I had no words to say goodbye to my best friend in Sydney

Returning to Ireland after 16 years in Australia means leaving loved ones there too

This article is part of an ongoing series for Irish Times Abroad about James Parnell's experience of returning to Ireland after 16 years in Australia.

My late father-in-law when he was at funerals liked to use the analogy of a ship leaving port. Those saying “bon voyage” on land can see only the loved ones to whom they wave goodbye. But the voyagers on the ship have a view of those they are leaving and, as they pass over the horizon, those who are there to welcome them.

And so it was with us. Bitter. Sweet.

You cannot talk about returning to Ireland after 16 years away without acknowledging our departure from the place that used to be our home for that same time.


I recall saying goodbye in Australia to my best friend. Through tears and those involuntary gulps of emotion (you know the ones), all I could muster was, “I have no words.”

And I had no words – because there are none. For those of us lucky enough to truly love someone, there are no words to do it justice. I am grateful to Australia for the opportunity to have met people we love there. Each of the five of us had people we loved to whom we had to say farewell. The pain of those moments was a reflection of the love we have for them.

Hit pause

There are moments in life when you wish you could hit pause – as if watching a movie. Stop time and motion to allow yourself time to absorb every last detail, to breathe it into your very being. To implant the memory in a part of your brain where it will grow, not fade. To be able to walk into the scene and observe every last detail: your wedding day, the births of your children and every waking moment thereafter (well, most of them).

Ironically those moments are the ones that seem to play on 1.5x speed. An airport homecoming is like that. You cannot seem to play it slowly. A long-haul flight builds anticipation. Jet lag doesn’t help – there is a reason sleep deprivation is a torture technique.

When we land and go through arrivals, it is difficult to take it all in. But there are those faces – the ones we used to get to see in person only once every year or two. Those hugs – the ones we got comfort from only on visits home. Emigrants’ ache is transformed to joy in an instant.

We counted down to this moment for so long. Now it is here – but it is fleeting.

Within minutes it is like we were never away. Maybe that’s a good thing. Although we might need to work a little harder to ensure novelty is still part of our life back home. In Australia, although everything became familiar, it was still a foreign country and we were different.

I always find airport homecomings a little strange. Excitement and emotion often stem from a new experience or relationship. But here they come from something completely familiar. I am one of seven children and my folks now have 19 grandchildren, so it’s hectic. We are greeted by signs saying, “Welcome back FINALLY!” and “What took you so long?”. The Irish sense of humour and sarcasm is strong. (My brother still maintains I just went out for a bottle of milk and got lost.)

New home

It’s a weekday and, as the mob scatters to go to school or to work, we head for our new home. We are the last ones in our family over the threshold. They have all been through our new house already. They inspected it before we bought it two days before the previous Christmas. Then they furnished it – mainly with items I suspect they don’t want back! (Skips must be expensive here.) But we are eternally grateful for the help. They had made things as easy for us as possible - just as we had committed to do. I think at the back of everyone’s minds is a worry that this is not going to work out.

So we are grateful and lucky to be able to invite people for lunch in our new home, even though the container with our belongings will not arrive for two months.

And there we sit. A strong pot of tea. A large Irish breakfast. Family dropping in. Our kids playing with their cousins. Neighbour’s children calling in to see if the girls can go out to play. The memories flooding back. We have arrived. We have many challenges ahead – most unforeseen. But we are home.

James Parnell is the founder of Ernest Consulting, which provides business design, agile coaching and corporate performance training to businesses, and personal life design coaching to individuals. He blogs at james-parnell.com.