Friday, December 13, 2019

Twelve weeks

Twelve weeks ago today my husband Nigel died. So much has happened since then, but I still have a very long way to go, as today reminded me. Actually, I’ve been aware of that for 12 weeks.

Today I had a few cries, which, of course, isn’t unusual: Half of me was ripped away, and that hasn’t even begun to heal. That’s why I talked about feeling “happy-ish” about the new house: I’m not happy, and I have no idea when I will be, or even if I will be (though I expect to be happier someday). This is where I still have the farthest to go.

In Nigel’s last couple weeks, we talked about everything we needed to say. He asked me at one point if I had any questions for him, and, knowing he knew from personal experience what I’d be facing, I asked him, “how long does it take, not before feeling better, but before it doesn’t hurt so fucking much?” He said that while it’s not linear (which I knew, of course), after three or four months there would more times when I wouldn’t feel sad all the time. Slowly, those times will become more often, he said, but even a long time afterward, emotions can strike back without warning. So far, that’s exactly how it’s played out. In fact, only a few short weeks ago I couldn’t have imagined ever describing myself even as “happy-ish”.

I think about that all the time, and that it means that even now, twelve weeks after he died, Nigel’s still giving me comfort and wisdom. He’d be glad I listened—and he’d probably make fun of me for supposedly never listening to him. That was one of his things.

While Nigel’s been in my thoughts most of the day today, I didn’t have an especially bad day (having a few cries in a day is my normal life, and it’s somewhat better than it’s been). I didn’t have a great day, but that was mainly because I’m just plain worn out from work, from grief, from trying so hard to find a path for myself alone.

I used the word “alone” to underscore an important point: While the family has been extremely supportive and helpful, and, as I said the other day, that would make Nigel very happy, everyone knows that, ultimately, this is a journey I must take alone because only I can find and make a life for myself. I don’t want to do that—I want my old life back—so even as I try to move forward, I’m still held back by not wanting to even have to do it—I want Nigel back. It’s up to me to work though that at my own pace.

And yet, I really am better today than I was twelve weeks ago, just as Nigel told me I would be. I really am “happy-ish” about moving to my new home (I found out today that it really might be possible to move up settlement after all, something that would be good for all sorts of reasons). And I’m happy that even though I don’t share life with Nigel any more, I still benefit from his wisdom, and his love.

Twelve weeks ago today my Nigel died. So much has happened since then, and I still have a very long way to go. I’ve been aware of that for the entire 12 weeks, especially today.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Big news about moving forward

There are times when things happen that we want to talk about, but for any number of reasons, we just can’t. I’ve just been through one of those times, and there’s a story there, but the headline version is this: I’ve officially bought a house in Hamilton.

A while back I talked about finding a section to build a house, but that wasn’t to be. The problem was that the developer’s covenants—which are legally binding rules—were far, far too restrictive. Developers’ covenants for new housing developments normally deal with the look and feel of the development, including minimum size of houses, how long construction may take, those kinds of things. But that developer went far beyond that to dictate behaviour of homeowners (among other restrictions, they dictated how many pets people could have, banned all campers, etc., and any of that could mean that any future neighbour who simply didn’t like me could have made my life difficult by enforcing the covenants, which are legally binding on all owners).

Because of those covenants, that whole thing fell apart a couple weeks ago, and while I’ve become very matter-of-fact about all this sort of stuff, it was nevertheless disappointing. That and other things going on left me felt feeling quite down, so I decided to go to Hamilton to be around family.

I arrived on Saturday (November 30), and my brother-in-law suggested we go look at some areas of Hamilton that I hadn’t considered very much. We set off, with my brother-in-law being tour guide, and we ended up going to a new development. It was nice, with all the houses either new or under construction. After we drove around a bit, we decided to move on.

As we were leaving the development, we noticed a real estate agent putting up a sign for an open home, and, even though we hadn’t planned on going to any open homes that day, we decided we may as well go have a look, anyway, since we were there. As we went back around the roundabout to head back into the development so we could go find the house, I thought to myself, “This is just the way this sort of thing would work out for me: I’m in a relatively random area of the city, by pure chance we see a real state agent putting up a sign, I go, look at it, like it, and buy it. Just like that.” And that’s what happened. Also, the agent that day was just filling in for the listing agent, so that coincidence of conditions was even more extensive.

The process for buying a house in New Zealand is fairly straightforward: A buyer makes an offer, which usually has at least a few conditions, that is, things that the buyer wants to specify to happen, such as, time to organise financing, getting official information from the local council (like the city government), that sort of thing. The vendor (seller) can accept or offer counter proposals, including on price. Once agreement is reached, the clock starts ticking.

Ordinarily, the countdown begins as soon as the vendor signs the agreement, or sometimes the next business day. The buyer’s solicitor (lawyer) usually has up to fifteen working days (excluding weekends) to complete everything. Once the conditions are all met, the offer is said to go unconditional. In my case, that happened today, some five working days after the contract went to my solicitor for review (shortening the time was the only thing the vendor changed in the contract).

At the end of the process is settlement, which is somewhat similar to closing in the USA. A few days before the settlement date, the buyer and seller go to their own solicitor’s office to sign the relevant paperwork, and that’s that until settlement day. On that day the buyer’s solicitor transfers to the vendor’s solicitor the funds to complete the purchase, and title to the property is transferred to the buyer. The buyer then picks up the keys, usually from the realtor, and that’s that.

In my case, settlement is on January 24, which, as it happens, will also be the eleventh anniversary of when Nigel and I had our civil union ceremony (back in those pre-marriage equality days). I, of course, knew that, but didn’t mention it until just now, in part because I’d hoped to move up the date. However, I now think that date is fine, and actually appropriate because it’s a sort of symbolic bridge for me. That means I’m likely to move in Saturday, January 25.

Obviously, I liked the house—in fact, I liked it when I saw it from the street. It’s brand new and will meet my needs now and also over the coming years as I get older. It also has a really good feel.

I honestly don’t know whether Nigel and I would have chosen it together, since it’s a three bedroom and we’d have looked for a four bedroom so we could each have an office (one of the things I learned in our life together was the importance of us each having our own space). However, after two and half decades together, I definitely do know that Nigel would have liked the house and he’d have liked it for me. It feels good to know that, but there was one more coincidence with the property: One of the investors in the overall development is Tainui Holdings, the investment arm of Tainui, the iwi (tribe) in the Waikato (the area Hamilton is in). That matters to me because Tainui was Nigel’s iwi. So, it’s like giving money back to his iwi, and it also feels like I belong there even before I move in.

All of this has arranged itself fairly effortlessly, which is one of the things people (especially my sister-in-law) said to me: When the house was right, it would be easy (or, maybe just not as difficult). She was right.

I’m keenly aware that some will see in all this the possibility that Nigel was helping/guiding me. Maybe so, maybe not. While I don’t believe in anything magical, nor am I in any way spiritual, the core point of being a sceptic is that anything is possible, and all it takes to work out what’s true and real is evidence. So, I certainly have an open mind.

What I do know for certain is this: I need to move to Hamilton in order to begin whatever my new life will become, and while moving there was always the plan for Nigel and me, none of this would be happening right now, or in this way, if Nigel hadn’t died. I also know that Nigel repeated many times in his final days that he wanted to make sure I’d be okay, and I will be. I know that he’d have liked the house I’ve chosen, and he’d have been very happy for me to live there. Is there anything supernatural beyond all that? I have no idea, but what I do know is more than enough for me.

I also know one more thing: I’d never have gotten to this point if it wasn’t for the love, support, and help of the family. That, too, would have made Nigel very happy.

When I got back to Auckland after I made the offer to buy that house, I told my -in-law, “For the first time in 10 1/2 weeks, I feel kinda happy. Well, happy-ish, maybe, but I’ll take it.” That’s still true.

There are times when things happen that we want to talk about, but we just can’t. In this case, I couldn’t talk about it because things had changed so many times already, and I wanted to be certain this was actually happening. Now, it’s certain: I’ve officially bought a house in Hamilton, and that makes me happiy-ish. Only 11 1/2 weeks after Nigel died, that’s a really good space for me to be in. The new place will be, too.

Saturday, December 07, 2019


We all accumulate stuff. Obviously. It includes stuff we use, stuff we never use, and maybe stuff we hope to use again one day when we’ve lost another kilo or two (I’m looking at you, favourite shirt I haven’t worn in ages). But when someone we love dies, all that gets raised to a whole new level because what they leave behind isn’t just stuff, it’s also all we have left of our loved one, and there can be powerful emotions attached to otherwise ordinary stuff. When that loved one is a spouse, that’s ramped up again several levels.

Since Nigel died, I’ve had to deal with all sorts of stuff, from groceries to underwear, and each thing takes separate decisions, some more emotionally burdened than others. For example, in our pantry right now are some things I bought specifically for Nigel, things I may never use. I’ve done my best to get through that sort of stuff—finishing the packets of chips he opened, for example, making meals that use something I bought for him. There are other things I’ve had no choice other than to throw away, like the squeezy yoghurts he had me buy in his final week or two because they were about all he could tolerate (they’d passed their use by date). Or the jar of apple sauce I got for him, which is still in the fridge. I don’t recall ever hearing anyone talk about how there are food items left behind that have to be dealt with, but there are, and it can cause a moment’s pause. In my case, dealing with the fridge and pantry didn’t particularly bother me, except that putting the yoghurts in the bin made me think of Nigel’s last days. Not for the first time. I got through it just fine, also not for the first time.

More commonly, people talk about the ordinary stuff their loved one leaves behind—clothes, toiletries, and other everyday items. Because we were both boys, I can keep and wear some of Nigel’s clothes—and I already do that all the time. Some of his shirts I had to give away because they didn’t fit me, and there will probably be more clothes to give away, too. This hasn’t bothered me; I’d rather that the stuff be used by somebody. To Nigel, a shirt was just a shirt, anyway.

I’ve already written about how, with the family’s help, I got all Nigel’s “toys” boxed up. I didn’t find that too bad, either, even though that happened closer to Nigel’s death. But there is so much stuff still left to deal with.

By a huge margin, though, the “stuff” I find hardest to deal with are all the seemingly innumerable details I need to finalise, and the fact that NO ONE makes that easy. In fact, most of it is far, FAR more difficult than it should be.

Here’s just one example. When I wanted to change the electricity to my name, I couldn’t do that—even though everything else was the same, the address, even the bank account the direct debits would be paid from, and that I was authorised to access the account. No, I had to close the account and open a new one, then fill out a new direct debit form to have the money come from the same account it was already coming from. Same with car insurance, actually. This has been repeated over and over and over, and sometimes it gets too much for me. Just yesterday I turned over two such annoying frustrations to my solicitor to sort out—that’s part of what I’m paying them to do, after all.

Every week there’s one or more things just like these examples, some small and petty annoyances, while others are far worse (like the ones I handed over to my solicitor). I may be moving along, slowly but surely, but I still absolutely can’t handle more than very minor frustration.

There’s another aspect to all this that I keep in mind, beyond the fact that Nigel would tell me to just get rid of whatever I don’t want, and that’s that I need to sort of clear the decks in order to make it possible for me to begin forming whatever my life will become. All that stuff tethers me to the past when that should be the job of my memories and my heart. Being burdened by stuff I don’t want and can’t use keeps me mired, in a sense, and I don’t want that. Nigel wouldn’t want it for me, either.

Over the past couple months in particular, I’ve made a lot of progress in figuring stuff out, then deciding what to do with stuff, and now I’ve moved on to the process of dealing with the stuff. It’s not an easy process under the best of circumstances, this sorting through and deciding what to do with leftover stuff—over and over again. And it’s not helped by having to deal with less tangible stuff—like electricity and other companies that make me live through Nigel’s death over and over by making it so damn difficult to just get on with things.

But despite all that, and despite the fact that so much of this feels like a crushing weight on me—on top of the crushing weight of losing Nigel—I’m still moving forward at my own pace. Remember what I said? “What I can, when I can”, and also, “Maybe tomorrow”. Because in addition to all this stuff I have to deal with, looking after myself has to be my top priority, even when that interferes with my own desire and need to move things forward faster.

We all accumulate stuff. The test lies in what we do about that. I’m passing that test, one day, one packet of chips, at a time.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

How I know it gets better

This week provides the reason I know things will get better for me, that this grieving will ease. I know because it’s already happened.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the USA, and it will also be ten weeks since Nigel died. That’s reason enough to for me to want to avoid the holiday, but I have another reason: My father died on Thanksgiving Day in 1979—forty years ago.

Forty years is a long time, and I no longer grieve my dad like I did back then. I laugh when I remember the funny things he said, I get appalled when I find myself saying things he did—or even standing like he did. How did I get that “old”? So, yeah, things did get better.

My dad’s death gives me one more piece of evidence that grief gets better: Thanksgiving Day 1979 was November 22 (the 23rd here in New Zealand)—last week. I didn’t remember. It’s true I have a helluva lot on my mind right now—trying to figure out what my new life might be, trying to get things organised to make that life possible, and all the day-to-day stuff I have to do right now (such as, for some reason the dogs stubbornly refuse to feed themselves). And the huge reality overshadowing all of that is my loss of Nigel. That’s at the centre of my thoughts and feelings right now.

There’s another fact about my forgetfulness, one that’s a little embarrassing. The real reason I didn’t remember the 40th anniversary of my dad’s death is that it was on Thanksgiving Day, which means I thought about him around that holiday, but the truth is that I didn’t remember the actual date—in fact, I had to look it up for this Note. Actually, my mother adds to this: I have no idea what date in 1980 she died—June sometime. Sure, I knew at one time, but the importance of remembering the dates faded as time went on.

Be that as it may, I doubt I’ll ever forget losing Nigel, and probably not the date. He was my husband, the one I chose to build my life with, who I loved and who loved me. We were soulmates. But there’s also the fact of time: My dad died forty years ago, and it took that long for me to actually forget about his death. I’m 60 now, and bad at arithmetic as I am, even I can work out I’m unlikely to live another 40 years. So, as long as I don’t lose my marbles, I’m unlikely to forget.

Because of all this, I can see that a time will come in which I won’t feel the pain as keenly, and I won’t be at risk of suddenly bursting into tears. But there will be one thing that will be different from my dad’s death: While I know that I’ll also remember all the funny things Nigel said (and he was very funny, though I seldom admitted that when he was alive…), and I know that I’ll also find myself saying things Nigel did, or even standing like he did, I know I won’t mind at all. In fact, I’ll smile.

So, I do know things will get better. The fact I forgot my dad’s death on its 40th anniversary shows that—and also why things are nowhere near getting better now. Nigel’s death is still overshadowing everything in my life right now, and it will for quite a while. But I still know it gets better. Eventually.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Hidden wounds

One of the things I’m told the most often is how well I’m doing. People will say that I’ve managed to get through a lot, that I’m making progress and showing strength and courage by doing so. They even say that Nigel would be proud of how well I’m doing, under the circumstances. It’s all said with sincerity and the best of intentions, and what they say is literally true (well, somewhat true at least…). And yet every time I hear such things I feel like a fraud because, to me, what can’t be seen far outweighs what can.

People see me making plans for where I’ll live, and they see me work on projects to make that happen. They see me chopping away at all the details of settling the estate, even though most are so small that I don’t even mention them. They see me get together with family rather than stay alone all the time. All of those definitely are noticeable, they really are signs of progress, and they’re also a small part of my reality.

Most people can guess that I miss Nigel keenly, but they may not realise that I miss him so much I sometimes feel actual physical pain. They’re not around me when I cry so much that my stomach muscles ache. They’re not around me when the ONLY thing I can think about is how fucking much I miss Nigel, and how I would literally do anything, pay any price, to have him back with me again and for this all to have been the worst nightmare I’ve ever awakened from.

But most of that isn’t visible most of the time because it’s rarely possible to “see” others’ pain. I seldom tear up, much less cry, in front of other people, and my sobbing is never public. They don’t know that at any moment I can be plunged into the abyss of grief, triggered by the smallest of things—or even nothing at all.

Not long after Nigel died, a much-loved long-time friend sent me a link to a piece by John Pavlovitz, which had been shared on Facebook at the time. In the piece from 2016, he was writing about grief, and how one sunny Saturday he’d received a phone call telling him that his father had died. Because of that, every Saturday after that became what he dubbed “a Grief Anniversary”. He wrote:
“In the wake of losing a loved one, everything in your life becomes a potential surprise memorial. Out of nowhere you are broadsided by days of the week or times of day or numbers on the calendar, or songs that were playing or cologne you were wearing or the feel of the grass beneath your knees as you fell at the news. These seemingly incessant reminders force you once again to observe the loss anew.”
For me, that’s been most common on Fridays, the day of the week that Nigel died. Sometimes Mondays, the day we said our final goodbyes, can throw a spanner in the works, too.

Pavlovitz continued:
“And since these days and times and triggers aren’t obvious to most people in our lives (and since we don’t have the time or the words to describe them all), they are usually unaware of just how much and just how often we mourn. Even those who are closest to us and care for us greatly remain largely oblivious to our recurring sadness. Our grief can feel like a very lonely journey, which in many ways it is because it is specific to us and to the one we’ve lost. It is a customized but hidden wound.”
It’s precisely because most people “are usually unaware of just how much and just how often we mourn” that it can appear as if we’re doing “better” than we really are. Which is not to say that we don’t keeping moving forward—most of us do, and I do, too. Instead, it means is that anyone mourning the loss of a loved one carries “a customized but hidden wound” that can open up with searing pain at any moment.

Until now, I never knew it was humanly possible to miss someone as much as I miss Nigel. I also didn’t know it was possible to love someone so much that this depth of pain would result from losing them. I guess I didn’t know much about love up until now.

So, when someone tells me how well I’m doing, that I’ve managed to get through a lot, that I’m making progress and showing strength and courage by doing so, or that Nigel would be proud of how well I’m doing under the circumstances, it’s all completely true from what they can see. And sure, all of that it IS good, and it IS progress, but I nevertheless feel like a fraud because, to me, my customised but hidden wound far outweighs what can be seen. We all carry hidden wounds of one sort or another. I really never realised that until now, either.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Black Friday here

New Zealand has Black Friday, too. Like the USA, where the shopping event was born, it’s not limited to a single day, but it also doesn’t inspire the same sort of shopping frenzy as the USA’s does. The photo above is of three retail flyers that arrived in the letterbox today alone. All the stores are part of the same New Zealand retailing company, but plenty of other retailers are taking part. all of them broadcasting TV ads aplenty.

It’s safe to say that most New Zealanders are only vaguely familiar, if at all, with the connection of the day to the USA’s Thanksgiving holiday, and they certainly don’t know the alleged origin of the name. Actually, many Americans may not know the second one, either, but, does it matter? There’s stuff to be bought!

Black Friday is a relatively recent arrival in New Zealand. Wikipedia says that it “started picking up in New Zealand around 2013,” and that sounds right to me. It started out pretty small and has grown.

When I arrived in New Zealand 24 years ago, the only local references I heard to “Black Friday” were in place of “Good Friday” of Easter Weekend. The new version has become so pervasive that I realised recently that I can’t remember the last time I heard the previous usage.

Personally, I don’t care either way about “Black Friday” sales. If it makes people happy to take part, they should do so. If others don’t want a bar of it, they should stay home. It’s not that hard, really—at least, not yet. This could change in the years ahead, or not.

In any case, another American tradition seems to be taking root in New Zealand, and more successfully, in my opinion, than Halloween. I have no opinion on whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but, for me, I’d much rather have Black Friday than Halloween. But that’s easy for me to say: I don’t take part in either.

Monday, November 25, 2019

It’s all about balance

The video above is the 30-second version of an ad currently running on TV to raise awareness of the fact that the New Zealand Electoral Commission is in the process of open review of proposed adjustments to the country’s Electorate boundaries to ensure they have roughly equal population. Other countries do this, too, of course, but New Zealand’s work is completely non-partisan and independent of all elected politicians. It’s a good system.

Generally speaking, there’s not much opposition to boundary changes because most people simply don’t care that much about it. Sometimes people will grizzle about losing an MP they like for a different one they may not like as much, but that’s about it. Because Electorates are geographic entities, they reflect the populations of those areas. So, areas that strongly align with one party or the other are likely to remain so even after the boundaries are shifted. That’s not a concern of the Electoral Commission, however, so sometimes party balance does shift.

The Electorate we moved from isn’t changing, the Electorate we moved to is changing, and the one I plan on moving to sometime next year isn’t changing. Of those three, the only grumbles I’ve heard so far have been about the electorate I live in now because, complainers say, the proposed new boundaries “split communities”. Trouble is, very often most of those supposed “communities”, if they existed at all, were hardly unitary entities in the first place, so no “splitting” could actually happen. Still, when boundary changes really do threaten to “split” communities, genuine appeals unusually resolve the issue.

The video below is the 15-second version of the ad, which I think works well: It retains the important parts of the longer ad without sacrificing meaning. This is the version I’ve seen on TV the most often, and I think its brevity makes it the best one.

Finally, the 7-second version. I’ve never seen this one on TV, and I think that’s a good thing: While it reinforces their message that “it’s all about balance”, in my opinion it doesn’t provide enough information to explain what they’re talking about, or why, exactly, “it’s all about balance”, or what that even means.

Objections the proposed boundaries are open until December 20, 2019.