love and loss on the road: this traveller's biggest regret

It's taken me a long time to write this post.

Even now, thinking about it, putting pen to paper or fingers to keys is not without its challenges, and before I finish this story, I have no doubt more than a few tears will have fallen.

Losing something, or someone close to you is never easy; it's not supposed to be. But when that happens, and you are thousands of miles away, there are few things in life that can come so close to destroying you.

When we left for Mexico, close to three years ago now, I left behind a life in London, a good career, friends and family. I left the UK again for the second time in less than a decade. As days passed filled with adventures big or small, phone calls home created an illusion of a world that had stopped turning for those I had left behind. And yet, things were changing.

Maybe I just didn't want to think about it.

When I hopped on that plane, I left behind a grandmother whose health was faltering. A grandmother that had been in my life more than most for 31 years, a grandmother I thought would always be there.

I never imagined that one day she might not.

Her deterioration over the last few years had been slow but steady. Lost memories and repeated hospital visits, the slow decline of an old woman who was once so proud. 

Throughout the first year of that trip, phone calls to my parents revealed an increasing need for care, the inevitable move to a residential home and emergency departments visits that begged the question: should I come home? My mother's response was always no, she'll be fine.

Until one day, it wasn't. 

It was a cool day in Santiago when I received the email I had been dreading for months. As she slipped in and out of consciousness I scrambled to book flights to the other side of the world, barely registering the cost of flying with only 10 hours notice. That flight was by far one of the most traumatic moments of my life.

Travelling far above the earth, out of contact with those that I should have been next to. 

Opening the door to her cold and clinical side room, I was confronted with a fragile vision of the woman who had been such a huge part of my life. Everybody had told her to hold on, and through her drug-induced haze she had done just that.

She had waited for me to say goodbye.

Amazingly, she held on longer than any of us had ever expected. Long enough that on the day I had to return to Chile, it was a nursing home where she was to spend the rest of her days. When I kissed her pale skin and told her I loved her, I knew it would be the last time I would hold her in my arms, and yet two weeks later when I received a call to say she had gone, my whole world fell apart all over again.

The guilt I felt for being so far away has still not gone; in some ways it has grown stronger. Not only do I pine for my grandmother, I regret all the years I have spent away from my parents. And yet, when your biggest drive in life is to see the world, to go and do just that can be the toughest choice of all.

At what point do the choices you make become selfish, even when you're told that you should follow your dreams?

My grandmother loved to travel. Despite a husband (and a beloved grandfather) that refused to ever step foot on a plane, they spent weeks exploring small towns and big cities across Europe.

A few months ago, inside a dusty suitcase retrieved from a musty cellar I discovered hundreds of old photographs. Black and white pictures of my great uncles at war, and even older photographs of them when they were young. Packets and packets of my grandmother as a child, long gone pets and street parties. Yet, as the pictures gained colour, and my relatives wrinkles, I realised I was it was holiday photos that I had now stumbled across. Family holidays to seaside towns, and later, the annual trips my grandparents would take abroad.

Smiles and sunburnt cheeks, a happiness that radiated even through the grainiest of images. 

I always assumed that my wanderlust came from my dad - the reminder that it may have been from the old woman who loved and was loved, so dearly, makes being absent from her side for so long a little easier.


we don't just write guides - more musings below