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

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

My clever Nigel

Nigel was the smartest man I’ve ever known. Years of practical experience helped that, but he just had an innate cleverness that meant there was almost nothing he couldn’t work out. I relied on that, as, in fact, many people did. One great example of that is something I use nearly every day.

The photo above is of an electric gate system that he figured out, designed and built, mostly by himself. It is so very Nigel, and an example of why I was both so impressed and proud of him. I planned on blogging about that gate months ago, but never got around to it.

The background to this story is that when we bought the house, there were two wooden gates across the dive, painted to match the fence on the left side of the photo, but without the trellis at the top. They were heavy, awkward to open, and manual. In rainy weather they became heavy and swelled up, making them harder to close. And, we got wet opening and closing them.

We always kept them closed so that we could let the dogs run free. However, that meant that when we were entering or leaving the property, we had to open the gate and then close it again, and that was a pain—especially for me.

When I say “we” had to open the gate, I actually mean that I had to open the gate. Nigel would usually open the gate in the morning, though sometimes he had me come downstairs to do it for him, like if he was running late. When he opened it, he’d drive off and leave it open for me to go down and close, and the dogs and I would go out to do that. This was in the time BL—Before Leo—because that little guy would have gone tearing down the drive through the open gate.

When he was nearing home, Nigel would ring me, we’d have a chat, then he’d tell me how far away he was so that I could make my way downstairs to open the gates for him. He’d close them after he parked—and after he greeted Sunny and Jake.

This was a nuisance, especially when it was raining, and extra especially annoying in winter when it was both raining and cold. We knew we wanted an electric gate opener, which would mean a new gate, and Nigel set about solving the problem.

We knew that conventional electric gate would be very expensive since we’d have to have power run out to the gate, something that was difficult in itself, especially because the circuit breaker is difficult to get wires to because of the way the house is built. We knew that would cost many thousands of dollars just to get power to the gate; the cost of the gate and mechanism would be on top of that.

Solar power was the obvious answer, and Nigel designed the system and ordered the parts, including the opener mechanism itself. The missing piece was the gate.

Nigel couldn’t get just a gate anywhere in New Zealand (they all either wanted to supply the complete package or were too expensive, or both). Part of the problem was that it’s a non-standard size opening, so we needed a custom gate. Nigel ended up ordering the gate from a company in New Zealand that brings in custom-sized gates made in China—after consulting with me about the style: I suggested it should be solid on the bottom, rather than open, like it is on the top part, so that that the dogs wouldn’t stand there and bark up the drive, annoying the neighbours. Nigel agreed with me, and it’s worked out exactly as we intended.

So, on a very cold, windy, rainy, and wintry Sunday morning, we drove to meet the guy who’d imported the gate so we could collect it from him as he headed south to Hamilton (ironically). Since it’s made of aluminium, it wasn’t heavy—just awkward. We strapped it to the car roof, endured a wild ride back—though we still stopped for lunch on the way home.

Meanwhile, we’d had the fence at the right of the gate replaced to make it stronger. Originally, it was just like the fence to the left of the gate, and poorly built, so it was too weak to deal with an electric gate.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, before we’d hung the gate, we installed the solar panels (I held them while Nigel screwed them in), then he wired everything up, and adjusted how the mechanism opened and closed, until he was happy with it, though the final adjustments had to wait for the gate to be hung.

We hung the gate together, without much trouble or too many cross words. When he was done attaching everything and testing it, he proudly showed me his handiwork, and it was impressive even then. He had no idea that I’d been watching out the window much of the time.

Nigel wasn’t done yet.

He had to adjust a few things. The opening mechanism was powerful enough that it pulled the bolts out of the gate, so he had to fix that problem first. Then, he wanted the gate to stop at a certain point, and no further, when it closed. So, he installed a rubber bumper on the driveway at the left side of the gate so it could hit that to help stop it being rubber, he said, a car could just drive over it without damaging the tyres).

Next, he pounded a wooden stake, like what’s used in construction to hold forms for concrete, into the ground to give the gate something to stop against when it opened.

Finally, he added a wheel so that when the gate is closed it’s resting on it, rather than hanging off the fence post with all its weight. The ground slopes slightly inward from the gate, so when the gate is open the wheel is hanging in the air, which means it doesn’t get stuck on anything.

We had two small remote openers, one he put in his car, and the other was for me. That way we could drive up and open the gate—no more getting out in the rain to open it. He also put a button on the fencepost above the gate so that it could be opened, since the point of the gate was to keep the dogs in, not security, and because that way no one would try and force the gate open, possibly breaking something.

He also got a wireless key pad that he planned on attaching to the fence outside the gate and positioned so that visitors, like family, could open the gate without getting out of their car, but he never got around to installing it, and we’ve since lost track of where it is; maybe it’ll turn up when I pack things up.

The gate has worked perfectly ever since, and it made our day-to-day lives so much easier. But Nigel still rang me every day on his way home, just for a chat.

I tell this story mainly because I want to share how awesome and clever my husband was. It’s true, as I said on Sunday, that he didn’t always finish his projects, but when he did, shit they were amazing!

Nigel never went to university, something that’s not usually necessary in New Zealand, but it was something that he sometimes felt he’d like to do, anyway. It was largely irrelevant for him: He was naturally gifted and almost magically knowledgeable about so many things—technology, business, politics, human nature—that if he had a limit to what he could do, I never saw it.

Well, that’s not entirely true: He often misplaced things and I had to find them for him. I became “The Finder of Lost Things”, a name I admittedly gave to myself, but it was accurate. Maybe that was my contribution to his many projects.

I said earlier that I’d planned on blogging about the gate months ago, and never got around to it. I took that photo up top back in May, and the gate project was actually completed months before that. One of the reasons I didn’t talk about it before was that Nigel was modest about his own abilities and was actually embarrassed if anyone made a fuss about the stuff he did or could do. So, much as I wanted to share his awesomeness, I often didn’t so that I wouldn’t embarrass him.

The fact is, I relied on Nigel so heavily, especially for technological things, that I kind of lost the ability to do a lot of things for myself. Why would I maintain my computers, for example, when he could do it better and far more thoroughly than I ever could—in fact, better than anyone I could hire? Over the past few weeks I’ve realised how deeply reliant I was on him, and so, how much I have to learn—or re-learn, as the case may be.

But Nigel taught me that the true mother of invention is persistence—keep researching, keep learning, keep trying until you figure it out, even if that means taking your time. That will serve me very well in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

But, then, I have a great example to follow. Nigel was the smartest man I’ve ever known.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The rollercoaster

It’s common to describe times when we face a lot of challenges as a rollercoaster, with the varying speed and velocity, along with sudden changes and unexpected hills and valleys that implies. But the rollercoaster metaphor isn’t really applicable to bad times, because when we choose to ride an actual rollercoaster it’s because we expect it to be fun, thrilling, exciting—positive, in other words. So, the word “rollercoaster” hardly seems appropriate for what I’m going through.

And yet, this has certainly been a rollercoaster.

On Friday, for example, my ride suddenly went downhill fast and hit a low point that curved around a bend sharply. At that moment, all I could think of was calling a halt to everything because I just couldn’t cope. I should have known that I was in for a bad patch: The night before I was crying as I was tidying the kitchen before I went to bed, but I didn’t stop the tidying because I had too much to do. Friday morning, I had a similar thing happen.

As that rollercoaster was careening around the sharp curve on Friday, I thought to myself, “why am I feeling this way all the sudden?” I thought about it, and how I actually DO want to keep moving forward, and then I realised the actual problem is that getting this house ready to sell, the decluttering in particular, is daunting. Extremely daunting, in fact. I decided that the main issue is that it’s kind of embarrassing how much there is to go through, and, more specifically, that I’m not really going to do that: I’m going to just pack things up and go through it later, when I’m in my new house (whatever that may be). I just don’t have the emotional or intellectual room to do otherwise.

I also knew I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. In Nigel’s last days, he said that he wanted to live long enough to get rid of all his “toys”—the various computer and technical projects he was working on (including four 3-D printers he’d built or was building). Many of his projects are unfinished, and figuring out how to box it all up will be a challenge.

Nigel didn’t want me to have to deal with all that, but as things worked out, I do have to. I thought that I was embarrassed because I felt I “should” go through the stuff when, for a whole lot of reasons, I’m not ready to.

I’ve come to realise that it was wasn’t actually embarrassment as such, that was just how I perceived it. Instead, the real issue, and the reason boxing it all up affects me, is that the stuff Nigel left behind is stuff that is more “him” than almost anything else in the house because they reflect his interests, his passions, things he enjoyed working on—in a sense, they are actually him.

Part of why I worked this out was that I wasn’t embarrassed about getting help with the gardens, even though they were my responsibility and, technically, my “fault” that they got out of control. But that’s just it, I thought: That was in my control, and I knew I needed help to deal with it (besides, there were reasons things got out of control, including taking care of Nigel). The reality, though, or the additional one, maybe, is that those gardens never reflected either of us—they were just things to be maintained.

I can’t claim credit for figuring all that out by myself. My brother-in-law Terry happened to ring that afternoon, after my low point had passed, and talking it over with him helped me to further work out what had happened, and why.

The momentary crash passed, as they always do, and the rollercoaster started heading back up again. I was actually feeling pretty good when family members got to the house later that afternoon to help me with my mini working bee outside the house the next day. My mother-in-law was among them, and she’ll be staying with me this week. So, Friday night was nice, and so was the fish and chips we had for dinner, just like Nigel and I always had on Friday nights.

Saturday went really well, and the gardens look awesome (I realised too late that I should have taken before and after photos. Oops). My personal goal was to make some repairs to the fences, and I did that, but I overdid it a bit with another project: The previous owners left a nearly-full compost bin that I’d never emptied, mainly because I had no idea what they’d put in it, and whether it was suitable for vegetable patches. So, I dug it out, spreading it in a low part of the garden that’s usually covered with weeds, all so we could put the pulled weeds into the bin. The problem is that it was heavy work that I attempted a little too fast.

I spent the rest of the afternoon after everyone left quietly talking with Nigel’s Mum. It was relaxing.

So, my rollercoaster went from a relatively uneventful bit of track, to a sudden sharp drop followed by a steeply banked curve, only to head back up again. The ride continues.

There are some important lessons I take from all this. First, and most obviously, rollercoaster rides are unpredictable—obvious, I know, but it’s good to remember that there can be low points and high points relatively close to each other. The second thing is that if I stop to think about whatever is upsetting me, I can usually work out what the real issue is and deal with that. I never knew that this all could be necessary, but, then, there are a lot of things I never knew would be necessary until they were. Knowing that, along with the reason why they’re necessary, is the sort of thing that made me cry while cleaning the kitchen.

I have a long way to go on this ride, of course, and this rollercoaster ride is likely to be very rough sometimes. I know that. In real life, I can’t ride rollercoasters anymore because they give me motion sickness. The metaphorical one kind of does that, too. And that’s the third thing I learned from this experience.

But the biggest lesson of all is that I can endure and make it through nearly anything, including a rogue rollercoaster ride, when I turn to others for help.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Coping strategies

Anyone mourning the loss of someone vital to them develops coping strategies to help them get through it, things they do to deal with the tough times, and to make themselves feel better. Like anyone else in my position, I have strategies like that.

Up until now, I’ve talked mostly about the comfort that came from talking so much over with Nigel before he died. Because of that, it was like he was there with me. But we didn’t talk about some things, and, of course, new things come up all the time. The photo up top points to one of my strategies, currently my main one.

The photo was taken in Takapuna back in 2015, and has always been pretty much my favourite photo of us—so much so that it’s been my Facebook cover photo ever since. If you look at the wrist of Nigel’s right hand, you’ll see a silver bracelet, open with two knobs on the end guarding that opening.

Nigel bought that bracelet many years ago—I can’t remember how many—because he’d always wanted one. He pretty much wore it non-stop after that: He slept with it on and even showered with it on. I have no idea why he didn’t take it off because I never got around to asking. He took it off the night before he died (or maybe the night before that) and gave it to me to take home for him. I only did that after he’d died, because I was there his last two nights, staying in his hospital room with him.

When he died, I thought about that bracelet, and put it on before going to the first visitation after he died. It was kind of an impulse thing, and I had to squeeze it a bit more closed because his wrist was larger than mine is, but when I put it on I felt like he was with me.
Me wearing the bracelet a few days ago.

Since then, I’ve put it on whenever I’ve wanted to feel he was with me, like when I was going to Open Homes in Hamilton last Saturday, or shopping for a car. Today I took my first longer drive in my new car, and I wore it again.

I know it’s just a piece of metal, but when I wear it I think of him and that’s comforting, kind of like a little hug. In the future I probably won’t wear it as much as I do now, and certainly not as much as Nigel did. I think, because I really don’t now. For the near future, at least, if I post any photos of me at a family event, if you look at my right hand, you’ll probably see it.

I have other coping strategies, of course, but this is the most obvious and visible one, especially to those who know where that bracelet came from. I was always more sentimental than Nigel, as he’d readily admit, but I’m not sentimental about everything. And, of course, it’s not sentiment that’s operating here, it’s a coping strategy that works for me.

Anyone mourning the loss of someone vital to them develops coping strategies to help them get through it. Mine is simple: I wear a bracelet.

I originally posted this on my personal Facebook shortly before posting it here. That's the way it will be from now on: I'll post things here on this blog the same day I post it to my personal Facebook. However, they may still be edited somewhat, and this is certainly no promise of a return to daily blogging. It's now at least possible, though.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Moving forward

When a spouse dies, there’s always a list of things that must be done. There’s also a list of things that would be nice to get done quickly, but that probably can’t be done fast. In between those two is a list of things that are achievable quickly, even though they’re not necessarily urgent. This weekend I made progress on some of those mid-list items, and they’ll help me move forward.

Yesterday I talked about some of what happened this past weekend when I was in Hamilton, but there was more to it, as I said in that post. There was even stuff that was emotional, but in a good way.

On Saturday, as I said, I went to Open Homes in Hamilton. Before that, though, we stopped for a coffee, which I love doing. Our first stop after that was actually to buy a new MacBook for me, and there is, of course, a story behind that.

When Nigel was sick, we talked about preparing me for the future after he was gone. “We need to get you a new MacBook so you can do your work anywhere.” He wasn’t done with instructions. “You also need a dock so you can connect a bigger monitor when you’re home, and a bigger keyboard.”

The reason he insisted that I get a MacBook was, first, that what I use now is a “Hackintosh”, basically a PC he built from very specific components so it can run the MacOS and software. Actual Macs are all made with components that are always compatible, obviously, but those machines are also really expensive. Trouble is, updates to the MacOS may make it incompatible with a Hackintosh until the hardware is tweaked (like updating the BIOS or whatever), and I’d have to hire someone to fix it for me every time that happened.

That’s because Nigel always took care of all computer stuff for me—he built me a LOT of computers over the years, and built a lot for family members, too. I don’t know how to do any of that stuff myself, where I do fully understand Apple products. Logically, and because of all that, an actual Apple product made the most sense for me, and Nigel knew that.

He wanted me to get a MacBook rather than a desktop Mac because then I can take it with me and work wherever I am. I’m glad I listened to him because there will be times over the next few months where I’ll need to work when I’m away from home, and for the first time in years, I’ll be able to (the last time I could do that, more than a decade ago, I was on a PC and had a PC laptop—which Nigel also had to maintain).

So, I went into the store knowing exactly what I wanted, picked a dock, as Nigel suggested, and an external hard drive to store the files that don’t need to travel with me, along with my back up, that sort of thing. That’s exactly what I was talking about yesterday when I said that Nigel “was part of the decision making process”. Basically, I just put our plan into action.

We also looked at a few cars on Saturday, because while getting a car had been on the “non-urgent” list, it had to be moved up. It had actually been on the list of things to do for Nigel and me for a few years, but it recently took on increased urgency.

The car (a Honda Civic) was originally Nigel’s back in 2001, and I took it over in 2004 or 5 (I think). So, it’s an 18-year-old car, with none of the typical features in a modern car, including safety features. Nigel knew we needed to upgrade it, but months ago he joked, “I’m not sure you deserve a NEW car!” I didn’t rise to the bait. “I never said it had to be a new car; it just has to be newER”.

When Nigel was first diagnosed, and we thought he’d be getting treatment, I said we needed to get a car he wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen being driven to appointments in (his car was a lease vehicle, an SUV that was too big for me, and due to go back in a couple months, anyway). He laughed—but I wasn’t wrong: He’d grown to really dislike that Civic.

A couple weeks after Nigel died, I took the Civic to get a new Warrant of Fitness, a certification all vehicles need every year. The car failed its Warrant. The repairs aren’t structural, but they are required, and the problem is that the car is worth so little now that it didn’t make much financial sense to repair it.

To shorten the story, on Sunday I bought a car. Naturally, it has all the modern features—safety features in particular—that everyone else takes for granted, but that I’ve never had before. I feel all modern and junk and stuff. It also has the benefit of sitting a bit higher than most cars, which is important for a tall person like me getting into and out of—especially when my lower back is being grumpy. My old car will be bought for a bit more than what I’d get as a trade-in.

So, that was two things checked off the list.

On Monday we met with a home building company (the biggest in the Waikato, the region that Hamilton is in). They offer house and land packages, which means a new house on a section (“lot”, in Amercanese) that I choose. This is at a very early stage at the moment—they’re just doing concept drawings and coming up with options, so I haven’t paid a cent. If everything goes perfectly, they’d probably begin construction in January, so they’d have a few solid months of good weather. After they start building, the completion will take maybe seven months-ish.

What this does for me is ensure that I get exactly what I want in a house, like purple walls. I’m kidding, of course: I’ve watched enough home shows over the years to know to keep an eye on resale value. Fortunately, that coincides with my taste and what I want in a house.

Another advantage of this option is that it’s a staged process with progress payments along the way so that I can start it all now without needing to sell my current real estate. If I bought a used house, I couldn’t even look until I’m all cashed-up (because they sell so fast), and there might not be anything suitable at that time, anyway.

One thing I was adamant about is that I don’t want to go backwards: Nigel and I worked too damn hard for too damn long for me to have to settle for less than what we had. This is a way to ensure that I get exactly what I want and at a good standard. That’s what Nigel would want for me if he could choose, and he’d be excited about this idea because he and I always talked about building a new house one day.

But, then, there’s no contract at the moment, and this could still change, though I think it’s unlikely to do so. Once I make a decision, I don’t usually second-guess myself. I simply know when something is right for me, both intellectually and—equally importantly—because it feels right.

What all this means is that I’ve checked off my list two of the things than were important to building my new life, and I’m working on the third. Which is why I’m pushing to get the real estate in Auckland on the market, another necessary part of this process. Even so, I at least feel like I’m making progress toward being able to move to Hamilton full-time, and into my own home, and as important as that is to me, I know it’s also what Nigel would want for me.

My brother-in-law said something to me this weekend that’s very true. “I know this is all hard, and not what you wanted to do,” he said, “but it’s okay to be excited about it, too.” To be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me to not feel excited about some of this stuff (new computers and cars are always fun, after all). And yet, I know that some people in my position do feel guilty about being excited about some of this sort of stuff (like a new house). That’s just not me.

The reality is that I miss Nigel more than I can possibly ever say properly, though I’ve no doubt made my reality pretty clear in these posts. I think about him every day, and every time I do anything important—and often even not so important things. I still cry about having lost him, and that he’s not at my side anymore. I don’t think most of that will ever change completely.

However, I must now create a new life for myself, one I can be happy in. I can be, and am, excited about the positive changes I’m making because each decision brings me closer to moving into that new life, which Nigel wanted me to do. I want that, too. Because we were so connected, I know that Nigel would have approved of all of my decisions so far, and he’d be both happy and excited for me—though if he was able to feel those things, he’d miss me as much as I miss him.

There’s a difference, I think, between moving on and moving forward. To me, “moving on” implies leaving the past behind, even forgetting about it. I can never leave Nigel behind in that sense, but I can move forward in my own life while carrying him in my heart and in my memories. Life goes on, after all, and plans must be made and acted on. Not all of them will be as exciting—or worth talking about—as the ones from this past weekend, and it could be quite some time before I have any more big ones, but I’m moving forward, and that’s a very good thing.

This weekend I made progress to help me move forward. Damn right I’m excited about that, not the least because I know that Nigel would be excited for me, too.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 22.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Progress isn’t linear

The thing about this process is that it’s not a direct path. Over the past few weeks I’ve said that several times, and about different aspects of this journey I’ve been forced into. The important part, I think, is to remember that the path is indirect, and so, progress itself isn’t linear. I was reminded of that this past weekend, and how it’s still possible to move forward.

This weekend, I went to Hamilton partly for a break, but also to look at houses to get an idea of what the market is like. I had a few other things on my “to do” list that I planned to do, and they went all fine—apart from an unexpected and sudden emotional jolt.

When we were heading out to go to open homes, my bother-in-law said to me that it might be difficult, and I should just speak up if it became too much for me and we’d stop for the day. It turned out to not be bad (apart from one house that reeked of cat poop…), probably because Nigel and I used to look at houses sometimes, and my first thought when we did that was, “can I see myself living here?”, because if I couldn’t, the rest would be hard. My next question was about whether it was a good fit for the two of us, and then whether it was safe and good for the dogs.

This weekend I asked myself only the first and last questions, of course, but because I’d done that so many times before, it didn’t seem at all unusual. In fact, nothing I did that day was—and I was having a good day—until we went to the grocery store to pick up some stuff.

We went into the Te Rapa New World supermarket in Hamilton, which was a store Nigel really liked. As we walked in, I was imagining going there to do my weekly shop and then I had a sudden thought: “This isn’t fun any more,” I said to myself.

The specific trigger was that I realised that’d I imagined doing a weekly shop like I always have—for the two of us. After all these years living with someone else—the majority of them with Nigel—I don’t actually have any idea how to shop for one.

That made me sad, and I was close to tears, recovered, then later on, with lots of family around I became overwhelmed. I haven’t been around lots of people since Nigel’s funeral, and—probably because I was already feeling sad—it became too much for me, so when our takeaways arrived for dinner, I went to the loo “to wash my hands”, then turned on the extractor fan for noise, and had a small cry. Then I washed my hands and re-joined the others.

Later, as the others talked, I listened to the music, and a surprising number of songs made me sad, so much so that I nearly cried a few times. That wasn’t about the songs as much as that I kept thinking about Nigel—such as thinking about what I’d already given a name to (as I often do…): “The New World Incident”. I thought about how much Nigel loved family gatherings, even though they were noisy, and I thought about the stuff I’d done that day, and how I don’t want to plan a life without Nigel.

The family has been awesome, both in helping me work through nuts and bolts issues, and in giving me emotional support. But despite all that, I am, of course, the one who must decide on my own future.

Being suddenly reminded of how different my life will be now, and how painful that fact is, left me unexpectedly emotional. That sort of thing happens from time to time, and it will happen again.

Even so, I got a lot done. For example, I got a very clear idea of what housing is like at various price points, and also how quickly they tend to sell (short version: higher priced houses are better and sell slightly slower). This has helped me focus pretty clearly on what I’ll do.

All the stuff I did this weekend—some of which I’ll talk about tomorrow—was about things I’d talked about with Nigel, so, to me, he was part of the decision making process. It was only when I strayed beyond that, into the reality I’m now in, including what some of my future looks like, that the sadness returned. All of which will happen again, I know.

This weekend was kind of a small version of how things are right now: Moving forward, but along a path that meanders and sometimes even doubles back on itself, before moving forward again.

Progress isn’t linear, you see.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 21.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Progress made

Every now and then something happens that’s not related to what I’m going through—and, yet it actually is. Today was one of those days, and what happened was good.

Today I met with the cardiology team, an appointment I’ve been waiting some five months for (because my case isn’t as urgent nor as life-threatening as some others are). They agreed that I’m a good candidate for the ablation procedure (something not everyone wants, for some reason). To shorten the story a bit, they’re applying to have me added to the “urgent” list to get the procedure done, though in this case “urgent” could still mean six more months.

So, the senior cardiologist will check to see if my private health insurance covers the procedure, in which case it should be done by Christmas, or maybe a bit after. Merry Christmas!

They use the cryo method that freezes the naughty parts of the heart rather than zapping it with what are essentially radio waves. The freezing method has a higher success rate, which means that more people are fixed with one procedure, rather than needing two or more as is more common with the other method. While it has many of the same potential complications, it doesn’t have all of them, which is good. In general, it carries about the same level of risk as the cardiac stent I got in 2016, and that worked out well.

This has been in process, one way or another, since 2016, when I had my first tachycardia incident (it was a couple more years before I was officially diagnosed with atrial fibrillation—“afib”). It’s only been about the last year or so that they’ve been considering me for this procedure.

All of which means that Nigel was fully involved in this at every step, including taking me to hospital three times, and A&E three times. I know he was worried about me, though he didn’t want me to know he was worried. But after all those years together, I knew what he was thinking all the time, so I knew. I also know that he’d be so happy that things are now, finally, moving forward.

Here’s the thing. On the list of the most stressful things we humans can endure, are death of a spouse and moving house. And now I’m talking about adding a medical procedure—I must be nuts?

The truth is, I’m just realistic. This needs to be done so I can have a proper life, something that I don’t actually have with medication that makes me so tired all the time. And if I was to put it off until a “better” time, when, exactly, would be “better”? How much of my life would I miss out on while I wait for that time to arrive?

No, I need to get this done so I can begin my new life, whatever that turns out to be. I can’t do anything about my ongoing grieving—it’ll take as long as it takes—but the actual stress of Nigel’s death has pretty much ended. Besides, I know full well Nigel wouldn’t want me to put it off.

At the same time, it scares the crap out of me that I might have another afib incident while living here, all alone, and have no choice other than to call an ambulance, no matter how difficult that would be (dealing with the dogs, for example). Nigel took care of me when I had an afib incident and helped keep me from freaking out. That’s all gone now, and I have to rely on myself, and that’s frankly terrifying. I’m sure it won’t be the last time I’ll feel that way.

If I were already in Hamilton, there would be family nearby who could, if nothing else, take care of the dogs without having to drive an hour or more to do so. Obviously, though, even with a long drive there would be family to give me support, but making it easier would be better for us all.

The best solution of all, though, is to fix the problem, and that’s why I’m going ahead with getting the ablation procedure done, and hopefully sooner rather than later. I have plenty of support to help me should I need that—like if everything happens all at once.

Today’s news isn’t directly related to what I’m going through—and, yet it actually is. Nigel knew about this problem, and he’d be happy for me that it’s about to be dealt with.

Things are still fully connected, and Nigel’s still a part of this. That’s extremely comforting.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 17.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Slow and steady

There have been a lot of things going on quietly behind the scenes since my last note on Friday. Fortunately, it’s also been mostly good since then.

After a bad day on Friday, the rest of the weekend was okay. I finished this month’s work project on time—actually, slightly earlier than last month. So, all things considered, it turned out okay in the end, despite everything.

On Tuesday (yesterday), I met with the people who have handled our home loans and insurance, and without getting into the boring details, one thing is important: When the dust settles, they said I’ll be in really good shape, and that was particularly good news because the one thing that Nigel cared about at the end of his life was that I’d be okay, and I will be.

That underscored for me the importance of being prepared for the worst-case scenario. They also said one particular thing that resonated with me. Talking about retirement, one of them said, “do the fun stuff first”. His point was that too many people retire and scrimp and save and plan to do stuff, like travel, sometime later—and then they run out of time and either become sick or die.

What Nigel’s death has driven home for me is the importance of living each day as if it’s our last because sooner or later, we’ll be right. Nigel and I always talked about visiting Hawaii, and I thought it could be a good thing to do for our 25th anniversary next year. We never made it there, and never had a chance to plan for our 25th. So I’ve learned to try to not put things off, though I’m still under my current motto, “what I can, when I can” (I have to settle everything first).

At the moment, I’m planning a “working bee” for the Labour Day holiday weekend (end of October) to get the house ready to go on the market (the section—yard—is overgrown with lots of weeds…). After our real estate is sold and some other details are sorted, I’ll buy in Hamilton. However, I’m in no hurry, but, rather, moving according to a plan that will take as long as it takes to complete. It could be as late as the end of summer or even autumn before I move to Hamilton (Autumn starts March 1), because most of this is out of my control, and I’m fine with that.

Having said that, I expect that I’ll be spending a lot of time in Hamilton (with the dogs…) once the house is on the market because then I won’t have to spend so much time keeping everything tidy in case there’s a viewing (anyone with dogs knows what a challenge that can be).

However, there’s another reality here: I don’t like being in this house by myself. If I could have, I’d have moved to Hamilton already, but that was never possible. So, instead, I focus on what I can do, even if it’s simply planning the way forward.

As I’ve said, there are good parts of bad days, and bad parts of good days. That’s as true now as ever. I find myself crying unexpectedly, sometimes only briefly, other times enough to make my stomach muscles hurt. I know that won’t change for quite some time, but if I keep working on what I can control, everything will slowly move forward.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 16.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

It’s just reality

At the moment, every bad day has its good parts, and every good day has its bad ones. That’s just reality. Overall, I try to focus on the good bits, and today that was Leo: He was close to me most of the day, either sleeping in my lap—even when I was working at my desk—or else somewhere nearby, usually where he could see me. While this isn’t unusual behaviour for him, it’s also not common, either. I think that maybe he sensed it wasn’t a good day for me today.

Today definitely was not a good day. Three weeks ago today I watched Nigel take his last breath, and that moment has played over and over and over in my head ever since. What I’ve learned along the way is that there’s no escaping such memories, and all I can do is wait them out. Because, they do pass. One day this sort of day will pass entirely without incident, or, at least, the bad parts will become less frequent. I know that, and that right now there’s no point trying to fight against the natural course of this.

Despite all that, I made progress on some stuff I need to get through. It turns out that there’s a surprisingly large number of small things that have to be dealt with when someone dies, and, fortunately, most of them don’t need a lawyer to sort them out. Yesterday and today I made progress on small things, despite everything.

In fact, the only obvious bad thing that resulted from my state today was that I found it difficult to concentrate on work. As it happens, though, I had to stop work, anyway, because of some last-minute changes, so that meant it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

I also knew that work was going to be difficult this week, given what I’m going through, but it’s worse than that. When I worked on this project last month, it was right at the start of Nigel’s decline. I stopped frequently to check on him, to make some food for him, whatever he needed. Sometimes he just wanted me to stay with him for awhile, and I did. On the following Monday, I took Nigel to hospital for the first time. Exactly two weeks later, we were at his funeral.

I happened to be awake this morning at the time that Nigel died three weeks ago. It wasn’t on purpose: I got up early to give the dogs their chew sticks, and went back to bed. But I had trouble falling back to sleep. I glanced at the clock and realised the exact time was nearing. So, I stayed awake, of course—and Leo snuggled up against me a little closer.

This week, and today in particular, was always going to be hard because of the associations I have in my head. That means that today was neither unusual nor unexpected, and this will happen again. The thing about grief is that it’s not linear. There’s no distinct end point: It’s not like having a cold.

Every bad day has its good parts, and every good day has its bad ones. That’s just reality. But I also know that tomorrow will be a better day, at least in parts.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 11.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Another farewell

Yesterday [October 9], some of the family and I attended a memorial for Nigel organised by his colleagues at Auckland Council Customer Services, for which Nigel had been the General Manager. It was awesome, and really moving. I even had a new role of sorts.

The team organised a service that reflected Nigel’s professional life perfectly. They put together a video of various photos, and some of the work ones I’d never seen. I also provided some photos from his younger days, as well as several of him with furbabies, and ones of me and him. They also had some videos of him, including of him joking around. It was all moving, and very well done.

People said some very kind things about him, such as, what he meant to them as part of Customer Services, as a manager, and as a friend and colleague. Some of those stories I’d also never heard.

Toward the end, I got up and spoke. I’d like to recount specifically what I said, but I didn’t prepare remarks in advance, so I have no record of what I said. I wanted to make two main points. First, I wanted to personally thank Nigel’s work colleagues on behalf of the family and me for the kind words they sent, and for keeping Nigel in their thoughts during his illness. I told them that I read many of their messages to Nigel when he became too weak to hold his phone. I also wanted them to know how much Nigel genuinely loved working with them, and how he was passionate about customer service, and how proud he was of them all.

That’s the gist of what I said. Like I said, I don’t know specifically what it was. For what it’s worth, I’m told I spoke well. I’d like to think so, anyway. Mainly, I was relieved that I said what I wanted to say, and especially that I didn’t cry (I quickly changed tack when I felt myself choking up). I wanted to do that for Nigel: The day was all about him, not me, and not the family, so I didn’t want to become a distraction from that—even though, obviously, no one would have held it against me if I had cried. I did that later, at home. As I do every day.

After the service, we visited with people and I hugged many of Nigel’s team members and comforted some. I did that at the hospital, too, but this was the first time I’ve done that since Nigel died. I’ve found that right now I do best when I have something to do, especially something that matters to others.

They also provided a box for koha (donations) to the Anxiety New Zealand Trust, because Nigel had asked for donations to it. I went to the Give A Little page this evening to get the web address to include in this post, and found that they’d collected $300 for the Trust. That’s wonderful news!

In many ways, it was a much sadder even than Nigel’s funeral was, in part, I think, because many of us were still numb from the shock of Nigel’s death. Yesterday was also our final public event saying goodbye to Nigel, which may have been part of it.

Even so, it was also far easier in some respects. The room was filled to overflowing, just like the funeral, and also like it there were many people I’ve known for decades, in addition to some people I’d never met before. It was nice to see people Nigel had talked to me about (proudly, I might add), and also to hear so many stories of how much Nigel meant to them. I found that very, very comforting.

So, despite the reason for us all being there, and how incredibly sad it was, it was also a beautiful event filled with love, laughter, sadness, respect, and positive feelings and thoughts. Nigel would have hated being the centre of attention, but he also would have been so proud of the great job his colleagues did—and humbled by the enormous outpouring for him.

For me, sad though it was, even painful in parts, it was also extremely uplifting. I know how much Nigel loved his work (minus the occasional frustrations like we all have), but it was wonderful to see how much his workmates loved him back.

It was a unique farewell, and much appreciated by all of us, all of us who are a wide extended family thanks to Nigel.

The family would still appreciate donations to the Anxiety New Zealand Trust, which helped Nigel so much, but none of us would ever expect it of anyone. The site collects donations in New Zealand Dollars, so if you're overseas you'll need to convert the amount from your currency to NZ dollars before you enter it.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 10.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Good and bad

The reality for all of us is that we encounter good and bad things every day. How good and how bad may differ from day to day, and within each day, but they’re common for all of us. Ramp that up several levels and that’s what I experience at the moment.

It’s important to know that in order to understand the things I say about the journey I’m currently on. The only thing I know to do is to be honest and open about it all, and that will include both good and bad days, and parts of days.

Yesterday, I apparently concerned some people when I talked about how the nights are awful. But that’s just a simple a fact—they are awful because night is when I miss Nigel the most. Some nights are worse than other nights, and that, too, is a fact. None of that is going to change any time soon, and I’m not expecting it to—neither will my talking about it go away when I have something to say about it, like last night.

As I’ve said, part of my motivation is that I’m aware that something I say may help someone else who someday finds themselves in something like my situation. But my biggest motivation is simpler: I have absolutely no idea what the future will be like, and in such situations I’d talk with Nigel about it. Since he’s not here, I’m talking about it openly in order to work it out for myself. The fact that I’m doing this in real time means that the swings and roundabouts may be a bit more obvious than it would be if I held back and commented more as reflection after the fact. That was never going to be my way.

So, last night was a bad night. Tonight isn’t. Some are good, others aren’t. It’s just my reality.

Today was a similarly mixed bag.

The company that Nigel leased his car from was coming to pick it up today. I decided to give it a bit of a tidy up, because Nigel would have, and I accidentally made myself extra work in the process. That was very close to upsetting me a lot, but it didn’t because I breathed deeply and worked through it.

When they later came to collect the car, I was sad—it had been a part of our lives for the past few years, but—as Nigel would say—it’s just a bloody car, nothing important. And, sending it back means that it will be settled sooner and will be one less thing on my list of things to take care of, all of which is good.

But I also remembered something yesterday, knowing the collection of the car was imminent. Every morning, when Nigel drove off to work, I’d stand at the side of the window in our dining area, pull back the curtain just enough, and watch Nigel drive off to the road, and keep watching until he turned left heading away. I did that every day, and was even a little grumpy if something made me miss seeing that. I don’t know that Nigel ever knew I did that; it didn’t seem important to tell him, and he never mentioned it. But because that had been my daily routine for the entire 2 and a half years we’ve lived in this house, I dreaded seeing Nigel’s car being driven away. In the end, I didn’t see that, exactly, because I was down at ground level (so I could close the gate before I opened the front door). So, what could have been an awful experience for me turned out to be neutral, and I count that as a win.

In the afternoon, I discovered that our usual email server, which we’ve been using for years, suddenly stopped working. Their website wasn’t a lot better. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and I still haven’t. This again brought me close to losing it, but I figured out temporary workarounds until I can understand what happened so I can then fix it. That’s not a perfect resolution, but at least I didn’t get upset about it, which could easily have happened.

Today I also got the results of my latest blood tests, and everything appeared to be in the normal ranges. That’s an unequivocally good thing. After the things that went wrong today it was kind of hard to feel happy about that, but it’s still good news.

Then this evening I went to our next-door neighbours for dinner again. It was a really nice evening, and a nice distraction.

So, today I had a mixed bag of good and bad, as most of us do most days. All of mine are directly related to the one big thing I’ve been going through, which makes it a little different from what most people experience in a day.

For the foreseeable future, there will be good and bad days and/or nights. And I’ll talk about them both. Today was a kind of typical day for me at the moment, one that could have been bad, but had good moments mixed in with some not so good moments. I’m okay with that, and I hope other people will be, too.

The reality of this whole thing for people following me on this new journey is simple: You don’t need to worry about me (or someone else) talking about the bad stuff, but you might need to worry if we don’t.

Not much danger that I’ll stop talking about all this. You have been warned.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 3.

Monday, October 14, 2019

It’s just the little things

It’s the little things that get me—the little memories, the little annoyances/frustrations, the little chores. The big stuff is being tended to, sometimes even by me, but that little stuff? It never ends.

The day after the funeral I caught The Plague, a nasty gastric bug that swept through the family at the time. It knocked me down for several days, which meant I got very little done. Maybe that forced rest was a good thing, but the other parts of The Plague I truly could have done without.

In the couple weeks since then, I’ve mostly been focused on adjusting: To the silence, to not having Nigel nearby to talk to whenever I wanted to, to not having my rock and pillar of strength when I need him the most. Mostly, it’s been about simply adjusting to a life I never planned for and couldn’t have imagined. In fact, I still can’t imagine it.

This experience helped me see what should have been obvious to me, but wasn’t until I experienced it: Deep sorrow and mourning like what I’m going through is depression. My depression has a very specific cause, obviously, and, ordinarily, this sort of depression gets better on its own. In my case, it’s as I do more to settle things and move forward (taking action on what I can, when I can), that I get better overall. I know that if it doesn’t get better I can seek help, and I will, but part of what sets this apart from chronic depression is that I can see an end to it. I simply can’t imagine how people with chronic depression cope, but I hope this experience will make me more empathetic and supportive of others in the future.

I’ve talked a bit about what moving forward means for me, and there’s one particular aspect of that I feel I need to talk about specifically because most of what I’ve said about it has been in reply to comments: Why I’m moving to Hamilton, and why I’m making it a priority.

The first time I talked about moving to Hamilton, in a note about ten days ago, I said that much as we liked Auckland, it was “not where we planned to stay forever”. In fact, while our current house wasn’t ever going to be our “forever home”, it wasn’t even going to be a long-term one: A few months ago we started looking at other properties with an eye toward moving late this year or early next year. Plans got stalled, which turned out to be a good thing because this is not an area I can or would want to live all alone.

After two and a half years here, neither of us made any friends apart from our next-door neighbours. This area seems like a nice beach village, and on the weekend and summer holidays, it is. But during the week its true nature emerges: It’s actually mostly a “bedroom community” where people are gone most of the day for work elsewhere in Auckland. It’s peaceful and very quiet, yes, but also a spectacularly lonely place for anyone living on their own. It would have been even worse if we had moved to a more rural location.

So, there was never any question whatsoever about whether I would move from here, the only questions were, how soon and where? Nigel encouraged me and talked with me about this, and with him I decided I’d move to Hamilton where the greatest concentration of family is, as I said in that post about ten days ago. He and I agreed that I shouldn’t muck around, since there was no point in that. Nigel didn’t want me to be forced to be alone any more than I wanted that, and his love and support made the choice amazingly easy to make.

The point, really, is that the decision to move to Hamilton was well-considered and it felt right to both of us. We thought about it and talked about it a LOT over Nigel’s last couple weeks, so I know that he was relieved and happy that it was what I’d decided to do because he knew how important having family nearby would be for me. He wanted me to be okay, and in Hamilton I know I will be.

There’s no specific timeframe for all this to happen. I’ve been looking at houses online, but at this stage it’s mostly to get a feel for the sorts of properties that might be available when I’m ready, along with working out the things I like and don’t like, must haves and most not haves. First, my solicitor has to transfer title to my name alone so that I can then sell up. Then, I can go to market.

Meanwhile, I have a lot of stuff to do. For example, Nigel left all sorts of electronic bits and pieces behind, many of which I can’t even identify, much less have any idea about whether they have any value or not. I’ll have help with that sorting, but it’ll take some time. I’m also going to have a working bee so that friends and family can help me get the section (yard) looking its best. Our realtor will give me advice on what I need to do and what isn’t worth spending money on.

The previous owners put what became our house on the market around Christmastime, to catch the folks who came here on summer holiday, probably. We bought it not long after and then in February we moved in. I may follow a similar pattern when I sell, or I may go to market before then.

All of which means that the timing isn’t certain, but my direction is clear and decided.

It feels good to have such a big decision made already—and that it was made with Nigel’s help, advice, support—and his love. Taking action on that big thing, and so many small things, is what will ultimately help me the most in moving on.

None of which means this is easy in any way, and some days will be bad. This past weekend was especially bad, not because of anything specific—no triggers, reminders, or anything like that—it was just bad. The thing is, having already made so many big decisions means that I can deal with getting used to living without Nigel, working through my pain, without also working through figuring out how to deal with all the big and small things I need to.

Things—and I—are moving forward, slowly. It’s just the little things that get me.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 8.