}

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

My world is still changed

One night recently I was sitting in my chair, the TV on. I closed my eyes, listened to the TV, and remembered the life I had, and then lost. I imagined—saw—the room I’d be sitting in, Nigel sitting at his computer down the hall, and the furbabies would be sleeping near me; I could see it all very clearly. I thought that maybe if I focused strongly enough, if I tried hard enough, if I willed it with all my might, I could make that the world I lived in again. I didn’t want to open my eyes because I knew I’d see my actual reality, not the one I wanted.

I opened my eyes. My world was still changed. And so am I.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about change, something I’ve seen in abundance over the past 38 weeks. One of the biggest changes has actually been about how I look at change. That figures: I don’t look at anything in quite the same way I did all those months ago.

Change can be something we can help direct (like a career), or it can be utterly beyond our control, like when Nigel died. I think that most people often get the two types mixed up, thinking they can change things they can’t, or vice versa. But there’s also the fact that regardless of what sort of change it is, we can choose how we react to it.

Through all the thinking I’ve done, I came to realise something very important about my future: I don’t have to be happy, I just have to be content. Finding happiness is beyond my control—some people spend their entire lives looking for happiness, never finding it. But the latter? That’s something I can help along.

Which led to my other big realisation: I still have no idea what my new life will be, and it’s possible I never will; it may just happen. But whatever it ends up being, it’ll mostly be because of all this work, big and small, I’m doing to prepare for the years ahead. By doing that, I can achieve the contentment I want, regardless of whether or not I ever feel happy again.

I realised most of that during lockdown, which was a lot harder on me than I let on at the time, meaning it was pretty damn awful. It wasn’t unrelentingly bad—much of it was okay. However, when it was bad, it was very bad. I alluded to some of that at the time, but certainly not all of it.

The first week or two of the lockdown wasn’t too awful, but by the midpoint I was already feeling the strain of being alone (with the furbabies…) round the clock. I was only half-joking when I called it “solitary confinement”, and I obviously knew it was far better than the real thing.

However, as time under lockdown wore on, I felt worse and worse, especially at night. Nights are still the worst time for me, anyway—they’re so quiet, so cold, and so lonely—and have I mentioned how damn quiet they are? There were parts of some days when all I could do was sob, and that might be hard for people who’ve never gone through profound grief to understand. It’s not just that the person we loved is gone—we know that, and yes, it hurts. But the real pain isn’t just because they’re gone, it’s that they’re never coming back. The pain caused by that fact is indescribable.

All of which is why I often felt miserable and hopeless toward the end of lockdown, so much so that I again began to think that I might very well die in my sleep because everything felt bleak, as if my shattered heart not only would never heal, but that it could never heal. It was pretty much just like the first week or two after Nigel died, but the feeling eventually went away when lockdown did.

Over those months of lockdown, I missed Nigel more than I had for quite awhile before that. I really do think my true grieving began when the sale of our house in Auckland was finalised on March 20. That was actually a good thing because I could face all that and work through it.

At the very beginning of this journey, I told a few people that I didn’t want people to think of me as “sad Arthur”, and there may have been times I tried too hard to not seem sad (and I’m fairly certain that I always failed in that effort). Sad is basically what I am right now, and I’m no longer running away from that fact. Instead, I’m focusing on the concrete things I can do to make me feel content, and it turns out there’s a lot I can do.

Last summer I went with family to a T-20 cricket match here in Hamilton, and I had a really good time, all things considered. In November I’m going to Queenstown with family, and I’m sure that will be good, too. Pushing my own boundaries has also helped—not the least because I’m not even sure anymore where they are.


I had a number of victories in recent weeks that helped, and I talked about some last week. Those, in addition to lots of small things (not all of them related to technology), helped in my goal of getting my daily life back to what it was like before this nightmare began, “to restore some of the comfortable aspects of the life I had with Nigel”, as I put it last week.

My biggest project related to finding contentment is preparing for my longterm future, something that’s actually been my focus all along.

I talked with Nigel in his final days about what I would do—it was very important to him that I’d be okay, and he needed to talk about that with me. So, we did. As a result, I decided early on that I’d move to Hamilton to be closer to the biggest concentration of our family, just as we’d always planned. But everything relating to that was actually part of my focus on my longterm future.

In 2024 I’ll reach New Zealand retirement age. I was keenly aware of that before this nightmare began, and, because of my loss, I was aware that I now have to plan for retirement all by myself. And I have been.

I bought a new car to replace my 18 year old one because I figured that if I kept the new one for that long again, I’d be nearly 80—or, I can replace it before then to last even longer, health allowing. But because I can have no way of knowing what my health or physical condition will be like in the decades ahead, I chose a house that’s single level, easy to care for, and relatively low maintenance, all to make it easier on me in the decades to come.

Now, in addition to the “right now” projects, I’m also working on getting some improvements to the house finished so that they’ll all be done well before I retire. We’re not talking about huge things, just finishing the house and gardens so I can relax and feel contented.

All of that—every part of it—is me just putting into motion the stuff I talked about with Nigel. Although we didn’t specifically talk about it in terms of my retirement, and obviously not about what I’d need to do to get some unknown future house ready for it, I realised early on that was exactly what I was preparing for.

The reality, as it has been for more than 38 weeks, is that I desperately miss Nigel, and I cannot imagine a time I won’t. What’s new, though, is that I no longer focus exclusively on that or on my unhappiness. Instead, I’m all about getting to the place where I can feel content, despite everything, and that means continuing my momentum toward the future. Whatever that future turns out to be, it’ll be built on the hard work I’m doing now.

I’ve opened my eyes. My world is still changed, and so am I, but for the first time, really, I’m okay with that.

But I’d still rather not be known as “sad Arthur”. Maybe someday I won’t be.

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