I figure I'll say this now, so I won't have to worry about it later.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about choosing to stay abroad, as an expat with an established life, despite my mother's battle with cancer (endometrial that, despite a hysterectomy, spread to her lung over a decade later). I can't find that post now, but when I do, I'll link it. With a prognosis of "we have many treatments and it could be several years", it made sense to stay, and to prioritize visiting at least once a year, if not always at the same time of year.
Well, that's changed. The treatments were all successful - for a time. She had proton therapy, and it took care of the cancer in her lung. She felt great. We all were high with hope that she'd be around for another decade or more.
But it came back - this time in her lymphatic system. All treatments with a hope of remission have been exhausted, now there's only palliative/stabilizing treatment. Is there an outside chance it could truly stabilize? Sure. Is it likely? Well...
Anyway the prognosis is "about a year" - maybe a little more, maybe a little...less.
So, I've made the choice to move home. Not permanently, but still, I'm going to have to find work etc. and get used to life in the Hudson Valley. I'll probably end up working in Poughkeepsie, Kingston, White Plains...who knows. I'm going to leave just before Christmas.
At least, everyone else seems to think it's a choice. I have a husband, a career, an apartment and two cats in Taipei: I suppose theoretically I could have made the decision to stay and just visit. But I don't see how that's a viable option - moving home is the best of a raft of choices made under terrible circumstances.
Brendan will stay in Taipei and look after the apartment and cats - he'll probably get a roommate for our lovely, but tiny (and yet surprisingly outfitted with storage) guest room to help with rent. So, uh, if you know someone who needs a furnished room, especially if they don't want to stay very long term but are here to study Chinese or something, send 'em our way.
I'll be back...whenever I'm back. Between the cats, the apartment and the double unemployment, I don't see how we can both make the move right now, when we intend to continue our life in Taipei. We'll try to figure out a way for him to visit a few times, although it's going to be hard, as we're basically draining our savings to send me home, right at a very inopportune time. Well. We started from scratch after Turkey (we needed to take that trip - not only for my lifelong dream of going to my ancestral homeland on Musa Dagh but also to get our CELTA certificates). We can do it again. If there is one thing we are both good at doing, it's finding and pressing the reset button.
My sister will also be moving home - who knows for how long.
So what about me? And, for the purposes of this post, what about any settled expat who finds themselves in this situation?
Well, I find it really helps to:
1.) Look at the one more-or-less good thing to come out of the whole nightmare. If you have more than one thing, great. For me, it's that rather than a hellish surprise, we have a "prognosis". What that prognosis is is a sign saying, "this is literally the worst thing ever, but you get to know in advance so you can spend time with your loved one". At least I have this year. A tragedy like a car accident is horrible in that you just don't know - you'll never know when you say goodbye if that's the last time you'll ever see that person. A prognosis means that you have the time to make a decision and to make the most of the time. I'd much rather that than a phone call in the middle of the night.
2.) Own your decision. I am not doing this for work, and I'm certainly not doing it for my marriage (although that is strong - very strong, probably one of the strongest ones you might come across. If there's one thing I have 110% faith in, it's that Brendan and I will be okay). I have to put my education on hold. My sister and I are doing this so that we can treat our mom like a queen for the next few months, and have family time we would not have otherwise gotten. Knowing that, when I say "own your decision", I really mean it. My job prospects are better in New York, where I could easily get a job in a language center. I wouldn't be any sort of New York elite but I could live on that. But what "own your decision" means isn't "decamp for New York City because the Hudson Valley has terrible job prospects for my qualifications, and I don't want to work in Kingston anyhow", but "I'm doing this for my mom, so I need to be near my mom". And that means the Hudson Valley if at all possible - not New York. That means living at home if I can. If I have to wait tables or scrub floors, I will (although it is a truly unfortunate restauranteur who hires me to wait tables - I'm a terrible waitress). You can't half-ass something like this. To quote the ever-quotable Simpsons, you've got to use your whole ass.
3.) Don't overthink it. It is not possible to "do the math" and think of an optimal time to come home, because that's not how prognoses work. You just have to pick a time and do it, and not think too much about the variables, because you can't predict them. You can't predict if it'll be 8 months or 2 years. You can't predict exactly what kind of work you're going to do or how you're going to get there (my biggest worry is transportation - I'm not a confident driver and we don't have an extra car anyhow. My sister is going to try to source one, and we're going to do our best to carpool). You can't know exactly how much money you'll need - you just have to do what you can and figure out what's possible from the options life hurls at you at any time. I'm lucky - I know my family will give me a roof over my head and food in my stomach, and that my sister and I will stick together through this - which mostly involves my making sure she is financially okay, and her making sure I have transportation as I'm not a confident driver. Not everyone is so lucky, but it really is about accepting a level of ambiguity in how the future will play out, and being ready to re-evaluate at any time from the options at hand.
4.) Don't expect much. This is an offshoot of "don't overthink it". Life hasn't handed you the option of finding a job you like near your family that will allow you to save money, until it does, if it does. It hasn't handed you a graduate school scholarship, nor has it handed you (okay, me) tuition for Delta Module 2 in New York. So it's unproductive to expect that those things will fall from the sky for you, or that you are entitled to them (if someone reading this is ever in my situation, you probably aren't that concerned about Delta Module 2, but I am). As above - if your priority is your loved one, then own that, and everything else can be compromised on.
So, what else?
Well, I will be back. Don't give up on my little blog just yet.
In order to keep some sense of normalcy until I go, I'll keep doing what I usually do, so you can expect updates here.
I'll occasionally blog while I am away, but it might be largely quiet. I do want to maintain some sort of connection to Taiwan.
And, does anyone know where I can confirm for absolute certain that I can leave Taiwan for up to 5 years without losing my APRC? It used to be 6 months. I need to know, as I may well be gone for more than 6 months (I would be heartbroken to be away from Brendan, but overjoyed at getting more time with my mom if so - with emotions like that, it's hard to feel anything other than numb).
Oh yeah, and:
5.) Know that you are making the right decision. If you're an expat with a terminally ill close family member or loved one, what would you regret more: spending the time you have with that person, creating lots of memories, or staying abroad, knowing you may only see them once more, if ever again? Most likely you'll regret the latter more than the former. You could make an argument for staying - I think a lot of people with families, even if they don't have children, might - but, hey, I don't know about you, but I know I'd regret not going.
Oh, hey, and if anyone knows of any good ESL teaching jobs in the Hudson Valley, send 'em my way.