Recently my nana was taken into hospital with blood clots in her lungs. That's the kind of condition that can be suddenly fatal, or from which one can make a full recovery. I found out about her condition on Tuesday evening, after she'd been in hospital for a few days and her situation looked serious. At the time I was in Brussels, due to fly to Geneva on the Thursday to give a talk, and then to Belgrade on the Saturday to attend a week long conference. I tried to find a way to fit in a trip to the UK to see her while I still could. Leaving that a week or more could have meant it was too late.
Having lost my other grandmother while I was in the USA (having visited her in hospital a couple of weeks before) I didn't want the same thing to happen to my nana while I was away. She's a central part of my mother's side of the family, linking my rather large extended family together and for as long as I can remember hosting very successful parties on Hallowe'en (very close to her birthday.) When I think of my nana I usually have memories of when I was a teenager and still living in Crewe. She loved to make us bacon sandwiches, rice pudding, and cups of tea. (I still enjoy a good cup of tea when I visit her.) So when I found out she might not leave the hospital alive I found myself dealing with the potential of a double loss, first that I might lose my nana, and second that I might lose one of my strongest connections to my past and to the rest of my family.
My decision to move abroad for a few years was largely a response to my brother's suicide, and it was a good opportunity to get away and clear my mind of troubles while I got the rest of my life back together again. I saw staying in academia as the easy option in terms of my emotional state (it's obviously the more challenging option, intellectually, which also helped.) But now, nine years after Dylan's death it's fairly obvious that I've come to terms with that loss and moved with my life. In the meantime I'm still living abroad while my nana is rushed into hospital while a potentially life threatening condition, and all I can think of is that I don't want her to die before I return to the UK. The whole incident has reinforced all the reasons why I want to return. There are many sacrifices that have to be made to be a nomadic scientist (or nomadic in any profession) but close family members are not sacrifices I want to make. I've been away for eight years now, and people's lives have moved on, some people have had brushes with death. On the other hand I'm just eight years older and eight years more experienced and there's nothing really keeping me in Belgium (or anywhere else) long term.
I get the feeling that had my nana died while I was abroad and I suffered from amnesia about the past few years, the first question I'd ask myself would be "Why were you still in Belgium in the first place?" I don't think I could provide an answer to that question that wouldn't work equally well if I chose to live in the UK instead.