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 letter 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.

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