This year for Christmas, my boyfriend gave me a wallet. Perhaps it doesn't sound to you like the most romantic gift in the world, but I love it. Not just because it's made by a label called "Puccini". And not just because it has lots of little compartments that help me organise my various foreign currencies and bank cards. I love the wallet because I use it all the time, and every time I use it, I think of him. I don't know about you but I think that's pretty romantic.
Every day I feel lucky to be where I am, to be following my dreams. But every day I also deal with the fact that I am far away from the people I love. Even now, when I am visiting my boyfriend in Sweden, I am far away from my family in Canada. People often ask me if I miss Canada. To be honest, I don't often miss Canada. But I always miss my family.
I consider myself very lucky to have been born into such a large and loving family. My family is full of character, curiosity, and passion. Many of us are musical, and most of us are avid readers. And although we don't always agree on everything, most of the time we get on very well. We love to gather, usually over loads of food, and talk each other's ears off. I love my family and I love spending time with them. This is a part of my life that I miss very much now that I'm living abroad.
I also miss my boyfriend, who understands me in a way most people don't, and who always knows how to make me laugh. When we were living in Glasgow I knew he was the right guy because I felt at home when I was with him. Now that we live in different countries, he's still my home away from home - but he's no longer a 20 minute bus ride away.
Despite their absence, I have found many ways to surround myself with the people I love. Of course, like anyone living abroad I stay in touch with my family over email and skype. Obviously I can't stay in touch with everyone this way (there are a LOT of us), but I find that facebook is another great way to keep track of people. I'm always grateful for the regular updaters in the family, who post pictures and videos and status updates, keeping me up to speed on my nieces and nephews' latest escapades, my cousins' latest projects, or my brothers' latest concerts. But while the internet is a wonderful thing, the most beloved connections I keep with my family are the tangible ones.
I have a collection of keepsakes scattered around my flat. There are the photos from my brother's wedding, and the homemade keychain and pencil case from my niece. There are cards and letters from my boyfriend, and a photo of him which his mother framed for me. There's a crystal hanging by my window which turns the sunlight into rainbows - a beautiful gift from my parents. There are letters and postcards from friends and family, and countless trinkets and souvenirs from all the places I've been.
But my all-time favourite keepsake is a sign that says in colourful bubble letters "Welcome home Brynne". It's from a difficult Christmas a couple of years ago, when I came home a complete mess. I had just been dumped. I had also been rejected several times in a run of unsuccessful auditions. I had lost all my confidence and conviction. And when I arrived home from the airport, feeling heartbroken and downtrodden, this cheerful sign was stuck on the door. Waiting for me. Welcoming me. Letting me know that no matter what happened, my home and my family were always there.
I now put that sign up on my door - that is, the door of wherever I'm living at the moment. It's a reminder that I am home no matter where I am. I am home because I am always surrounded by the unconditional love and support of my family.
This weekend was my grandma's memorial, an event that I was sadly unable to attend. But while the prices of plane tickets kept me from crossing the Atlantic, I found other ways to be with my family at this time. My mom has been sending me regular email updates these last few months, from the time Grandma went into the hospital, to when she went into palliative care, to her final hours. So I had some time to prepare for her passing, and to think about how I could send my love in a tangible way. I knew how much my keepsakes from the family meant to me, and I wanted to be able to send something similar to my family.
Naturally, if I was there, I would be singing at the memorial service. I always sing at family weddings and funerals. And it would mean a lot for my grandma because she was a singer too. I decided that the best way to send my love was to record one of my grandma's favourite hymns and send it to my parents so it could be played in the service.
I wasn't able to be at my grandma's memorial, or at the big family gathering that surrounded it. But I was able to read the text of my dad's eulogy, and to see pictures of my nephews emailed through my mom's BlackBerry. I was able to skype with the family, getting passed around the sitting room on my brother's iphone. I even "met" my new baby nephew for the first time (we had a fascinating conversation involving lots of squeals and flailing arms). My uncle made a video of the service for myself and other absent family members, and I look forward to watching it and "being there" in my own way.
It's not the same as really being there, of course. And I still get pangs of guilt about that sometimes. But that's just the way it is right now.
The saddest part of going on an adventure is the people you leave behind. Every birthday, every anniversary, every wedding and funeral that you miss - it stings. But real love is more than a physical presence. It's something that can cross borders and oceans, that can be felt from far away. I feel the love and support from my family every day. And I hope they feel it too.
These keepsakes I treasure so much, they aren't important in themselves. They're important because they remind me of something that's already there. Every day, no matter where I am and no matter what I am doing, I am surrounded by love. And my boyfriend and my family are surrounded by it too. We can't always be there for each other physically. But we are always there for each other in spirit.