Monday, November 11, 2019

Today I’m okay

Today, I’m okay. Add that to the phrases I’ve already talked about, the expressions that both describe and help me get through this time of grieving, such as, “What I can, when I can”, and its cousin, “Maybe tomorrow.” There’s another phrase that Nigel and I used to say to each other all the time, whenever health issues of any sort got to us, and that phrase described most of this past week for me: “I’m really struggling”. But, today, I’m okay.

Nigel and I used to say “I’m really struggling” whenever we had some illness, or some other health thing, like, in my case, when the medication doctors put me on made my life unliveable. The phrase was our way of sharing our burden with each other, and our usual response was simply, “I know”. In those few words, we’d both share the burden and acknowledge it, a sort of “here’s my challenge” along with “I see your challenge, I love you, and I’m here with you.” One of the last things Nigel ever said to me on his last day was, “I’m really struggling, Bub.” I told him, “I know.” After two and a half decades together, that was all we needed to say in order to say so much more.

Last week I struggled, and despite the relatively good day on Tuesday, the rest of the week was the exact opposite. There was no trigger—nothing happened to bring it on, and there was absolutely no reason for it—nothing apart from dealing with having half of me ripped away, of course.

I realised how awful things were on Wednesday when I got angry at terrible drivers in a carpark in Takanini, used my horn a lot, and even flipped off a woman who was blocking us all because her driving was so bad. Now, to be fair, her driving really was awful, and she probably deserved my primal response, however, it wasn’t her terrible driving that set me off, it was the inexplicable hot rage that sometimes comes rushing out of me like searing, glowing lava.

Anger is a common feeling among people grieving the loss of a loved one, and from what I’ve read, there’s seldom an actual cause or trigger. In my case, I’ve noticed that right now I simply cannot handle any frustration, even including the petty annoyances we all deal with every day—like terrible drivers in a carpark.

I also know that such things are phases to be endured: They pass, as all things do, and I knew that I just needed to ride it out—alone. I couldn’t be around other people, not the least because I knew I couldn’t trust myself to “behave”, but even more because I knew that being among other people would be absolutely overwhelming. The better choice, I knew, was to “hide in my cave,” as I put it at the time. Plus, I had a lot of work to do, anyway.

Staying busy is my thing, it’s what’s always gotten me through any emotional rough patches, especially when I don't know what else to do (and right now I’m in about as rough a patch as there is). Which is not to say that I work very efficiently or quickly—right now especially, I certainly don’t do either—but it does get me out of myself and keeps me physically active, both of which are helpful for me. Other people do different things, and I bet that for some people staying busy would be the worst possible thing to do, but a lifetime of experience has proven to me that staying busy works—for me.

The bad patch started to lift by Saturday morning, just as unexpectedly and inexplicably as it had begun. Sunday was somewhat better again—until the evening.

I was working on my monthly work project on my new MacBook Pro, as Nigel and I had intended and planned, when an external hard drive failed. It was, of course, the hard drive that had all my work files on it, and I was immediately faced with the prospect of losing everything I’d done that week and having to start over, from scratch.

This was exactly the sort of thing that could have sent me back down again—but it didn’t. Yes, I was frustrated, which led me to throw (well, toss…) my reading glasses across the table at one point, but I mainly kept plugging away until I sorted it out which, I was well aware, is exactly what Nigel would have done. That could well be why I was calm. Still, I lost more than an hour, and didn’t finish up until well after 3am, and didn’t get to bed until 4am. Then, a half hour later, the dogs started barking at a cat howling somewhere nearby.

After all that, it would be understandable if I was in a bad patch today, but I’m not. Tired, absolutely, but otherwise okay. I have a lot of things around the house to work on this week and that will help ensure I stay okay.

In addition to staying busy, I, obviously, also think about things and analyse my situation. It’s precisely because I think that I can deal with what I feel. Some people overthink their situations, but for me it mostly provides a rational, logical balance to the often irrational emotional reactions I face right now.

And yet, long-held habits don’t suddenly stop, do they? Not when they help, anyway.

Last week, in the midst of that bad patch, I said out loud to Nigel, “I’m really struggling, Bub.” Now, if I was in a Hollywood movie, I’d have had a visitation, or if I was character in a novel I’ve have suddenly entered an other-worldly state. None of that happened, of course, and the closest thing to any of that was that I knew that if Nigel really could have heard me and responded, he would have said, “I know”. That was really all that I needed because it was all Nigel and I ever needed to say in order to say so much more.

And, today I’m okay.

Warehouse Christmas ads

I’d planned on sharing these ads this past weekend, but life got in the way. Naturally, since last week was the first full week of November, I saw some of these ads a lot. Those gifts won’t buy themselves! Well, not yet, anyway.

The video above is the long version (30 seconds) of an ad for discount retailer The Warehouse, part of the same group that owns Noel Leeming, whose ads I shared the other day. Like that store’s ad, the long version is the strongest, but unlike it, the short versions work, too.

What I like about the ad above is, first, that it represents the diversity of modern New Zealand life, and the message that there’s no single or “correct” way to “do” Christmas is strong. This is also the main commercial running at the moment.

The short (15 second) version I’ve seen the most is this one:

That commercial includes scenes from the main long commercial and another long one I haven’t personally seen on TV:

It has its own short version, which is more specific to the scenes in the second long ad:

The reason that the short ads for The Warehouse work as stand-alone ads, unlike the Noel Leeming ad, is that they aren’t trying to tell a specific linear story that has to be truncated. For makers of Christmas ads, having short scenes that can be mixed together in various ways must be really useful; it’s certainly a way to keep the ads seeming fresh because none of them are precisely alike.

The Warehouse often does ads that are perfectly fine: They do the job they’re intended to do, they’re not offensive and—not the least because there are several versions—they’re not overly repetitive despite being in heavy rotation. I think they did well.

Friday, November 08, 2019

More NZ Christmas ads

On Monday, I shared the first NZ Christmas TV ads that I’d seen—and that had been posted on YouTube. One of the ones I saw around the same time is the video above. It’s for electronics retailer, Noel Leeming, part of the same company that owns discount retailer, The Warehouse.

The ad above is the long (30 second) version of the ad, which tells the entire story. The video below is the short (15 second) version, and I don’t think it works: The joke, such as it is, is missing from the shorter version, and the woman comes across as a smartarse. The long version provides the full context. However, I can’t recall having seen the short version broadcast on TV, though it’s entirely possible I wasn’t paying attention when it came on.

This is not one of my favourite ads. It’s okay, I suppose, and it’s certainly relevant to what it’s about (retailing), which is really all that can be expected of an ad like this. So, while this may not be an awesome ad, it's good enough, and that’s what matters.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Finding good things

Today was a day of finding things, though that’s not exactly what I set out to do. Even so, it was a very welcome addition to what would otherwise have been just packing up Nigel’s stuff. They were good finds.

Today’s project was to pack up the bits and pieces in Nigel’s office, most of which Nigel had already sorted into various groupings. My brother-in-law, Terry, stopped by this morning on his way to a meeting to help me do that. It didn’t take long, and it also wasn’t particularly emotional for me, though I didn’t think it would be. I found a bunch of stuff that was cool, useful, or that was very personal and comforting for me.

Among the useful stuff was a corded Apple keyboard, the sort they don’t make any more. My original one broke and I replaced it with a third-party keyboard that looks a LOT like the original, but it’s, um, quirky in its performance.

We had the Apple keyboard still in its packaging for years, and I knew that Nigel had taken it to use with some project or other. But he preferred the heavy clunking keys on his other keyboard, so he put the Apple one aside, which turned out to be lucky for me, because it’s hardly been used.

This matters because I wanted to plug a full-size keyboard into my new MacBook Pro, not the least because when I type using it, I often accidentally touch the trackpad and the insertion point jumps to somewhere seemingly random on the page (and no, I’m not blaming technology for my typos…). The full-sized keyboard doesn’t have that problem, of course, and it also has a numeric keypad, something I need when working with spreadsheets. As an explanation for the modernists, I prefer “old fashioned” corded keyboard because they don’t need to be charged.

As it happens, I’m using that keyboard to type this, and it works great. It’ll make my work so much easier.

I also found three pairs of Nigel’s reading glasses (just inexpensive ones, not prescription). Nigel “lost” them at some point and bought a new pair, realising only when he was ready to pay for them that they weren’t a cheap pair, but around $100 or so. “I was too embarrassed to tell the lady,” he said at the time, so he bought them anyway. I like them because the lenses are glass, not plastic, but the pairs I found today will be useful, too, because I leave pairs all around the house so that I never have to go far when I need a pair. Which is why Nigel sometimes borrowed mine—he could always find a pair of mine.

The best part, though was that I found a bunch of storage devices, including Some “thumb drive” USB sticks. Nigel had so many that I used to joke that he had about a quarter of the global supply of them. After going through his office, I think that MAY have been a conservative estimate. I’d have made that same joke to Nigel, and he would’ve had some sort of snarky retort, just like always.

I was reminded of that because among the other things I found was a microSD card that had been used in his dashcam. The card had video recorded over a few days in late October 2016, when we were not only still at the old house, we weren’t even looking for one to move to. While the camera was just looking out through the windscreen (duh), it also recorded audio within the car. Some of the video was of one of Nigel’s morning commutes, beginning with him talking aloud to himself as he drove from the house, telling a neighbour who was briefly blocking the shared drive to “get out of the way, arsehole“, which was funny to me because I knew how much he disliked the neighbours there. The rest was of his drive, and silent apart from the audio book he was listening to.

Other videos were recorded when he and I were in the car on our way somewhere nearby, and it was those I especially loved. I could hear us just talking about everyday things, such as that our friend Richard Hills was about to be sworn in as an Auckland Councillor (he has just been sworn in to his second term). But there was so much more! At one point, Nigel apparently farted, and we then discussed the qualities of its odour, as we almost always did. I loved hearing all that because there are so few recordings of us just being us, and they actually made me very happy, not sad at all.

All of which means that today’s task not only wasn’t sad for me, it actually ended up making me really happy, which frankly doesn’t happen all that often at the moment. The videos made me feel like I was with Nigel for a few minutes, and that meant the world to me. Fart talk included.

There was boring stuff, too, like piles of papers from his work, which I’ll return to them for destruction or whatever. I needed to go through them to make sure there was nothing belonging to us mixed in them (there wasn’t much). In doing that, I also found his dashcam itself, which he took out of the car when he was getting his next one, the one we sent back recently. I’ve been looking for that dashcam for a year or two. Dealing with that boring stuff was basically no big deal to me after I saw/heard those videos.

Nigel said in his last days that he didn’t want me to “have to go through all my toys”, all the electronic bits and pieces he left behind. So far, I’ve mainly just packed it up and I’ll go through it in my new place—however, for the record, I realised that I can, in fact, identify a LOT of the stuff, something I didn’t think I could do. Also, because we packed up his office today, I found some cool stuff, some useful stuff, and some that was very personal and comforting for me.

Today was a good day because I found good things. I hope this process gives me more days just like this one.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Figuring things out

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure things out. It’s not usually about what happened, it’s about what will happen. I can’t change the fact that Nigel died, though I would do literally anything to change that, so all I can do is figure out how to move forward. It’s what Nigel wanted, and what I need, too.

These posts have been about that “figuring out”, and also about both dealing with everything and what I plan on doing (all of which changes over time). One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that time matters a lot. This sort of enormous grief is entirely individual, of course, and the process of dealing with it can neither be rushed nor even necessarily predicted—though I’ve certainly tried to do both, with no success. The core message is that patience is the most necessary thing for me to have right now, and the hardest to come by.

Not long after Nigel died, a sympathetic reader of this blog sent me a PDF of a pamphlet on grief originally produced by the UK’s National Health Service. I don’t think I learned anything new about the grieving process, but it provided validation of things I was thinking and feeling, and that was a very good thing.

For example, the pamphlet said that it can look to others that the grieving person is just “sitting in a chair doing nothing”, when, the pamphlet said, the person is actually thinking—about the person they’ve lost, about the good times, and about the bad times. I didn’t care what others might think I was doing (I seldom care what other people think about anything I’m doing), but the matter-of-fact description of what happens was entirely accurate.

In my case, I didn’t (and don’t) think about “the bad times” because we were fortunate in that we really didn’t have many of those. I think that maybe I replaced that with thoughts about trying to answer the question, “So what do I do NOW?!”

As the days have passed, I now sit and think less and instead do more. I’ve talked about family helping me do some of the jobs around the house that were just too much for me to take on alone, but there are other things that I work on by myself, and they, too, are moving things forward.

For example, today I went through Nigel’s shirts in the wardrobe, trying them all on and deciding which ones both fit me and looked okay. I assumed that this wouldn’t be a particularly emotional thing for me, and I was right: It wasn’t. I’d always ironed Nigel’s shirts for him which probably gave me almost a sense of ownership already, but I’d also (repeatedly…) asked him to cull the shirts that didn’t fit in order to free up some room in the wardrobe (I also wanted him to buy some new shirts to replace the ones that didn’t fit). That feeling of a sort of ownership, along with my long-held desire to get rid of some of the shirts, made the task just that: A task.

I mention that specifically because it’s important to know that not everything a grieving person needs to do to prepare to move forward is a source of emotional distress. Of course I thought about Nigel as I went through his shirts, but the context was mainly trying to remember the last time he wore a shirt (often too long ago for me to remember). On the other hand, I did sometimes imagine what he’d say if I tried it on in front of him, ranging from “that looks nice on you” to “oh, no!”, with most probably being the equivalent of “yeah, that’s okay”. We would have had laughs.

And none of that upset me. As Nigel and I would both say, “it’s just a shirt!”

I have a few more big tasks to complete. For example, I need to pack up my office, which only I can do. That will actually make me feel happier, not sad, because it’s way overdue (and it’s all my junk). Packing up Nigel’s office may be more difficult because it has the stuff he was currently working on, but even there I think it’ll probably be fine: A few weeks before he got sick, Nigel started separating the stuff in his office into categories, so all I have to do is box it up. Which isn’t to say that there won’t be things to make me sad, just that there will be few of them—and fewer than there might have been if I’d attempted that same task a few weeks ago.

Time, it turns out, really is the great healer. I knew that. Probably everyone knows that. But now I can offer affirmation that time probably matters more than anything else in the grieving process, and the move toward what we might call the recovery process, when a grieving person starts to shift from mainly grieving to concentrating more on the “So what do I do NOW?!” thing.

I still feel like most of me is missing, and the pain is sometimes almost unbearable, but—with time—I get through it. And every time I make it through a bad patch, like the one I had on Saturday, I move just a tiny little bit further into that recovery process.

It’s taken me weeks to figure this out because it took me awhile to understand it. Which goes to show that sometimes taking time and “sitting in a chair doing nothing” can turn out to be a very productive thing to do.

First 2019 Christmas ads

If I’m going to start adding blog posts like I used to do, what better one to begin with than videos of Christmas ads? I don’t know that my Christmas ad series will be as extensive this year as previously, but this post has two, so that’s a good start.

The ad up top is for Farmers, a NZ department store, and I first saw it this week. It’s appropriate that the first words spoken in the ad are, “this is tradition”, because it’s a pretty standard Christmas ad for a retail store. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just that the ad isn’t innovative, but, then, they probably know better than me how to do their ads.

A completely different sort of ad is for New Zealand Post, which I saw for the first time tonight:

I like this ad. It plays on what’s kind of a trope—secrecy and little lies as people try to hide what they’re getting people for Christmas. However, the Pinocchio imagery lightens that, and the The Fleetwood Mac song “Little Lies” in the background helps both reinforce the message and lighten it. The final scene plays off all of that to established what is said is true. This ad is particularly good because of that scene which wraps up the entire ad while remaining within the world it’s created.

Today I also saw an ad for another company, but it that hasn’t shared the ad online yet. So, that’s three NZ Christmas ads on TV, and it’s only November 4, hard on the heals of attempts to promote Halloween. As I’ve said before, NZ retailers don’t have anything to mark the start of the Christmas shopping season like the USA does, and by starting so early, retailers have a chance to maximise sales. Or, repeat sales, as the case may be.

In any case, those are two of the NZ Christmas ads in TV right now. Sharing them is my gift to you, and that’s only a little lie.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

A bad/good day

Every bad day has its good parts, and every good day has its bad ones, as I said a few weeks ago. This is just reality for most of us most of the time, but it’s especially true for those of us in the process of dealing with the loss of someone we loved very much. Over the past few days, I was reminded of how true that is.

Yesterday was a very hard day, because, unlike our marriage anniversary two days earlier, about which I had mixed feelings, November 2 was a clear and valued anniversary for us both. I desperately miss Nigel, obviously, and that made November 2 incredibly hard for me.

Even so, the day was also brightened by family. Nigel’s Mum stayed with me last week, and she was going to be picked up this weekend. As it turned out, five of the Hamilton Crew came up and, joined by a sister in law who had been travelling overseas when Nigel died, together we packed up the garage to get the stuff ready to put into storage.

That could have been a really bad time for me, since it was already an incredibly sad day, but by focusing on the task at hand, and with the support of family, we got it done. Well, to be honest, they got it done, actually—I just concentrated on a few things that had some particular emotional resonance for me, like packing up Nigel’s 3-D printers, for example. But even that could have been difficult, but wasn’t because of the family.

After lunch, we mainly just visited until dinner time, which is pretty much a perfect afternoon for me. We had the awesome fish and chips from the local takeaway shop for dinner, something I mention because it’s one of the few things I’ll actually miss when I move away.

As the evening began, the family members—who had planned on staying the night to finish up today—decided they may as well go home, since we’d finished what we set out to do. But Nigel’s brother read my emotional state, and he and his wife stayed with me that night. His sister and our brother-in-law took their Mum and my nephew back home (the other sister-in-law had already left by then).

That night, he and I talked about Nigel, his death, and what’s happened since, mainly just because we’re all trying to make sense of everything that’s happened and it’s very helpful to have someone to talk such things over with, someone different who we don’t talk with like that all the time.

They left this morning, and I realised a particular reason why it was good they’d stayed the night: Otherwise, everyone would have left all at once, either last night or this morning, and I’d have been suddenly all alone. It was nice to have a sort of transition.

This morning, Nigel's brother and I had a look around the house and realised that there’s really not much I need to clear out in order to get the house ready to sell—so little, in fact, that it’ll be relatively easy to do. That means I won’t need another Family Army to help me, which I think is good. I do think, though, that it’s been good to have had two workdays with two different groups of the family so that no one had to give up a lot of time in order to help me get this phase completed, and, thanks to them, I now pretty much have.

All of that work was necessary so that I can get the house on the market soon. That’s critical to my next step, and I’m still committed to all that, and to the move to Hamilton—even though at the moment I can’t be sure what, exactly, that will look like (it’s a work in progress).

The important thing in all this is that I’m getting through this by focusing on the tasks in front of me—the whole one day at a time thing (or, more specifically, “what I can, when I can”, as I put it awhile back). Second, all of that is possible because of the support and help I’ve had from the family. I couldn’t possibly have accomplished what I have without them.

So, yes, every bad day has its good parts, and every good day has its bad ones. Over the past few days, I was reminded of how true that is.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Twenty-four years

Twenty-four years ago today, I arrived in New Zealand to stay and began my new life with Nigel. We always used to celebrate this anniversary as our own because it was when “we” began, and that made it important to us. This year’s is the first one without him, and I still have no idea how to do this—create a totally different life than the one we’d planned together. I at least know (hope?) that the next anniversary may not hurt quite as much.

Posts from previous, happier years:
Eighteen (2013)
Fifteen (2010)
Fourteen (2009)

Ex, but not ex- – A 2006 post about being an expat
Changing policies and lives – A 2011 post about becoming a permanent resident
12 years a citizen – A 2014 post about becoming a NZ citizen
Foreign-born human – A 2015 post re-examining the word “expat”

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Mixed feelings day

Today I have extra justification for feeling sad: Six years ago today Nigel and I were legally married, which makes this my first marriage anniversary without him. Arriving exactly six weeks after what turned out to be his last day, it was bound to be hard. Thing is, I don’t know what I feel about it.

I don’t think that either of us ever expected to be able to be legally married, not up until it suddenly became legal. When Civil Unions became legal in New Zealand in April, 2005, we didn’t exactly jump at the opportunity. While Civil Unions gave gay couples most of the benefits of marriage, it was NOT marriage, which was reserved for opposite gender couples alone. It was nearly four years later—January 24, 2009—before we got a Civil Union, with a big family celebration, because we’d decided that some legal recognition was better than virtually none.

At the time, the Civil Union ceremony itself was the happiest day of our lives—up until October 31, 2013, when we were married at the Auckland Registry Office. On that day, we became legal spouses and could legitimately use the title “husband” for the first time, something neither of us ever really expected to be able to do.

We chose October 31 because it was the closest we could get to November 2, the date we’d always considered our anniversary because in those pre-legal recognition days the date we started living together in 1995 was a logical one to pick. In 2013, we had a big family party on November 2, which was also our 18th anniversary together.

Anniversaries! Anyone who’s followed my blog knows that every year I’ve marked a string of anniversaries that I came to jokingly call “The Season of Anniversaries”. It began with the anniversary of when I arrived in New Zealand as a tourist (September 12, 1995). When we had our Civil Union, my pretend season extended all the way to January 24. The anniversary of our marriage added another date to that list. Will I continue to mark these dates? I simply don’t know. Probably. Maybe not.

Because six years ago today was such a happy day, and this anniversary is only six weeks after what was the worst time of my life, I honestly don’t know what to feel. Mostly, and most obviously, I’m missing Nigel as I do every single day. However, we didn’t make a big deal out of any of our anniversaries, including this one, though we were always aware of them. If Nigel was still alive, we would have said something to each other about the day, like “Happy Anniversary”, and that would have been it. So, because it was never that big a deal, I can’t be upset about what I’m missing out on today—again, apart from missing having Nigel with me.

One random thought popped into my head, though, as has happened a lot over the past few months since Nigel became sick. Because of when Nigel died, he and I had known each other 24 years, but he died before our 24th anniversary together, and before our sixth wedding anniversary. That means that, technically, we were together only 23 years and married only five. Anyone who knows me in real life will know how much that numeric incongruity will always annoy me, and anyone who knew both me and Nigel would know how much he and I would laugh at that.

But another, sadder, random thought also popped into my head: Six years ago today Nigel and I gained the legal right to call each other “husband”. Six weeks ago I got another title I never expected: Widower. The first was wonderful, but the second is hardest thing I’ve ever faced. It will remain that way for a very long time to come.

So, sad and with mixed (and often conflicting) feelings, all I can think of to say is what I would have said to Nigel if he was still alive: Happy Anniversary, sweetheart. I love you.

Previously, in happier times
Fifth Anniversary (2018)
Fourth Anniversary (2017)
Third Anniversary (2016)
Second Anniversary (2015)
Still married (2014)

To be married
Husband and husband
Just one more