Sunday, February 16, 2020

The little things that matter

For the past five months, one thing has remained constant: Little things matter a lot. They can be both positive and negative—moments, actions, memories, whatever—but they all matter. I don’t think I could have learned that until I went through this.

The negative things are probably the most obvious, but also the least significant. A photo, a random memory, reading some of my earlier Notes in this series, those things and more can make me cry. But I don’t actually need much help or encouragement to cry about losing Nigel because the searing pain of that continues, sometimes like a punch in the stomach, other times like a knife shoved through me, but the pain is always physical as well as emotional.

It’s the positive things that I tend to notice, partly because they’re so unexpected, but also because of how transformative they can be.

Some months ago, a relative was staying with me at the old house, and I was sitting in the lounge in a chair I didn’t normally sit in, absorbed by whatever I was doing (probably looking at my iPad). Off in the guest room, my sleeping relative was snoring, and in my distracted state I thought it was Nigel and for a few blissful seconds, my nightmare evaporated, and the pain and profound sadness was lifted, and things were as they were, as they should still have been.

That moment ended after only a few seconds, but it was the first time anything had completely transported me out of my grief and sadness, and, great, though brief, that it was, it also showed me for the first time that it was even possible to be lifted and transported out of my grief. It wasn’t the last time.

A few weeks ago, a dear long-time friend who lives in another part of the country sent me a couple plants to help me get my new garden started (the property has no landscaping, a subject in itself). It was a lovely and kind thing to do, but their arrival was very important to me for another reason, as I explained my friend in an email:
The plants arrived this morning in perfect condition. Better still, it gave a me a few minutes off: I spent a few minutes thinking about where I might plant them, looking out the windows for where they'd look best from inside as well as outside. It was the first time since I shifted in that I had a "normal" new house moment, and for those few minutes I was able to forget about WHY I'm in a new house. Thanks for that in particular—it was an even better gift, to be honest!
It was the second time I’d been transported out of my new reality, and while neither of these lasted more than a brief time, they both showed me it’s possible to exist outside of grief. It’s easy for me to forget that, which is why such small things matter so much.

Today I had more of the more negative sort, which is, of course, the most common by far. That doesn’t bother me because, as Nigel so often said, “no one ever died from crying.” Even so, there was something new even in that: For the first time, I felt better after crying. At the time, I felt like I’d been like a volcano releasing the magma that had been under pressure. It was tears, not lava, that was flowing, but the result was the same: Some pressure was released. While I don’t mind crying, today’s was, well, special, for lack of a better word.

Taken together, all those little things have been the first that have in any way helped me transcend my new reality, whether by allowing me to temporarily exist in a reality where the nightmare never happened, or where I could briefly be a typical owner of a new home, or where I could cry and actually feel better.

I don’t know when or why such little things happen, but I’m hoping that there are more of them, whether moments, actions, memories, whatever. They all matter, and I don’t think I could have learned that until I went through this. That little thing helps, too.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

My furbabies adapted

There’s an aspect to this new period in life I haven’t talked about in great detail: How the furbabies are adjusting. This is kind of odd, really, because one of the few things Nigel made me promise him was about that. “Promise me you’ll look after my babies,” he said. “Of course!”, I answered, maybe a little firmly. He then added, “I know you will; they’re your babies, too.”

And they are. I was worried how they’d adjust after Nigel died, so I went to great lengths to make sure they’d be okay. Among other things, when we brought Nigel home, I lifted up the dogs so they could sniff him and know he was gone. Studies have shown that dogs can recognise human faces, and remember them for years. Because of that, I knew they’d know it was him, and by sniffing him they’d know their time with him was over. It was the only thing I could think of to do because I was afraid that otherwise they’d be at the windows around 5:30 every afternoon, waiting for Nigel to come home and not understanding why he never did. It turned out they didn’t wait for him, so maybe my plan worked?

After everything was over, and everyone had left, the dogs saw me crying, and had mixed reactions. Jake looked concerned, while nothing much concerns Sunny. Leo had a sort of “WTF?” look on his face the first time I sobbed in front of him. They all got used to it.

Over time, and with more experience seeing my cry, they became nurturing. They snuggle up close to me if I’m in bed, or Leo will nuzzle me if I’m in my chair (he often sleeps in my lap). In general, all three dogs have chosen to be close to me wherever I am in the house, following me from room to room, almost as if they have to keep me in sight.

They coped well with my bringing them to Hamilton and back to Auckland so often, apart from Leo who tends to get car sick. But their reaction to their new home? That surprised even me.

Maybe it was because I didn’t bring them here until the movers had left, and the house was filled with “their” stuff. They sniffed, ran around, but otherwise settled extremely quickly. Since then, it’s as if they’ve always lived here, totally relaxed and peaceful. Whenever anyone in the family comes round, they all notice how at home the dogs are.

During this time of upheaval, emotional distress, and depression for me, the reaction of the furbabies is literally the ONE thing that makes me happy, because they’re so clearly happy and relaxed. It’s hard not to feel that way whenever I look at them.

And yet I’m neither happy nor relaxed, and not even watching them can change that. It’s kind of cute and touching when one or more of them tries to comfort me when I’m crying, but the truth is, it also makes me stop precisely because they’re so adorable. Maybe that’s their intent.

But the biggest reason this makes me happy is that it means I’m keeping my promise to Nigel: I’m looking after our babies, and they’re happy in their new home. I can no longer do anything for Nigel, but keeping this promise, while easy, is one thing I CAN still do, and that makes it matter to me quite a lot.

Our babies are happy. Promise kept.

Up top is a photo of Leo in his bed in our new home that I shared to Instagram early this evening. The photo at the bottom of the post is of Sunny and Jake all snuggled up together, which is a little unusual for them. I took it a week ago tonight, but being taken at night means it’s not as good quality as the photo of Leo. Nevertheless, equal time, and all that.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Under new skies

So, here I am in Hamilton. It’s way too early to call this the start of anything except, maybe, the start of the start. Despite all the work I’ve completed and gone through over the weeks, there’s so much yet to do, and all that is before I can truly start whatever it is this new life will become. So far, though, it’s been exactly what I expected, both good and bad.

Anyone could have predicted the parts I think are good. I’ve had impromptu visitors for the first time in years, I’ve been able to get together with family members several times since I moved in, and I even welcomed my first overnight guests. I can go see family whenever I want or need to, and none of them in Hamilton are more than 15 minutes away.

At the same time, whenever I need to go to a store—the supermarket, the home centre, whatever—it’s only a few minutes away, not 25 minutes like at the old place. That’s handy, but it also saves me a lot of time, especially when I’m in the middle of a project, and there are a lot of projects in a new house.

So, there are a lot of really good things about this move, things I really wanted to happen. I’m really glad about them.

And yet…

Hanging over all of this is the reason I moved here. While Nigel and I talked about moving to Hamilton “someday”, I doubt we’d be here together right now. I’m only in Hamilton because he’s not, and that reality rushes through me every day and sucks all the air from my life. The clouds block out the sun and make it hard to see the pretty day all around me.

In most respects, I’m pretty much just going through the motions, acting like I’m living rather than actually living. There’s nothing that anyone else can do about that—it’s something that I have to find my own way through, and I need time to do that.

After my first weekend in the new house, I hit a really bad patch, and I realised that there were two reasons for that. First, after all those months and all that work, I was finally able to to breathe. And second, that for the first time, I truly had time to properly grieve. And, did I ever—several crying fits later, and I reached another sort of stasis.

That everyday ordinariness is based on profound grief. That’s my reality, and it’s virtually all there is of me right now. In a real sense, I’m not Arthur, I’m his temporary robot replacement. The evidence of that is everywhere.

Over the past few months, I’ve shared a few photos of me, and whenever I’m “smiling”, it’s empty. “Fake” is too strong a word, but those smiles are barely more than painted on. My eyes show that. It’s something I realised only recently when I was looking at some current photos of me posted on Facebook.

This hollowness is one of those times when I’m faced with something I don’t like, but it’s also something I can’t do much about, and something I’m worried about. Will this end? How soon? Will it drive people away?

And yet…

The reason I’m aware of all this at all is because moving to Hamilton gave me the space—literally and figuratively—to figure it out. Understanding what’s happening to me is an important step toward whatever my new reality will be. All of which means that even the bad aspects are still made better by my move to Hamilton.

Here I am in Hamilton. I’m under new skies, but there are still clouds overhead, sometimes blocking out the sun. But I still believe that better days lie ahead, because moving to Hamilton has been exactly what I expected, and it’s the start of a start.

The photo above is of the sky above my house early this evening.