see a blonde head.”
“Oh, I think I hear her laughing.”
It seemed we stood waiting for ages. One by one the families around us dissolved into tearful messes of hugs and sobs. Each time the doors whooshed open we strained to see our girl. Finally . . . there she was . . . beaming a huge, tired, silly grin. We broke rank as we all rushed forward. Thankfully there were no small children in our path.
The exhilaration continued in the car as we all talked over each other and my firstborn remarked on changes to the landscape since she left 18 months previously. I tried to gauge how she had changed. Her younger sisters vied for her attention. Himself concentrated on getting us home safely.
Under the balloons by the front door we urged each other to be quiet. She entered the kitchen alone, while we stood silently at the door.
“Hey Dylan, I’m home.” It took him a minute or two but suddenly it was clear he had not forgotten her. She sank to the floor and he slobbered his welcome. The journey was complete. She was home.
And with her she brought back to our house the magic and the meaning of Christmas. The truth we all know but need reminding of regularly. The joy of the season is not contained in shiny gift wrapping under the Christmas tree. Rather it is found in the relishing our time together, of reunion.
It was a wonderful Christmas. One we will all remember forever. This year it will be that memory we will cling to as other families get their turn to hug their loved emigrant child over the festive season. And like us last year, in early January they will do it all in reverse. And Terminal 2 will witness the sadness of saying goodbye again.
This article appears in the print edition of The Irish Times today.