hiraeth (n.) a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past
A few days ago I watched Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper. I watched because I like documentaries and also because I never knew Anderson Cooper belonged to Gloria Vanderbilt. This made me curious. What I found was a lovely, historical, poignant look at her fascinating life. What you probably didn’t know is that she has been a talented artist since she was very young. I could go on and on about her life and art, but this post isn’t about the documentary – it’s about how one of her art pieces moved me in such way to reflect on my own experiences.
The piece, shown above, is entitled “Hiraeth”. The meaning of this word resonated with me so much that I could barely finish watching. The definition above, to me, describes a longing and sadness for parts of your past. Maybe it’s something you lost or a part you never had to begin with. I have had many of these longings in my life which I think stem from the death of my mother at age seven. Like the painting, sometimes I feel like I’m on the outside looking in- at times not connected, and always searching for something to fill that void.
When you are a young girl and your mother dies, you long for something but you are never sure of exactly what it is you need. I was fortunate to have other great women in my life- my stepmom, my grandmother, my aunt – and I am generally a happy, live life crazy kind of person but there is always a small gap, a melancholy that I carry with me. For me personally, I recognize the pattern now and I sometimes have to check myself before sabotaging my happy moments. Not all the time, but I do go down that slippery slope sometimes, thinking “if this happiness lasts, it has to end in pain, right?”
Of course I know this isn’t the case. I am in awe of the fun and beauty to be had in our world. Even with that loss, I feel blessed in this life. My little melancholy bubble that sits beside me has protected me and given me good vision. I am deeply reflective and guarded and a bit dramatic because of it but I am also loyal, empathetic and sensitive to those with struggles around me. I am more present in my children’s lives cherishing every first moment as both a mother and sometimes as a child as well.
Every experience lends itself to the next. My mother dying provided so much beauty. The ultimate butterfly effect: a childhood move that eventually placed me at a college I probably never would have attended, which led me to meet the father of my fantastic children, a tattoo on my back, a love of solitude, a draw to be near the beach, a great half brother and countless other things that are small ripples in my pond but who’s to say how they will shape the world?
I have had people say to me, “Everyone has lost a loved one, right? You are not alone in this.” Yes, we do all have our own struggles. But I am alone because my losses are unique to me. Losing my mother has shaped all other parts of my life. I know there is a part of me that may always feel longing or always be searching and that’s okay. Vanderbilt, when describing this fantastic artwork, said “the past never leaves you, you carry it with you.” And so I do.