The day Kari Kampakis’s mother died, she drove back to her childhood home and asked the current owner if she could walk through it, one more time. What my friend Kari learned by going home again is powerful. Graciously, she has agreed to share her beautiful story here, with us.
I hope Kari’s words will bless you, today:
It was a crazy thing to do, especially considering the events of that morning, but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.
The urge to go back felt incredibly strong, and it descended from out of the blue. Since I had two daughters with me saying, “Let’s do it, Mom!” I gained courage. I thought it might be healing.
Earlier that morning, February 6, 2020, my mom passed away.
It had been a highly emotional week as we kept constant vigil around her bed. Around lunchtime, as my daughters and I started our drive from Tuscaloosa to our home in Birmingham, we got off the interstate exit that led to my childhood home.
For years I’d toyed with the idea of revisiting this place. It’d been a happy home for our family, filled with love, laughter, late-night antics, big family chaos, and countless friends over the course of 30 years. My parents moved after I graduated from college, and because I loved their new home, I rarely thought about the old one.
But as time marched on, and my mom’s health issues intensified during her final 4 years on earth, a nostalgia grew inside me that I couldn’t shake. I felt my childhood tugging me back, making me long for the past.
Looking back, I longed to go home because I didn’t have closure. I couldn’t let go of this chapter in my past. I needed to walk through my childhood home just one more time.
I told my daughters that if somebody was outside, I’d ask if we could go in, and if not, we’d view the house from the street. I felt disappointed when we pulled up and saw no one, but a minute later, the owner stuck her head out the front door and asked if she could help me.
“Hi!” I replied from my car. “I grew up in this house, and I was showing it to my daughters.”
“Are you a Kubiszyn?” she replied.
“Would you like to come in?”
My heart jumped at the invitation. “Yes, do you mind?”
“Not at all. I’m still in my bathrobe, but you’re welcome to walk through.”
Emma, the current owner, made us feel comfortable, immediately. As I walked into the foyer, old memories rushed back, and I started to cry. I told Emma what happened that morning. She hugged me tight and consoled me with the warmth of a mother’s love. I wasn’t surprised to learn that she was a pastor’s wife.
Emma walked through the house with us, listening patiently as I shared memories from the past with my daughters:
That’s where we put the Christmas tree…that’s where we had the kid’s table on holidays…I got ready for school in this bathroom…
I wrote in this closet for hours one night after a close friend died in a car wreck…
Mom had a pink Oriental rug here, and we’d roll it up to practice our moonwalk…we sat on this brick wall while Mom cooked dinner, and my sisters and I used it to practice our herkies…I busted my knee on my brother’s weight bench here….
We used to throw our dirty clothes down these basement stairs like a laundry shoot, and Mom would cry as it piled up…there was a refrigerator here that we hid on top of during hide-and-seek…we had a pool table there and a Pac-Man machine there…
It smelled bad in this basement for years, until we found a rotten Easter egg in the pullout couch…my mom tried to get my dog Peppy to mate with another dog on this porch, but Peppy wouldn’t have it…there used to be thick woods behind this swimming pool, and sometimes when we swam at night, bats would come out…
Surprisingly, my trip down memory lane made us laugh. I remembered how there was never a dull moment growing up as a Kubiszyn. I didn’t cry; instead, I just felt grateful and satisfied, as if a missing piece to my life puzzle had been put into place.
After the tour, Emma invited us into the living room, where she shared something I’d forgotten: My mom fell in love with this house after spending the night with the original owner, a friend of hers. When it came up for sale years later, she and my dad bought it.
Emma said that my Mom had tears in her eyes as she handed over the house keys. She told Emma, “I prayed for years for this house to sell, and now I know that it didn’t sell because it was waiting for you. This is your house.”
Then my mother hugged Emma in the foyer – right where Emma hugged me that day.
Mom told Emma how her children might want to walk through the house one last time, but years passed and they lost touch. I can’t help but think that my mom opened the door for my visit on February 6th. When Emma invited me in, it felt completely natural, almost like she was expecting me.
After the hardest morning of my life, I felt peace and comfort. Somehow, God orchestrated this. He knew what my heart needed, and I felt my mom’s spirit in this very familiar place. What also hit me was how my mom’s fingerprints had truly touched every aspect of my life.
Even my childhood home – the place that shaped me, my siblings, and our friends – was chosen by my mom. She turned it into a place of warmth and magical memories. Our home was not fancy, luxurious, or big by today’s standards…but it had HEART. It had a quality that money can’t buy, one that comes from the love, joy, and laughter of family and good friends.
Hearing Emma’s stories about her family in this home helped me let go. I realized this house would always be special because it shaped and bonded our family, but it no longer belonged to us. While some things remained the same, a lot had changed. Some changes made me sad, such as the loss of both the dollhouse my grandfather built and the magnolia tree in the front yard.
My mom loved that tree dearly and always cut flowers from it when she had a party.
I learned from Emma how the dollhouse had caved in, and how the magnolia tree had to be cut down when its roots grew into the sewer system. This reiterated a truth I’d witnessed that morning: What is tangible is temporary. What we can see and touch – an earthly body, a home, a favorite magnolia tree – will eventually expire. While we should enjoy these gifts, take care of them, and appreciate their beauty, we can’t put our faith in them.
We can’t expect the landscape of our past to never change, because it will. If we live our lives dwelling on old memories and always wishing to go back, then we will miss the new chapters still ahead through the hope of Christ.
On the day before Mom’s funeral, Emma graciously allowed our family to walk through the house. We had a large crew, including my dad, siblings and 15 grandkids. What a gift for them to see the home that built their parents.
I’ll always feel nostalgic as I look at the picture above of my family at my childhood home. Though it wasn’t a happy picture day for me (my little sister’s hair curled, and mine didn’t), it was a happy home.
My parents gave us roots and wings. While those roots make us ache for our childhood, those wings propel us forward.
Now, it’s our turn to do the same. Like my mom, I hope to leave fingerprints that endure in the hearts of my daughters, fingerprints that keep my spirit alive long after I am gone.*
Do you have any rich memories of going home again? If so, share them in the comment section below.
*Thanks for sharing your story, Kari Kampakis! I retitled and edited it, with her permission. Click here to read the original version, “The House that Built Me” by Kari Kampakis.
Kari Kampakis is a Birmingham mom of four girls and author of the newly released LOVE HER WELL: 10 WAYS TO FIND JOY AND CONNECTION WITH YOUR TEENAGE DAUGHTER, available everywhere books are sold.
Her books for teen and tween girls, LIKED and 10 ULTIMATE TRUTHS GIRLS SHOULD KNOW, have been used widely across the U.S. for small group studies. Find Kari on Facebook and Instagram, visit her blog at karikampakis.com, or find her on the Girl Mom podcast.