Choices

When I return to Australia in September this year, it will be the first time there won’t be a dog waiting to greet me.

Kara, Hutch and Claude

Back in 2003, we left three of the family’s dogs with my daughter who continued to live in our home. Three friends. Claude, the renowned beagle of Mt Eliza was very ill when we left and I knew we were saying goodbye to him. He died about a week later, but, Kara, a big, hairy German shepherd with a gentle nature, and Hutch, the kelpie-like mutt who lived to fetch balls, sticks, or anything we cared to throw, were both still young.

I’m not sure if it occurred to me that Kara and Hutch would also be gone by the time we returned to live in Australia. Our future felt so unknown at the time.

Kara died in 2008, and this month, Hutchie left us, too. It broke my heart on many levels, but also brought to mind my grief for the other friends who are no longer there for me to visit. Two of my closest friends, Monica and Judy, already had cancer when we left, but I kidded myself that they were both doing well, the cancer was in remission and they would still be around when we returned. Monica died the following year, but Judy hung on for another two years.

Judy, sitting, and Monica, standing, with my daughter at a farewell lunch.

My third and lifelong friend, my sister Helen – my confidant, adviser, mentor and almost mother substitute – was healthy when we left and I never allowed myself to consider she might also be gone when I returned. But she is. She died in 2011, nine months after her cancer diagnosis .

My sister Helen in Glasgow

When we left Australia, we didn’t know how long we would stay away. We tossed out vague references about allowing three years to assess how we felt but rarely mentioned the possibility of stretching the stay until Tony retired in ten years time. Our friends didn’t want to hear that.

Now, facing no dog to greet me, and massive holes where good friends and family were, I find myself asking the question, would I have made the choice to leave what I knew and loved if I had known my friends would no longer be there when I returned?

What if…?

What if I had chosen the well travelled road?

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Pollock Park

Pollock Park

I can never know the answer. Robert Frost was right when he points out, how way leads on to way. There is no going back to choose the other path, and I guess, like Frost, I tell this with a sigh, but only fleetingly.

Because we lived overseas, my sister spent a full month living and travelling with us in Florida, and another here in Scotland. They were joyful months filled with fun, endless chats and doing things we never had time to do together when we were both working and raising families. If I had stayed in Australia, I would still be working.

I also had the privilege of being able to be with each of my friends in their final days, to spend quality time with them and help care for them, to be the midwife as they made a transition, not into this world, but out of it.  It was an honour  and a gift to be able to spend precious time with them without the normal workday constraints.

I can only guess what my life may have been like if I had stayed, but ultimately, despite moments of sadness, I’m glad I chose the less travelled path.

Currently, that path has me in Scotland’s Summer and last week, the slightly warmer temperatures encouraged me to choose to go for a walk and take some photographs. The Scots know how to make the best of a small city garden and the conditions here bring the gardens alive with beautiful flowers in the summer.

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I agonised over the decision to leave Australia, but returning is a given. That’s because my heart has made the choice for me, and when the heart decides, there’s no argument.

Do you have a hard time making big decisions? Do you follow your heart, or let your head get in the way?

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20 thoughts on “Choices

  1. Juli what a wonderful post. It brought tears to my eyes, but I think you are right in that you appreciated those friendships so much more precisely because you weren’t living in Aus. Take care and I can’t imagine what it must be like to be going home after ten years – scary and exhilarating.

    • Thank you, Juliet.
      Going home isn’t scary, Remember, my children are there.
      I love change and it will be fun to be back with the old familiar stomping ground, despite the changes that have happened. Fun to discover those differences, and far easier than moving somewhere entirely new. I’m getting very impatient, wish I could skip the sorting out what needs to go and all that other moving messiness. I just want to BE there. 🙂

  2. This is very moving. Now that I’m in the process of pursuing a residency visa, I can’t leave Australia, and it will be at least a year before I’m able to. I’m terrified that there may be death or other major life event in my family and I won’t be able to get there for it.

    • Oh, I know that feeling, Cosette, but you are much younger than me, so I daresay you’re safe. And if something happened that made it very important for you to return, I think there are exceptional circumstances you can plead for.
      Trust all will be well. As a friend recently said to me, worry is a misuse of the imagination – a Sr Thomasina quote. 🙂

  3. Lovely to read,Juli,and wonderful to see the photos of people that were special to us.Having changed countries permanently 40 years ago, I have sometimes had the same feelings you express.What if? However,I feel this is what life made up of.Layers of joy.Layers of despair.That is if you’re lucky and prepared to take a chance..Many decisions,twists and turns.None ever perfect, but all have something to offer.I believe this is what provides colour in life,and helps us grow.

    • Agree, Jill. I also feel there’s a level of destiny in the choices we make, as often I feel compelled to choose a certain path and follow it through, as if I had no choice.
      I have always been impressed by people who choose to permanently live in a country other than their home country, but my admiration has gone up a notch since we did it on a temporary basis,

      • Yes,destiny.I certainly felt compelled to live in Australia one day.I just didn’t know when,how or why.Ten years is hardly to be regarded as temporary! I still think it was a brave choice.But it was the right choice.

  4. Very nice words mum, it really made me think about where and what I would be doing if any small decision I have made was made differently.

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  6. Your post brings tears to my eyes, Julie, and moments of understanding.

    As an expat stay-at-home wife, I was able to spend three months with my Mom and Dad when she went in for surgery in October 2008 … had complications … and passed away in December 2008. It would not have been possible to spend so much time with them – and emotionally support my Dad in our daily trips to the hospital and then hospice, while my brothers had to work – if I’d been working in the States.

    Yet the reality of being so far away from them across the Atlantic Ocean still causes me a little guilt, especially now as my Dad is failing. I spent three weeks with him in September, something I couldn’t have done if I’d been in the U.S. and working full time – that’s the reality I have to acknowledge and appreciate.

    Your images of your dogs, friends, and family are beautiful. I know they live in your heart.

    I found your post through Cosette’s blog “stumbledownunder” – I will enjoy reading your past posts about your transition back to your native home, as I will be doing that one day also!

  7. Thank you for coming over and commenting, Cindi. Lovely words.

    I’m glad you’ve also appreciated the benefits of the freedom our moves away from our homelands have given us. I admire everyone who has to leave their homeland, be it by choice or not, it is a brave act. But it does come with benefits.

    I love Cosette’s blog. She is another expat who makes the most out of her adventure.

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  9. What a beautiful post. I’m so sorry for your losses. You are right. It doesn’t make sense to ask what if. When we as the what if we always imagine things to go a certain way but they might just as well not go the way we think they would. So rather have what we have then miss out on that too…

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