Three of my kids and I were driving down I-95 on our way to Shrewsbury, Mass., to visit my mother, their grandmother, whom they called Mummu, a reflection of her Finnish heritage.

As we crossed the Piscataqua River bridge and saw the sign welcoming us to New Hampshire, the level of excitement rose. We were that much closer to family, that much closer to the home where I had grown up, that much closer to my mom.

Our visits usually lasted for a few days before saying our goodbyes, having our hugs and kisses until the next time. On our way back to Maine, the sign on the bridge welcomes us back to our other life, where their dad was at home taking care of the animals and gardens while we were away.

When my mother died, shortly before our fourth child – a son – was born, we drove down to the funeral; but on that trip and on every successive trip to visit family in Massachusetts, it no longer felt like I was traveling towards home. The mother, my mother, was no longer there, and so home was no longer there.

That new reality became abundantly clear on a memorable trip, once again to see family in Massachusetts. Our younger son, then about 3, who had never met his grandmother, was sitting in his car seat as we approached the Piscataqua River bridge. Of all our children, he was he one who would follow his father around the barn as he did chores. He loves being with the cows and beef critters, whose names he recites like a litany of farewell as we approached the sign that represented the boundary between the two states.

“Goodbye Ginger, goodbye Sammy, goodbye Sonja, goodbye Honoris,” and so on, until he reached the end of his list. Thereupon he burst into tears as he said “Goodbye Dad.”

I had an immediate and complete knowing in that moment that Maine was our home. I’d known for several years of traveling that route following my mother’s death that I no longer felt I was going home when we went down to visit, but it was my son’s tears that made clear our new reality. Maine was home and always would be home. When we returned from that trip, there was plenty of horn-honking and cheering as we passed under the sign and were welcomed home to Maine.

Now I was the mother.

Meetinghouse is a community storytelling project hosted by the Maine Sunday Telegram.

Read more stories from Maine at www.pressherald.com/meetinghouse