Tuesday, October 15, 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.

Monday, October 14, 2019

The end of the song

One week ago today, we said our final goodbye to Nigel. In this whole journey, in fact, in my entire life, that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. For me, the worst part was when I followed Nigel’s coffin out of the hall and to the hearse. It was the music that both hurt and helped.

That day had gone exactly as I planned it, except for one thing that almost didn’t: The music we’d play. I’d been quietly and secretly fretting about the music for ages because Nigel never got the chance to tell me what he wanted, though, not surprisingly, he had strong ideas about music. The songs I’d pick had to be what felt right to me because that would mean it would be right for him. I trusted myself because I knew Nigel would.

The morning of that day I was up early with a brilliant idea to check Nigel’s iTunes to see what songs he was listening to lately. Turned out, he didn’t use iTunes (and I still have no idea what he did use).

I was beginning to get a bit panicky when Nigel’s younger brother, Terry, arrived. I told him my dilemma. He suggested that I check Nigel’s phone.

When I opened his Apple Music, the most recent song was “If Heaven” by Andy Griggs (video above). I knew he loved that song, but I had no idea when he’d last listened to it. I realised it may have been quite some time before then, but it was at least as likely that he may have played it when he was in hospital his final week for courage or strength or whatever. I also knew that he may have left it there as a message to me. Both are possible, and both are equally unlikely. I’ll never know. But whatever the truth was, I knew instantly that was the song we’d play as Nigel was being carried out of the hall. It. Was. Perfect.

He was carried in to Keith Urban’s “Memories of Us”, a song with some lyrics that had taken on new and sudden relevance when Nigel died. Nigel often sang the song at family karaoke nights, and it, too, was one he loved.

In between, we played a couple others we new he loved, including another of his karaoke night standards (close family and friends knew that, though others wouldn’t have known). But those songs weren’t originally planned: They were needed because so many people were coming up to leave messages on Nigel’s coffin that we needed to buy some time.

But it was by far that final song that got to me.

“If Heaven” may seem as if it’s religious, particularly because of the title, but the lyrics are more spiritual than specifically religious, and, in any case, Nigel had a much more relaxed view of the possibility of an afterlife of some sort than I did. I made him promise me that if there really is an afterlife he’ll send me a clear and unmistakeable message—nothing that has to be interpreted. He laughed.

As we carried Nigel out, the song filled my ears, drowning out everything else. At the same time, my entire field of vision was reduced to an almost photographic soft-focus blur, except for one spot in crisply clear sharp focus: His nameplate on his coffin. I focused on that, and it pretty much guided me out of the hall. I could see where I was going, even with tears filling my eyes, because I could clearly see his name showing me the way forward.

Sometimes even the smallest details have hidden meaning (such as, why I picked the shirt I wore that day, as I mentioned Saturday). The song I picked for the end of his farewell was perfect, and he would have been pleased I picked it—assuming he didn’t pick it for me. As with so many other things that day, that song had special meaning most people wouldn’t have known.

I’ll never hear that song the same way again, but that’s okay. If there is a “heaven” of some sort, I know that Nigel’s part of what it’s made of. That’s just one last gift from the love of my life on the day I said my final goodbye.

The song ended, but the pain hasn’t, and won’t for a long time. Of course. But I know that while our song together has also ended, our music never can.

But now I need to find my own song. That will take some time. Stay tuned.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 30.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Blogging Interstitial

I’m still in this midst of re-publishing things I originally posted on my personal Facebook page, all two weeks after the original date of posting on Facebook, but at the same time of day as the original. Beginning this coming week, re-published posts will appear here around a week after the original published date, though still at the same time of day. Some time soon after that, they’ll appear on the same day, which will mean I’ll be returning to same-day blogging.

This is happening because rather than wait for a specific day to roll around, I decided to re-publish on this blog on consecutive days, even if I didn’t do that on Facebook. I began these posts on my personal Facebook three weeks ago, but it’s never been something I did every day because those Facebook posts weren’t every day, either. Those gaps give me the chance to slowly catch up as long as I post something here every day.

So, sometime in the next couple weeks I should be back to regular original blogging, and not just re-publishing what I originally posted on Facebook. When I do, I have absolutely no idea what it will look like.

Everything right now is a work in progress, and that includes this blog.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Promises to keep

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” By Robert Frost

Over the past week I’ve shared stories and photos in order to share more of Nigel’s story, specifically the parts with me, because I promised him I’d share his wider story. I also wanted people who I know only through the Internet to know something of the life Nigel and I had together. I hope it’s obvious that what I shared on Facebook, my blog, and my podcast was only a small sampling of how rich our life together really was.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love in the wonderful comments and FB reactions from people near and far. I read the comments to Nigel when he was in hospital, until he became too weak, and the outpouring really touched him. It also truly helped me through this horrible time, and I appreciate that support more than I can ever adequately express. Thank you.

I thought I’d take a moment to talk a bit about myself, because all of this has raised some questions. I’ve shared my truth and authentic self on my blog and podcast for all these years, so I’m not going to stop now.

How am I doing?

I’m doing surprisingly well—far better than I expected, actually. The main reason for that is my New Zealand family. I’ve had one or more of them staying with me every night since before Nigel died, right up until tonight. One or more of them also rings me or texts me every day. My sister in the USA also rings me through the miracles of the Internet.

So, I’ve been well looked after.

Today I decided it was time to spend the day here at home alone with the furbabies. This is our new reality, and we need to adjust. But, then, the days are easy: Nigel worked long hours, so the furbabies and I always spent much of the daytime alone.

Tonight is my first night alone since we took Nigel back to hospital for the last time. I have no idea how it will go. The worst that could happen is that I’ll cry myself to sleep, but as Nigel frequently said, “no one ever cried themselves to death”. So, I’m sure that I’ll be fine. And, if it’s rougher than think, I have ample support.

I’ve done a lot of laundry today, just trying to bring back some normality (and clean clothes…). But one thing I’ve learned is that at the moment my most useful phrase is, “maybe tomorrow”. There’s really nothing urgent that I need to do, so I can just take everything at my own pace.

I made promises

I made promises to Nigel, and the biggest was, to put it crudely, that I will continue. The original context was that Nigel asked me to promise I’d look after our furbabies, which was an obvious thing for me to promise to do.

In Nigel’s last days, he also asked me, “What is it your really want to do with your life?” I told him that the only thing I’d ever wanted to do was write. “Then do that,” he said. To be honest, it was kind of an order, and he wasn’t one to be ignored when he ordered something (Rule 1). His real point was that he wanted me to live the life I wanted, and to fill it with that (since I couldn’t have him in it…).

I’ll keep all those promises, plus a few I made to myself that I’ll talk about over time. There’s much to be done.

The immediate future

Obviously, nothing about this new path is actually obvious, and there’s a lot I can’t possibly know. However, there is one thing I know for certain: I will not return to the USA—New Zealand is my home. I’ve lived here for 24 years, which, for comparison, is about two-thirds the number of years I lived in the USA (birth to 36). Or, if you take adulthood as beginning at 18, then I’ve lived more of my adult life in New Zealand than I did in the USA.

But it’s not really about numbers, it’s about “fit”. Nigel—who you may have noticed said a lot of insightful things in his final weeks—asked me if I’d go back the USA, and I said no. He then said, “To be honest, and I don’t mean this in a negative way, but I think you make a much better Kiwi than you do an American.” I think he’s right. I didn’t ask him why he thought that, but I have a pretty good idea what he meant, or part of the reason he said it, anyway.

However, the numbers are relevant in that the America I left no longer exists, and I’m not talking about politics (no, really!). Places have changed, friends have died or scattered around the country, so nothing there now is anything like what I left 24 years ago. That means that I have continuity here, not there.

At the moment, I expect to move to Hamilton, about an hour and a half south of Auckland. While I really like the awesome mess that Auckland is, it was the place Nigel and I spent most of our years together, and not where we planned to stay forever. He wanted to move to Hamilton one day, at least in part because a lot of his family is there, and more family is with an hour and half drive. So, I’m fulfilling one of our long-term plans, but it’s also what just makes sense for me: I don’t want to be alone, and moving to where the greatest number family members are based ensures that won’t happen.

One last thing. I dressed sombrely for Nigel’s two visitation days, but the day of the funeral I wore the same shirt I wore for our civil union (wedding) ceremony back in 2009, pictured. Nigel hated the picture (and made me stretch it a bit to make him look thinner), but in his final weeks he told me that was the second-happiest day of his life—the first was the day we were legally married in October, 2013. Funny that; they were my happiest days, too.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me—it’s meant a lot to me. I have no idea what my new story will be, but I’ll certainly share it. That’s what friends are for.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 28.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Nigel’s Story

The photo I used on the cover of
Nigel's funeral programme.
One week ago today, Nigel left us. Today I went to collect his ashes, which was surreal. I haven’t yet decided what I’ll do with them—Nigel left that up to me, but it’s nice to have them home. They’re not him, of course—instead, Nigel lives on in my heart and in my memory.

A couple days ago, I shared my final message to Nigel. I mentioned that he’d largely written his own story. I’ve now edited it so I can share it here, because while it was important to him that people know his whole story, some parts of it were private to the family. Still, many of my Facebook friends knew Nigel, even if only from our online adventures, including our old Internet radio shows. He wanted you, too, to really know him.

So, here’s Nigel’s story, which he mostly dictated and I finished for him. The first part is what was also read to everyone right before Nigel’s story:

Nigel specified that he didn’t want a traditional funeral service, nothing stuffy and formal, and not at a funeral home, crematorium, and certainly not a church. He wanted a hall, and it’s appropriate that we are here in a community hall so close to the place he loved living.

Nigel wanted you all to interact with each other—sad as the reason for us being here is, he wanted us all to focus on each other.

Nigel said several times that kids should take the balloons home with them. It was important to him.

At any time anyone can come up and write a message or draw a picture on Nigel’s coffin. Markers are provided for that. He wanted it to be a big, beautiful mess.

There will be time for anyone to share some words about Nigel, to tell a favourite anecdote, or to tell a joke—especially that. There will be tears, of course, but he wanted there to be lots of laughter, too.

Today is all about Nigel. He knew many people in his life didn’t know all the details of his life, so in his final days he worked with his husband, Arthur, to make sure that his story was told.

So: Since this is about Nigel and his story, let’s begin with that.

Nigel’s Story

Nigel was born on the 27th of August, 1964 in Matamata, New Zealand. His parents had met in the Navy. After leaving the Navy, they become sharemilkers in the Waikato.

Nigel was child Number Six, with four older sisters, and one older brother. And no, his parents weren’t Catholic—they just didn’t have television in those days.

After a few more years of sharemilking, his father got a job as a prison officer at Waikeria Prison, and moved the family to Waikeria.

In 1970, his father got his dream job and became the Fisheries Officer for the Coromandel Peninsula, and the family moved to Coromandel Town. Coromandel would become home for the family. As you can imagine, Coromandel was a great place to grow up—endless summers, where you could take off on your bike and only come back for meals.

Nigel’s career began after he left school, when did his Electronics Technician apprenticeship with Tisco. He hated it: All that dealing with dusty TVs in filthy homes, but he loved the people/customer service side of it. He decided to change careers and joined the telephone operations part of New Zealand Post, which would eventually become Telecom NZ, as a telephone operator.

Nigel would go on to hold a variety of positions in telephony and customer service, constantly advancing his career. He had increasingly important roles in Australia, then back in New Zealand. He joined the former Auckland City Council, moved on to the Hauraki District Council, back to Auckland City, then, more recently, Auckland Council, where he was General Manager, Customer Services.

In 1989, Nigel went to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, where he met Gary, and once again decided to follow his heart and move to Australia and start a new life. From the very beginning, Nigel knew that Gary was HIV positive, and Nigel knew their time together would be limited. Gary died in 1993.

Nigel returned to New Zealand to be with family in 1994.

In early 1995, Nigel was with friends in a chatroom on Apple Computer’s online service, eWorld. There was an American in there who was looking for folks willing to give advice to a friend of his, Arthur, who was travelling to Australia and New Zealand later that year. Nigel agreed, and supplied his email address.

Arthur picks up the story. “I wanted locals to give me advice on what to see and, more importantly, what NOT to see. My friend gave me three email addresses. One was a bad address, and the second was an Australian guy who said he was ‘faaaaaaaar too busy’ to offer advice right then, but I should email him closer to the time. The third email address was Nigel’s.”

Nigel and Arthur realised there was a connection pretty much from the beginning, and Arthur joined eWorld so that they could chat—MUCH cheaper than international phone calls in those days. Over the weeks and months following that first email exchange, Nigel and Arthur began to realise they wanted to be together.

Arthur finally arrived for that trip Downunder in September, 1995, found a job, then went back to the USA to wait for the visa to come through and to tidy up his affairs there. They racked up a fairly large phone bill in that time.

On November 2, 1995, Arthur arrived back in New Zealand, and Nigel and Arthur began their life together.

They faced challenges along the way, including Arthur’s temporary immigration status, which threatened to separate them when the company Arthur worked for shut down, making everyone redundant.

But one of their biggest challenges came in late 1999, when they lost Nigel’s older brother, Trevor, followed by his father a few weeks later.

Many of you may not have known about Nigel’s struggle with mental illness for most of his adult life. He found different ways to deal with it, but it became worse in 2010, with the massive stress caused by the amalgamation of Auckland’s local government.

There were times Arthur had to accompany Nigel to meetings and then wait in the car, all so Nigel could be sure of being able to drive there and back home. He needed to know that Arthur was there for him. There were other times Arthur drove to meet Nigel in the city so that he could follow Nigel home in order to make sure Nigel could get across the Harbour Bridge.

Nigel found help through the Phobic Trust (now called Anxiety New Zealand Trust) and psychotherapy, which delivered him from a very dark place. It allowed Arthur and Nigel to enjoy many good, happy years together, though clearly not even nearly as many as they’d planned.
Nigel’s life with Arthur was mostly quiet and peaceful—apart from family parties. It turns out that his four sisters could hold ten different conversations going on all at once, without ever losing their place in any of them. Others nearby may have lost their hearing, though.

Nigel and Arthur had three rules for a happy relationship: Rule 1. Nigel is right about everything; Rule 2. Everything is Arthur’s fault; And Rule 3. If in doubt, refer to Rules 1 and 2.

They had three other, more practical rules. First, never go to bed angry. Naturally, they never argued. Well, maybe once or twice. Second, they said “I love you” every single day, and third, they shared a goodnight kiss every night. That’s part of what made things work out for them for two and a half decades.

In what turned out to be his final years, Nigel was at peace with himself and his life. He loved his job at Auckland Council, especially the people he got to work with. He was extremely proud of the good work they did. He taught many people how to be good leaders.

Nigel had no real regrets, and he made sure in his final days that he and Arthur left nothing unsaid. The one thing he was worried about was that Arthur would be okay, something he told family members several times. His concerns weren’t about what was ahead during his health struggle, though, naturally, he had worries about pain and suffering. Instead, he was worried about others. That was just who Nigel was.

Nigel died early in the morning of Friday, September 20, 2019, aged 55. His family were there with him, and as he drew his final breath, Arthur was at his side, holding his hand, as Nigel’s siblings and mum drew close around him. He wasn’t in pain, and it was unlikely he was aware of anything that was happening. It was a largely peaceful end. Even though Nigel’s years were FAR too few, they were filled with love and laughter. And music. And tech stuff. And Star Trek—and each of you.

This concludes today’s telling of Nigel’s story. After Nigel leaves, Arthur and the family invite you to remain for a cuppa and a snack.

But now it’s time to send Nigel on his final journey. I ask you all to stand to acknowledge Nigel as he and his family exit the hall. You may follow them outside if you want to, or remain here.

• • •

Thank you for reading Nigel’s story. It was important to him that people knew his story, and that made it important to me, too.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 27.

In accordance with Nigel’s wishes, the family would appreciate donations to the Anxiety New Zealand Trust.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Saying Goodbye

The photo I used on the cover of
Nigel's funeral programme.
We said our final goodbye to Nigel on Monday [September 23]. The day went better than I could have hoped, because, hard as it was, I was able to give Nigel the send-off he wanted. In his final two weeks, he’d started telling me what he wanted, but ran out of energy to finish it, so I had to improvise a bit. But I think the event captured what he wanted.

It was a non-traditional thing, not in any way religious, and held in a community hall—all things he told me he wanted. The hall was overflowing with people, and I was told that all available parking on the roads in the area was taken. He would have liked that.

Nigel wanted the event to be about telling his story, and he started dictating that to me, though I had to finish that, too. It was to be read by a former colleague of his so that everyone there would know all of his story, not just the parts they knew because of where their lives overlapped.

I decided I wanted Sam to read a message from me, too; I knew there was no way I could read it myself, but I wanted to add more to Nigel’s story, while also having one last chance to publicly declare my love for him, and to help people understand how deep it was, and why it was so strong. He was a truly amazing man.

I thought I’d share my message here. I may share his story, too, but that will take some editing (it was never intended for publication). But, for now, anyway, here’s mine:

Arthur’s Message

Nothing in my life ever prepared me for today. I’ve lost loved ones before, of course, but how do you say goodbye to the love of your life, your true soulmate? The only thing I know is to tell stories about the man I’ve spent the past two and a half short decades with.

Nigel’s story talked a bit about how he and I met indirectly over the Internet before we ever became a couple. What he didn’t say was that I very nearly ruined it all.

In early 1995, I visited a friend in San Francisco, and, as I did in those days, I sent a group email instead of postcards (it was the mid-90s...). When he got his, Nigel thought he’d misread things, and he pulled back. I continued to email him, but got no replies. Finally, I sent an email titled, “Where oh where has Nigel gone?” And our budding romance was saved. Nigel may have brought up that incident once or twice over the years.

One of the first things I saw when I arrived back in New Zealand to stay happened the day I landed. Nigel had begun a new job just a few days before, so he couldn’t meet me at the airport. I got myself to the house, and when I opened the front door I found that Nigel had printed out a path leading into the house from the front door, one latter to a page. “Welcome Home”, it said. I knew I was. That was the beginning of our lives together.

One of the reasons we were such soulmates is that we shared a passion for social justice. Many, many years ago, Nigel told me about an idea he was working on to train people for customer service jobs in Auckland Council. Eventually, those early ideas evolved into Kia Puawai, a partnership between Auckland Council, the Solomon Group, and Work and Income New Zealand. It brings in long-term unemployed people, many of whom had been considered unemployable, and trains them for jobs—careers—in the contact centre industry. The programme transforms people’s lives, and so, their families, their communities, and the even the country. Nigel was very proud of that programme.

I was so proud of him for his work on it that I often insisted that friends and family members ask him about it, because I thought it was so awesome and because I knew Nigel was too modest to bring it up. He wanted to help bring the idea to local councils around the country, but never got the chance. I hope someone else promotes that work.

Nigel and I largely shared political viewpoints—especially our rather dim view of the current occupant of the US White House. When we first got the news that Nigel didn’t have long to live, he said to me, “I just hope I live long enough to see that bastard voted out of the White House!”

Throughout our time together, even into the final weeks, Nigel and I had many long, interesting discussions on all sorts of subjects. We also educated each other about stuff. Ours was a great home for thinking and talking. I‘ll miss those daily talks with him about all sorts of things, even those that we couldn’t affect or change.

Nigel was always a huge influence on my life. He was my constant confidante and advisor on all sorts of issues, from work to health and even hobbies. It was his idea that I start blogging and podcasting, and it was his encouragement that led me to change careers, and even to follow my passion for politics by becoming involved directly in it.

But there was so much more.

Nigel also saved my life. He insisted that I see the doctor in 2016 when I wasn’t feeling well, and especially when I’d felt so unwell at our celebration of Pam’s birthday. I went to the doctor and found myself in the back of an ambulance heading to hospital where I was given a cardiac stent. I had a 90% blockage, and that day we celebrated Pam’s birthday had very nearly been my last; if Nigel hadn’t insisted I go the to the doctor, sooner rather than later I would have had a heart attack.

The day of the stent, they ended up taking me early, and my greatest fear was that I’d die during the procedure and Nigel would never get the chance to see me beforehand or to say goodbye. I was terrified while the procedure was done, but the ONLY thing I thought about was how much I loved him, and how I needed to see him. The procedure was a complete success.

In Nigel’s last days, he said to me, “I’m sorry I was so hard on you at times, but I just wanted you to be a better man. It wasn’t that you were ‘bad’, it’s just that I could see what you could become.” I know that directly because of him, I’ve become kinder, more compassionate, more tolerant, and much more positive. If I strayed too far into the negative, he’d start singing the song from the crucifixion scene in the movie, “Monty Python’s The Life of Brian”. The song’s refrain is, “Always look on the bright side of life…” I hated when he did that, mostly because he was always right.

I can’t imagine how I could ever replace his wise counsel, his sound advice, his belief in me when I had none. I never imagined it was possible to love someone so much or to be so loved by someone. I will miss him forever.

Goodbye my love, and thank you for the wonderful life we had together.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 25.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

A friend helps

One of the things that helped me in this horrible time has been the support I’ve received from people far and wide. Whether it was a comment on something I posted on Facebook, or even just a “reaction” to it, they all helped.

One thing I forgot to share here was a post that my friend Roger Green published on his blog on September 22: “A post for Arthur@AmeriNZ”. He’d said on Facebook that he’d be happy to help in any way he could from so far away. When he published his post, I wrote in a comment, “You asked on Facebook what you could do, despite being so far away. This was it!”

Technically, to keep the timeline of these re-posts accurate, I should have published this here yesterday. The fact this being out of chronological sequence bugs me is something I bet Roger understands…

People usually don’t know what to do or say at a time like this, but in my experience it’s simply letting a grieving person know that we see them and we acknowledge what they're going through. I think that more often than not, it’s as simple as that.

So, read Roger’s post. The family appreciated it as much as I did.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Bringing Nigel home

This is a casual photo of Nigel and me taken in 2006 when my lifelong friend Jason was visiting us. We were in the Rotorua area, and he was wandering around taking photos, including this secret photo of us just being us.

I’ll be honest, if Nigel was still alive, he’d be grumpy with me for sharing this because it was before he’d lost weight. But this photo is so good at capturing us acting as we so often did that I just had to share it, anyway.

We brought Nigel home yesterday, and put him in our rumpus room, which is on the ground floor. It was a private time for family and close friends so we had a chance to spend a few last hours with him here at home. I lifted the dogs up one at a time so they could see him, sniff him, and understand he was gone and not coming back. I didn’t want them spending weeks lying in front of the window at 5pm waiting for Nigel to come home, not understanding why he didn’t.

As I thought, Jake seemed most affected. He was very clingy to me for several hours afterward. Sunny understood, but nothing much bothers her. Leo didn’t seem to have a clue what was happening. The dogs, Nigel and I all spent the night together last night. Leo and Jake and I were on the spare bed in the room, Sunny on the floor (as she likes it). To be honest, it was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in more than a week: My Nigel got to come home one last time, and we were all together one last time.

I told Nigel I’d do all this (in his last couple weeks, we talked about absolutely everything to do with his death, and that was important to him). He left the decision about whether to bring him home up to me, but I think he was pleased when I told him I wanted to. I know he would be pleased I made sure the dogs got to say goodbye.

I know that Nigel is gone, that what’s left behind is just the vessel that contained everything that made him *him*. But seeing him and being with him is a way to begin to let go of him, and we need to. Today we send Nigel on his final journey. It will be the hardest day of my life.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 23.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Preparing to say goodbye

This photo is of Nigel and me at my 60th birthday party back in January. It was such a good night. Although Nigel wasn't a fan of public speaking, that night he publicly said so many wonderful things about me and about us that it knocked the stuffing out me. I had a whole speech planned, covering some of the same stuff he did, but after he was done I was so emotional that all I could remember was the joke I'd been working on for weeks and weeks (fortunately, everyone laughed at it…).

I was at the visitation yesterday, and it was the first time I'd seen him since he died. He really did look very peaceful and natural—so much so, I was actually surprised. I was also happy about that because I know that many people get freaked out by dead bodies, and to see him looking like Nigel made me feel a little better. Well, a tiny bit better is probably more accurate.

I miss him so damn much.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 22.

Friday, October 04, 2019

This story has ended

The story I’ve told on my blog and in my podcast ended on September 20, 2019, when the love of my life, my beloved husband Nigel, died after a short battle with very aggressive liver cancer. He was the entire reason I started my blog and, later, my podcast. What now?

I had never even remotely imagined this happening, not so soon. We were supposed to grow old together, and that was the only thing we’d ever planned for over all these years. We had no Plan B.

At the same time, though, we’d also been realistic that something bad could happen that would change everything. We talked about literally everything, right up to the end.

Nigel had been unwell, though we didn’t know how unwell until eleven days before he died. At the beginning of August, he went to the doctor with a sinus infection, followed by what we thought was a reaction to the antibiotic. We began to suspect it was serious, and it turned out we were right.

We started talking about what we would do, what he wanted when he was gone, and pretty much everything else. We left nothing unsaid. He told everyone that the only thing he worried about was that I’d be okay, and that was very important to him. It was also just like him, worrying more about me than what he was facing. Everything went much faster than we thought, hoped, and faster than what I begged for.

I was at his side holding his hand when he took his last breath, though he was in a coma at the time and almost certainly unaware of anything. But, I was there. I promised him I would be, though he never asked me to be. It was something I needed to do for him, and for me. I was there at the start of our story, and I needed to be there at the end, too.

My blog and podcast have always been about me and my life in New Zealand, and the entire reason that story exists at all is because of Nigel. He was the entire reason—the only reason—I came to this country. While our story has now ended, clearly my own story hasn’t. I have no idea what that new story will be, but I intend to document it here and in my podcast—eventually.

In the time since Nigel died two weeks ago today, I’ve been sharing what I’m thinking and feeling on my personal Facebook page, which is private. Over the coming days I’ll share those posts here on this blog, perhaps slightly edited, and with the original publication date at the end of each one. Sometime after that, I’ll start original blogging again. But not today, and not soon. Everything is still too raw.

So, the story I told has now ended. I’ll have new stories to tell, different stories, ones that I can’t yet even begin to imagine. But I’ll tell them, too.

The photo up top is of Nigel and me at the Celine Dion concert in Auckland in August, 2018. It was a good night.