A form of ‘normative psychopathology’

Country Roads

With the advent of the season of summer camp, Scout camp, church camp and similar away-from-home activities, the malady called “homesickness” is about to intensify. I know ̶ when I was a youngster I was afflicted by this ailment.

If I stayed overnight with cousins less than 10 miles away, about the time the sun set I would be overwhelmed with a feeling of despondency and a strong desire to go home. My uncles would take me home but if I detected resistance tears would plead my case.

I went church camp one year and got all the way to the camp nearly 100 miles away. One look around and I decided I had made a huge mistake. That familiar feeling of gloom overwhelmed me. When I learned one of the drivers that took us to church camp was about to leave for home I expressed a desire to go home with him. Resistance from well-meaning adults forced a shower of tears and I got to go home.

The summer I was 10 I spent a few days with my Cousin Ken and my grandparents in northern Iowa. On the first night at Ken’s home the old familiar discomforts of homesickness began at bed time. When I shut my eyes I could see my family sitting around the supper table at home.

This problem plagued me into my early teens. I recall getting homesick at my aunt and uncle’s house at age 13. I was embarrassed for being such a big baby, but it was beyond my control. One of these years, I thought, I will be going away to college or to the military and I need to toughen up.

The summer I was 15 my parents were planning a family vacation in Wisconsin and I decided I wanted to stay home. A friend and I had some “bean walking” jobs lined up and I wanted (and needed) the income. My parents were doubtful but finally consented.

The morning the family packed our ’57 Ford for the trip I had second thoughts…. and an enormous lump in my throat. I wanted to exclaim, “Wait! I want to go with you!”

That could not happen, I decided, and I toughed it out, even as the family Ford pulled away.

Later that morning my friend, Doug, picked me up and off we went to pull and chop weeds out of a field of soybeans. We had a good day and when I went to bed that night I had been healed! At age 15 I was free of homesickness… I hoped.

I did wonder what would happen when I left home for good. That happened four years later and occurred without incidence. The first time I visited home after I left I confess to a lump in my throat when I pulled up to the family home. But that was it!

Years later, when I traveled for business, I did not enjoy being away from my family for more than a day or two but the homesick blues did not return.

Homesickness affects a broad range of people at one time or another. While discussing his World War II experiences, my father-in-law described the homesickness in his boot camp barracks. He said for the first few weeks he heard homesick young soldiers ̶ some away from home for the first time ̶ crying themselves to sleep at night.

There’s nothing new about homesickness; it is an ancient phenomenon. The Psalmist referred to it in Psalm 137:1: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”

As migration across Europe increased so did the awareness of homesickness and the condition made its way into German medical literature in the 19th century.

Susan J. Matt’s 2011 book – Homesickness: An American History – describes experiences of homesickness in colonists, immigrants, gold miners, soldiers, explorers and others spending time away from home. When gold miners in California heard the tune “Home, Sweet Home,” Matt wrote, they sobbed.

Initially doctors understood homesickness as a brain lesion. Now, according to Wikipedia, “homesickness is known to be a form of normative psychopathology that reflects the strength of a person’s attachment to home, native culture and loved ones, as well as their ability to regulate their emotions and adjust to novelty.”

All I know is that it isn’t easy to be a kid who suffers from homesickness.

COMMENTS