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.
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.
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 .
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 I had chosen the well travelled road?
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.
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.
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?