Family Matters

Family Matters

Isle of Dreams: Searching for a lost self in the Ould Sod

By Michelle Flaum Hall

September/October 2012

Ever since I was a little girl, I'd dreamt of visiting Ireland. Two years ago, I decided to do it. The truth is, I'd begun to feel I'd lost myself, due in large part to a cascade of losses from which I was still recovering. Six years earlier, I'd gone through the traumatic birth of my daughter, Cate, and in the process had nearly lost my own life. I was forever changed: I had to reassimilate after having lost my entire blood supply and my heart's health.

Two years later, my beloved grandparents died, one following a long battle with cancer and the other a week later, of a broken heart. At the time of their deaths, I was struggling through a difficult divorce, writing a dissertation, and wondering how I'd ever make it as a single mom.

On the day I woke up and decided I'd had enough of the emptiness gnawing at me, I made a choice that seemed natural for a girl whose family had passed through Ellis Island about a century earlier: I'd go to Ireland and find myself again.

I booked my flights, hotels, and rental cars. Then a week before I was to leave, a now-famous Icelandic volcano erupted, making the prospect of the trip as cloudy as the ash floating over Western Europe. I spiraled down into an existential panic at the thought of missing my opportunity. What if I couldn't get there? What about my dream?

It didn't take long for me to realize that a volcano was, ahem, actually out of my control. Somehow, I gave it back to the universe to sort out. Two…

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