I took the lads back to Berri (the mister’s home turf) via Adelaide for Christmas while the mister stayed here Abu Dhabi.

Landing in Australia, putting credit back on my Australian SIM card, I felt the relief that you feel on arriving somewhere that takes no real effort. The relief that comes from knowing the language, the laws, and what to do if you lose your purse. We could get sick, robbed, lost, but it would be okay and, anyway, we wouldn’t get sick or robbed or lost, because we were home.

Except I was a little bit lost.

Well of course I was.

I’d just taken my lads to Paris for what must surely be, even if I am only half way through it, one of my life’s highlights. I’d dropped in at Abu Dhabi just long enough to remember how incomprehensible it is; to have a farewell coffee with a wonderful friend who won’t be here when I get back; and for the mister to wash my knickers and shove them back into my suitcase not-quite-dry. Then I pulled my clot-preventing socks back up and collected my boarding pass.

Back in Adelaide, I found, as people always do when they return, that everything was all at once different and the same. The light and the smells and the sound hit me with their forgotten familiarity. The air was dry, no crane in sight. But our house is rented out; we wouldn’t be spending the Christmas-New Year break on Kangaroo Island; the people who bought my Grandfather’s house have knocked it down and built a new one in its place; and a few days after I arrived in Adelaide the sale of my Dad’s – our family – house was settled. Dusted and done.

I was home, but not.

Mostly though, I was lost, because this was the second Christmas after Dad’s death. The second Christmas of being parent-less.

I think that in the grieving cycle, seconds are a bit more complex than firsts. Maybe not for everyone, but for me. In the second year, it all becomes real. In the second year, the shock has worn off and the protective numbness is receding. In the second year, that loss has been layered by births, illnesses, marriages, break-ups, break-downs, deaths, graduations, birthdays, bushfires, redundancies. Life has gone on as it does, layering our experiences minute by minute, days at a time. And so, at the second Christmas, you look around and you realise that this is how it is. He’s gone.

Intellectually, I know that I am a middle-aged woman without parents. I know this. But emotionally, I’ve lost my bearings, and I’m still not quite sure where I fit in this post-parent age. Even physically, I have to adjust, because my body still feels the absence of my parents as an emptiness above and around me. Somehow or other I have to work out how I can grow into that space.

As much as I try to keep Christmas low-key, it as at Christmas time that absences loom large. I do have places to be and people to be there with. Other families, of which I am a part, love me, welcome and care for me. Really, it’s quite something and even just thinking about how beautiful people were to me, I cry. But the absences are still there.

I’ve got welcoming places, but I haven’t got parents. I have safe harbours, but my anchors are lost.

Still, however lost I did feel, however overwhelmed, I was always glad that I’d made the trip. I watched the lads play with their cousins and have sleepovers and trade pokemon cards and go for swims in the river. I sat in backyards and in cafes and on the beach with my aunties, uncles, my step-family, my in-laws, my cousins, my friends.

I drank too much and stayed up way past my bedtime every single night (one time, almost til dawn, and it wasn’t even New Year’s Eve – brilliant times). One of the things I especially liked was sitting with my cousins and my friends, the ones who are around the same age, people I’ve known a long time or through tricky times, all of us who have looked, or are looking, around and thinking, ‘my goodness, look where we are, how did this happen and what are we supposed to do now?’

We cried and laughed over the years we’ve just had and the decisions we’ve made and the things that have turned out right and the things that have turned out wrong and the things we’re glad we’ve done and the things we should-oughtta have done. I wallowed, then get over myself, then wallowed, then get over myself again.

And it’s interesting, that even as each conversation acted like a little anchor, each one adding to the other, giving me more and more steadying weight, I felt myself able to leave them again, able to return to this incomprehensible place and say to the mister, ‘We should go and buy a bougainvillea to plant in the courtyard this weekend.’