"When I think about planes and airports, I think a lot about that last trip"Caitlin Farrell

“June 21st.” At first, it came like a whisper. A date that preluded a question mark of scepticism and wonder, as we asked each other whether we hadn’t misheard just how soon life would resume and whether we dared believe that it would. Later, it came like a shout. A date now followed by an exclamation mark of euphoria and optimism, as that one day in the calendar became synonymous with crowds and music and kissing strangers. 

“The last time I was on a plane back in February of 2020 was not for a city break or a week in the sun, but to say goodbye to my dying Nana”

It is also a day synonymous with planes. Unless you’re an influencer whose ‘essential work’ involves popping to and from Dubai every ten minutes, then for most of us we have not left the country or been on a plane for the best part of a year. For me, this is bittersweet. Alongside the mirage of Pinterest-worthy beaches in Ibiza, Mykonos and Sorrento that are stuck firmly down in my mind’s summer scrapbook is a country a little greener: Ireland. Because the last time I was on a plane back in February of 2020 was not for a city break or a week in the sun, but to say goodbye to my dying Nana. I’ve made a habit in lockdown of looking at what I was doing a year ago on that day by going through the photos and social media on my phone as if it were an extended part of my brain’s capacity for memory.

The photo on my phone from 24th February, 2020, is one of a sunset over Cambridge as my Dad drove me out of the city and homeward bound, back to Ireland. When I think about planes and airports, I think a lot about that last trip. Everyone had that first moment in the pandemic when they began to realise the presence of the virus beyond being a news story. This was mine. Perhaps, it was because I had never flown at such a prominently off-peak instant as the early-morning, mid-week flight of the end of February, but I had never seen an airport look so much like a hospital. Compared to the bustling excitement which airports usually lay their foundations on, Stansted Airport was noticeably sterile. There was a general sense that everyone who was at the airport was only there because they had to be, rather than because they wanted to be. There were no clusters of families or sole travellers about to embark upon the trip of a lifetime and in their absence the airport was quieter and bigger, coming to resemble the wide, white corridors of hospital wards. 

“Mostly though I remember that last goodbye”

It made a strange parallel to the atmosphere of my Nana’s hospice where, like all hospices, there was a stench of cleanliness almost as strong as the melancholic decay which also infested the halls. I didn’t see my Nana for that long, she was tired and several visitors at a time could be overwhelming, but those last moments in the hospice are engrained in my mind. I remember her turning to my Uncle and asking why my hair was so straight and I remember feeling so frustrated with myself that I had turned up with straightened hair when she had always loved my natural curls. I remember sitting in the canteen area with my cousins and trying to make conversation over tea. I remember fondly her confusion at the fact I was a vegan and her eyebrows hunching together as she tried to work out what I could possibly eat. Mostly though I remember that last goodbye. 


Mountain View

The impossible task of grieving

Everyone at the hospice kept saying how much better she was looking and how these could not possibly be her last weeks alive. A family friend came and left in the confidence that they would see her again and even the nurses kept repeating that she was a fighter. When it came to saying goodbye, as I left to catch my flight back to England, I suppose I had internalised a lot of this and I gave my Nana a big hug and said goodbye in the way I had always done. It wasn’t until I pulled away from the hug and saw her eyes welling up as she whispered softly, “Goodbye Caitlin,” that I realised my Nana was actually saying goodbye in its complete finality. But I still I left the hospice convinced that I would see her again. A month later I was watching her funeral via facetime.

June 21st therefore isn’t just about the resumption of life but also about getting closure from death. Like most people, when that promised day comes I’ll be heading to the clubs and bars with my friends. When it comes to catching flights though, my first one isn’t heading straight to Ibiza. Many people have said that this coming summer could rival that of 2018 – the summer of the world cup, the summer when you could barely walk down the street without hearing the jubilations of “it’s coming home!” I’m not sure what will happen with the pandemic, or whether this June the pubs will fill with joy once again, perhaps June 21st will become July 21st. It doesn’t matter though. The clubs could be shut and all summer long it could pour down with rain because it’s not those things that for me would make this an ‘it’s coming home summer’. Instead, it’s the minute that it’s safe to travel to Ireland – that’s when I’ll be truly coming home.