Halfway down the departures board, I could see that Air New Zealand flight NZ39, bound for London via Hong Kong, was now open for check-in. The pit of my stomach was churning with unbidden feelings and the thought of twenty-four plus hours on a plane made me queasy. Not an hour previous, we'd all - friends and family - been sitting round the dinner table over steaming bowls of pasta and sauces, talking ten to the dozen about Christmas Eve barbecues on the beach, walks in the bush, surprise stockings on Christmas morning and how much wine we had drunk.
The easy friendship we had slipped out of focus, replaced by a stilted awkwardness and the quiet dread of parting that we had been carefully ignoring for days. The well-intentioned bonhomie of the greeting staff did nothing to lighten the mood. The baggage check-in was too quick to offer any delay of the inevitable moment. Tears, hugs, promises to write, more tears, make-sure-you-call-mes, hand-holding; the six of us taking turns, making sure we left no-one out. Then, moving quickly as if on an unspoken command, we walked away with pursed lips and lowered gazes, no-one daring to look around for that last glimpse.
Looking around, I checked the family were settled and made sure that, regardless of the tears, all had their belts fastened. Not one of us said a word, for there was really nothing to say; we knew that this situation could arise and now we faced it as best we could. Leaving good friends behind to head home was always going to be a factor but no amount of awareness prepared us for the heartache. With a deep breath, I looked over my shoulder one last time, pulled out into the traffic and headed home. In ten short days, we'd be back at the airport, standing in Arrivals, waiting to spot Granny and Grandad among the weary folks exiting the Customs Hall and starting the whole process all over again.