Slán Abhaile | Safe Home

Even early on, the question haunts you once you make the decision to live away from your family, especially if the distance is continent-sized: “Will I get to say a last goodbye?” The question is easy to push aside, especially if everyone is healthy and young, but it’s there, lurking in the background every time you leave. Every single time.

You could argue that the good thing about it is that each leaving feels like it might be the last, so you pay attention.

For the past years especially, I have looked back whenever I go, just once more, just in case. The not knowing does get under your skin, threatening to overwhelm with dread and a lot of guilt, but you learn to live with it, gently teasing it out now and again, sort of like you do with a scab you know you shouldn’t pick at.

In Irish good bye is slán abhaile, literally safe home, a phrase in English often called out into the night from hall doors: “Safe home!” When I first heard it, it sounded awkward, a bit stilted, as if a word was missing. Now it sounds right, and it seems to fit perfectly with this season.

It turns out I said my last goodbye to my Dad in August, at the end of our eight month Canadian sojourn. Like so many previous departures, I didn’t know it would be the last time, but I suspected it might be. It was made more difficult because it was in a hospital room, tiny, full of people, my dad in the bed, so no big hugs.

As always we said “I love you” to each other. If he’d been Irish, he would have said to us, “Safe home, now!” but he wasn’t, and he didn’t. And I didn’t say “Safe home” because I was the one leaving, and I don’t really say it in Canada. But I could have.

And that figure of dread always photobombing the final goodbyes? Well, it turned out to be much smaller than it used to look. I don’t feel guilty for not being there – though I wish I could have been – but I know my dad knew I loved him and that I will miss him. Above all, he was ready and wanting to go; he’d felt for a long time that he was just done. And you can’t help but be glad for that, for him, free finally of the body and mind which did so much for him, but let him down in the end. Plus, there are so many wonderful memories of times together that the moments when I was leaving are overshadowed. And as I travelled home for the first time without my dad waiting to see me, I felt loved and supported by those who also loved him.

But I’ll say it now, even though it has already happened, “Slán abhaile, Dad. Safe home.”

Burnaby, 1964


The featured photo is one that nobody remembered until we came across it in January. My dad, aged 76 and just after a triple bypass, is doing one of the things he loved to do: building. In this instance, it was a garden shed. But what a shed. And it was for my mom.




10 thoughts on “Slán Abhaile | Safe Home

  1. At Blue Lake we say, “Safe trip”, to each other, and to departing guests.

    I knew that I was saying good bye to him for the last time, and when it came right down to it, I was unable to say the words. I said, “Good night”. That just felt right.

    As always, I enjoy your writing, and I am so glad to have a sister who can put things into such beautiful language.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No matter the age or the day, we never know if this could be the last goodbye spoken. Well spoken Lynn, expressing this universal sentiment. Your words are treasures for today. You lift me up! I will no longer put off that particular engagement with that particular person.

        Liked by 2 people

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