There is a Baz Luhrmann song called Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen. It has a wonderful line about why worrying is a waste of time.
“Don't worry about the future, or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble-gum.
The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind.
The kind that blindsides you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.”
In 2016, we set off on our fourth extended trip with the idea that we would be away a year or more. We made it through 14 countries and arrived in Srinagar in Kashmir in the far north of India.
On the way we had visited ‘the most inhospitable place on earth’, stayed in Cairo at a time when bombings were an almost weekly occurrence, scuba-dived un-caged, with bull sharks and taken a 45-hour local bus journey down the length of Mozambique. All things that one could argue might cause considerable worry.
It was a weekday afternoon when the real worry arrived. Kashmir is a restricted zone with armed barricades on every street corner and a real feel that you’re in a warzone, yet it was the text from my sister that caused the actual panic.
My mum had been ill for a while with one of those illnesses where you’re back and forth to the doctors, and they appear to guess at what is wrong with you. She was finally sent for a chest X-Ray where, my sister’s text informed me, that they had found a cancerous growth in my mum’s lung.
(Tara the amazing elephant we met in India)
The internet in the hotel where we were staying only worked in tiny bursts. And India, being one of the most awkward countries in the world, makes it very difficult to get your own sim card so you can get the internet on your phone.
I could write an entire article on how much I disliked India, but I’m not going to: I leave that kind of articles for the Matador Network. But after six weeks in the country, I have to say I was more than ready to leave. We had actually booked flights to go to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia for the summer, when my sister’s second text arrived the following day.
The lack of internet and tricky nature of this part of the world made phone calls very difficult, so we had to wait for texts coming through.
The X-Ray had, of course, caused concern, and they had taken my mum to hospital. The next day she had gone for a scan that had confirmed that it was lung cancer and, worse than that, it was terminal.
My sister wrote, ‘I can’t tell you to come home, but I don’t want you to regret it if you don’t.’
(My mum and me when I was a tiny baby)
There isn’t much choice in one’s reply to that kind of text. I told my sister I would get on the next plane and be there as soon as I could. It took two hours walking around Srinagar to anywhere that had working internet. Super slow internet with pages taking minutes to load is enough to make you want to punch your laptop to death when you’re trying to book flights.
Two days later we arrived back in the UK. After not sleeping for two days and 36 hours in transit, my sister took me to the hospital. It was late in the evening. She told me that she ‘couldn’t live with herself if we left it till the morning and something happened’.
In less than a week I had gone from walking through the stunning tulip gardens in Kashmir to my mum’s bedside where she struggled to breathe.
My dad has been ill with dementia for many years and needs a lot of support. For nearly 50 years my parents had each other, they weren’t social people, preferring to keep each other company. They watched TV, read and, well, that was pretty much it.
With my mum in the hospital someone had to be there to support my dad, so Alex and I moved in. The next few days were a blur of jet lag and circumstance. I vaguely remember a conversation with the doctor and my sister where he told us that my mum had ‘days to weeks, at best’ to live.
Mum decided that she wanted to come home and two days later Alex and I were sole carers for my dying mother and my dad with dementia. If you add in an old, grumpy dog that had taken to crapping on the floor in the bathroom and a house in disrepair, life had taken a decidedly dark turn.
Two weeks later my mum died. There are many things that we’re not prepared for in life, and I think nursing your mum as she wastes away, loses her mind and dies is one of them.
But what could I do? I was hardly going to say that I was too busy travelling and having adventures to come home.
I have always been one for moving forward. For accepting that this is where I am, and no matter how I got here, dwelling on it will do me no favours.
With that in mind, that left my dad, in pieces, as you can imagine, and in need of a lot of support. I don’t think that he should have to go into a home, but he can’t live alone.
Have you had those moments in life where you wonder ‘what now’? Well, this last two months has brought many of them.
So, right now, my husband and I are re-evaluating our lives and working out how we can have the life of a traveller while caring for my dad and renovating my parents’ home.
It’s a challenge, I can tell you that. Still, when life isn’t a challenge, it gets boring.