Saturday, December 07, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

I was thinking about pay phones only recently, though I can't remember why. I'd have thought that in half a century companies would such transitions easier, but apparently not.

rogerogreen said...

Here's an odd memory. My paternal grandmother died in May 1964. For some reason , the phone was in her name. When my grandfather wanted it changed to HIS name, New York Telephone refused. He would have to put down a deposit like a new customer. Pop said the heck with that and had the phone taken out. He didn't have a phone for the last 16 years of his life. We lived downstairs from him until 1972, but after that, he just used pay phones. (Remember pay phones?)