Expert advice says not to make big decisions in the aftermath of a trauma. (Oops! We made the biggest.)
Quitting our jobs and selling it all to travel was a colossal decision, and I do understand the advice on why we shouldn’t have done it. It was done largely on a whim, completely borne from grief, and ultimately could have been a disaster. Thankfully, I look back on those almost eight years with overwhelming joy, but I would be remiss if I also didn’t address some of the pain that accompanied it. Some of those pains which I am only coming to realize now that I have stepped away from our nomadic life.
Traveling – despite all of its benefits and bliss that brought me out of one of the darkest periods of my life – also enabled that which may not have been healthy for me at the time. Walls had grown around me out of my grief, and with my life in a constant state of movement, there was nothing to combat nor slow their erection.
Sure, one of the greatest benefits of travel is being able to meet people all over the globe not likely encountered otherwise, but those relationships are largely temporary. Commitment is little, and the flow of people in and out of our lives was constant. It was numbing, even. And with no physical community around us, it was also easy to turn it on and off as we pleased. If I didn’t want to see anyone for days, I didn’t have to.
At once, travel strengthened our marriage – allowing Pete and I to develop a deeper connection than I ever imagined possible (if not making us a little co-dependent). But then again, the number of deep friendships I have kept over the last eight years can be counted on two hands. Considering the number of people we’ve met, I find that statistic quite dismal. But the reason is simple.
I couldn’t get hurt then, could I? After being battered by the loss of loved ones, embracing new relationships would put me at risk for more loss and more misery. And travel was the ultimate enabler. It was an excuse to keep me from becoming too close to any one person or being given that we were constantly on the move, and it even facilitated some substantial breadth between those that were already dear to me.
NOW THAT WE’VE SETTLED
My heart has been broken several times.
It started with Beau, the sweet kitty that got me through many foggy days. His constant presence during my frequent stretches of illness has been missed during the most recent. His passing was due, given his ripe old age, but given the affection we shared in the past year, his loss impacted me heavily (so much so that we booked a trip).
My grandma also passed recently. Our family lost her many years ago to dementia, and given that she had clocked in a full 100 years, there was little to begrudge the death. With fewer kilometres between me and my family as they mourned her (I could not make the trip to the funeral), I believe I felt our collective sadness much more acutely.
And very soon, we will lose another furry loved one. Teija is in end-stage kidney failure and her days are limited; she has lost substantial weight and is far from the spry and curious cat she was for her 17 years. In Beau’s absence she became my eager cuddle-partner and earned her nickname of First Responder. In my toughest moments she was the first one beside me, even before Pete or my mom, sitting by my shoulder and even reaching out her paw to touch my arm. I had always heard stories of this instinctive nature of her’s but had never seen it first hand until the past few months.
BETTER TO HAVE LOVED AND LOST?
For six weeks now, we’ve had Norman.
His adoption was a bit impulsive; I somehow found myself exposed to animal shelter photos and was drawn in completely. Norman had been at the no-kill shelter for almost 3 years and they estimated his age at 9 or 10. His image, out of dozens, called out to me immediately. He sat so stately and was described in the caption as a gentle old boy. His gentleness, confirmed on our site visit, would be a good match for Teija’s dominance. He was loving and well-groomed and attentive to us.
And with that, I was sold. He was ours.
We’ve had a rocky start with Teija not being as accepting as we thought she would be (and we would discover her frail state within a few weeks of bringing the new one home), and with Norman’s skittishness at every little sound and movement. But he’s adjusted and she has too – they may not be best buddies but they are tolerant. My heart pains at the thought of this stress inflicted on Teija in her final days, and that I’ve opened myself up again to love another furball who likely (given his breed) only has a handful of years left.
But then Norman rolls himself closer to me on the carpet and leans his head into my petting hand, or sits so stately once again as he waits for his dinner to be served. Sometimes he hilariously sits with his tongue sticking out given that he has few teeth left to hold it in properly. Each tiny meow or stretch of his long fluffy body endears him to me even more.
My guarded heart, protected for eight years, has been opened to battering once again as I surround myself with loved ones old and new. But love costs a lot, ultimately, because it gives a lot. My mission henceforth will be to get and give as much as I can.