Friday, July 03, 2020

Sunny is twelve

Today is Sunny's twelfth birthday. How’d that happen? The Instagram photo above is her official birthday portrait, though, as in previous years, she wasn’t too keen on posing. Even so, I like it.

Sunny has had a bad time lately. Most day she seems like her same old self—even better than she had been in awhile. But other days she’ll skip a meal and, sometimes, have some diarrhoea. It occurred to me today that after the better part of two weeks on antibiotics, her system may still be a bit screwed up. I gave her a little bit of yoghurt today, which she liked. She was lovely and happy today, which is a good thing. The most important thing, actually.

So, Sunny’s had another trip around the sun, and she’s the last of us to have their first birthday since Nigel died. I’m the one who’s been sensitive about that—they didn’t seem to be bothered on their birthdays. It must be nice to be a dog.

Happy Twelfth Birthday, Sunny!

Related posts:

Sunny is eleven – Last year’s birthday post
Sunny is ten
Sunny is nine
Sunny is eight
Sunny is seven
Sunny is six
Sunny is five
Sunny is four
Sunny is three – Her first birthday with us
Sunny has arrived – When Sunny came to live with us
All posts mentioning Sunny

Cold times

Winter is always cold—that’s why it’s winter. But in Auckland it doesn’t get as cold as other parts of New Zealand, except for a short time, maybe. Hamilton, however, and the Waikato in general, is another matter entirely. It gets cold here in winter, and this year has proved that.

When Nigel and I lived in Paeroa, which is also in the Waikato, it got very cold—far colder than Auckland, and cold enough to put ice on my car windscreen. Ice scrapers weren’t sold there, so I had to use warm water to try and melt the ice enough for the windscreen wipers to removed it.

I’ve always hated being cold. Because of that, when Nigel would talk about us moving to Hamilton, I told him my “conditions”: The house had to have heat pumps (later on, it became ducted air conditioning—basically, central heating and cooling). It also had to have underfloor heating, good insulation, and I later added double-glazed windows.

The truth is, none of those “conditions” were anything more than things I really did want, but it was more fun to talk about them as if they were non-negotiable; obviously, they were.

So when I found my house in Hamilton, it was well-insulated, had double glazed windows, but not underfloor heating and one heat pump in the main living area. I added another heat pump in the master bedroom. I moved in during the summer, and everyone told me how Hamilton’s had relatively mild winters the past few years, so, they seemed to be suggesting, I didn’t need to worry.

It hasn’t worked out that way.

The image up top is a screenshot of a post I made on my personal Facebook on what was the coldest morning of this year’s winter (so far?). That post was sharing similarly cold temperatures the night of July 1, 2016, and those temperatures got colder overnight, all of which I blogged about at the time.

History didn’t repeat itself: On Thursday night, the temperature dropped to -1.7 (28.94F). Last night it was comparatively balmy 1.9 (35.42F). Maybe it’ll stay “warmer” tonight, too, but the batteries died in my outside monitor, and unless I change them, I’ll never know what the temperature will be.

The bigger issue isn’t about batteries in the monitor, it’s about how to keep the house comfortable. There are definitely cold (or, cooler…) spots in this house, and the two other bedrooms—the guest room and my office—have no heat or cooling. I already know that the summers are hot, and now I know the winters can be cold, too.

To deal with that, I’m going to look at having a ducted air conditioning system system installed. I don’t know for sure that I will do that, but if my goal is to get the house ready for my retirement, then getting it set to maintain a constant temperature throughout the house year round would be a pretty good objective.

Actually, I’m looking at a few other changes, too, but nothing is very far along yet. For example, today I went out and stood along the fenceline to see how my shadow fell on the house in later afternoon. I’m 6’ 3”, and my shadow barely touched the house, if at all. This matters because I want to plant tall bushes along the boundary to give me privacy from the neighbours, and the ones I'll put in can grow to 3 metres tall (though they can be kept trimmed). What all of that means is that when I plant the bushes, their shadows won’t fall on my house (and windows) until late afternoon, about the time they do now, and when I close the window coverings for the night (to help keep the warmth in).

There are so many little projects like that, and I get a little impatient to get them done. I guess you could say I need to chill out. You might say that, but of course I wouldn’t. Chilling and coldness is clearly too sensitive a thing for me to make fun of.

I left a comment on my Facebook Post right after I made the post: "I was definitely not awake at 4.49am, and I have alerts silenced until 7am, so I didn’t get the 'happy' news until I took the phone off the charger a little while ago. The 'Facebook Memory' was just rubbing my cold nose in it."

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Photos help a lot

Photos are a wonderful thing, especially when they remind us of better times, or the people who made them so good. Despite being aware of this for a very long time, it’s only been the past couple weeks that I’ve begun to truly appreciate photos of Nigel, and looking at them has helped me a lot.

Four months ago today, I posted “Photographic evidence” in which I gave what to me is the single best advice I’ve ever given:
Take photos of your loved ones—lots and lots of photos. Take too many photos, way too many, because when your loved one is gone, you won’t say, “I wish hadn’t taken so many photos of them.” What you’ll actually think, no matter HOW many photos you took, will be, “Why didn’t I take more?” Trust me on this: I know.
At the time I wrote that, I was sad and disappointed about how few photos I’d taken of Nigel (while he was awake…). Yet despite going through those photos and thinking a lot about them, I didn’t actually need them. In fact, what with lockdown and everything else, I largely forgot about them.

What started my recent re-interest in photos was the Facebook Profile photo I posted last week (at the bottom of this post). I always liked the photo because Nigel and I were so clearly happy and having a good time. I checked to see if I’d ever shared it, and apparently I hadn’t, so it became my Profile Photo.

My mother in law asked for a print of the photo, something that I never do, to be honest—and that right there is what I think is the reason I kind if forgot about the photo project. That’s because when I got ready to go print the photo at one of those kiosk thingees, I decided to do some other photos, so I picked a couple from our marriage ceremony because she was there.

The photo up top is one of the ones I printed for my mother in law, and me, too. It’s another one I never shared: Nigel and me right after we’d signed the registry to make our marriage legal. It’s a nice photo—again, it was such a happy day (though I was nervous as…).

A couple days later, I was thinking about the photos again and I remembered one of Nigel the night his Kia Puawai programme won the Category Award and Supreme Award at the 2019 SOLGM awards (photo at left). I found it on his computer the other day when I was having a quick look though the photos in his “Photos” App, which was mainly photos from his phone, and so, ones I didn’t have. It was an awesome photo of him, and I decided to print out an enlargement for my mother in law, and one for me.

As if all that weren’t enough, I had a frame that holds three photos, and I decided to pick three from our marriage. And then I also chose two photos for 8x10 prints—the one below and the old one of us that sparked the original project.

At this point I thought maybe I might be getting carried away with this framed photo thing, but then I realised that for some reason I needed photos more than I had up until now. When I first started going through the photos, they often made me cry, especially these photos and others taken in happy times. And then I didn’t cry (as much).

I thought maybe I was being desensitised, but I realised that it’s something much bigger than just that: I was getting a sort of a hug from those photos. They were reassuring. They weren’t just a reminder of better, happier days, they were also a way of feeling them again. I liked that.

I also know that eventually I won’t want or need so many framed photos around the house, and I may well put them all together—eventually. Just not today, or this week. Looking at them has helped me a lot, and I think that’ll be true for awhile yet.

It turns out, I was right: Take lots and lots of photos of your loved ones. Those photos can really help your loved ones when you’re gone.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

American election interference in NZ

An American rightwing political group is trying to interfere in the upcoming New Zealand elections, specifically the referendum on cannabis law reform. MPs across the political spectrum have condemned the foreign meddling, which isn’t a surprise. The video above, from TVNZ’s One News, tells the story and features some of the reactions.

The thing is, it’s slick and slimy for any foreigner to interfere with the sovereignty of another country. The US government has done that in the past, and the Russians' interference in the 2016 US elections became notorious, as did their interference in the UK’s Brexit vote and several other European elections.

It’s not clear what the specific ideology of the group is, although they seem to be a far-right pseudo-Christian political organisation, based on the clip featured in the news story. If that's the case, they may very well deny the Russians interfered in 2016, but even if they admit the truth, they wouldn’t be able to grasp why the Russians doing it would be bad—and just as bad for them to do it. It’s wrong in both cases, and their religion doesn’t give them a free pass.

New Zealand doesn’t totally outlaw such foreign meddling—yet—but if the Americans spend money on the referendum, or give it to their “New Zealand” group to spend, it will have to be reported to the New Zealand Electoral Commission. If such money is paid, it would seem that a case could be made that the NZ-based operatives should be required to register as lobbyists, too. None of which is good enough.

In my view, it ought to be illegal under American law to try to interfere in another country’s elections, but that isn’t possible in the current deeply and bitterly divided politics in the USA. So, countries will have to look after themselves.

I believe it ought to be illegal for non-NZ citizens/permanent residents to donate any money whatsoever, directly or indirectly, to any New Zealand election, including referenda. It should be a crime—with a prison sentence and heavy fine—for any New Zealand citizen to accept foreign money to influence a New Zealand election or referendum (money laundering charges might be appropriate in such cases).

New Zealand has already started taking steps to protect New Zealand elections from foreign interference. Late last year, the Government introduced a bill to drastically cut the amount of money that foreigners can donate from the previous $1500 to $50. I think it should be zero, and can’t see any good reason why any contribution from anyone other than NZ citizens or permanent residents should be allowed, no matter how small the amount. However, the Government said it was to avoid trouble with small donations, like when people collect donations on the street or at an event. Maybe that makes the small amount okay?

The bill also banned anonymous online election ads, treating them the same as print and television/radio ads, printed campaign materials, and election signs, all of which must contain the name and address of the person who authorised the ad (which is easy for official ads from parties and real New Zealand political organisations).

“We’ve seen in other countries an avalanche of fake news social media ads that contain no information about who is behind them. That’s not fair and we don’t want to see it repeated here,” Justice Minister Andrew Little said. Indeed.

The law, which came into effect on January 1 of this year, is a very good first step. “We need to protect the integrity of our elections,” the Justice Minister said. “We don’t want our elections to go the way of recent overseas examples where foreign interference appears to have been at play.”

If the law can do something to keep those American meddlers out of our politics, we’ll know the law really works. If not, we’ll need to go farther. New Zealand’s elections ought to be for New Zealanders alone to decide, without foreign interference.

There are actually two referenda on the ballot this year. In addition to the one on cannabis law reform, there's also the End of Life Choice Referendum, I will vote YES on both, and foreign meddlers only make me more determined to vote.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Weekend Diversion: Songs stuck in my head

There are always songs that we hear and, whether we actually like them or not, they get stuck in our heads—not earworms, necessarily, but songs we connect with for some reason or other. The song might be an earworm, but what makes it stick with us might be the lyrics, the arrangement of the music, the vocals, or even the video, as has so often happened with me. This week’s songs are examples of that, the latter in particular.

The song up top is “Love Someone” by Danish pop and soul band Lukas Graham. The lead singer is Lukas Forchhammer, whose Irish father’s surname was Graham. Forschhammer co-wrote the song.

I first saw the video for this song when it was new in 2018, and fairly often after that. In fact, it’s still played often on the music video channel I watch. I liked it back in the day, and I identified with it, but that took on a whole new, far greater intensity after Nigel died, because of the lyrics. The chorus goes:
'Cause when you love someone
You open up your heart
When you love someone
You make room
If you love someone
And you're not afraid to lose 'em
You probably never loved someone like I do
You probably never loved someone like I do
True enough, that. These days the final bridge also especially resonates with me:
All my life
I thought it'd be hard to find
The one, 'til I found you
And I find it bittersweet
'Cause you gave me something to lose
That, in a nutshell, is how I felt about my relationship with Nigel. In fact, it still is. That’s probably why I still like it, but nowadays it usually makes me cry.

If I ever heard the song on the radio, it was very rarely. And it wasn’t exactly a chart-topper. It hit 20 in Australia (2x Platinum), 80 in Canada, 27 in New Zealand (Gold), in the UK, it apparently didn’t chart, but was certified Silver, anyway. It also hit 70 in the USA’s Billboard “Hot 100” (Platinum). Clearly it sold well, despite not charting all that high.

The next song is completely different – “Sunday Best” by American pop-fusion band, Surfaces:

The video was originally released in July of 2019, but it became a hit in early 2020 when the song was released in March 2020, which is about the time I first saw the video on the music video channel. When I first saw the video, I had a bit of a “WTF?!” moment, that wasn’t helped when I went to their website and read:
our music exists to spread love and positivity across the world. for those hurting, for those lost, we want every song to be a pathway that can lead anyone to brighter days. we often write our songs in ways that can better relate to the listener, so that they can be serviced by the stories and emotions we hope to capture with our words. [missing capital letters in the original]
Okay, then. The thing is, I went to their website originally because I was trying to figure out if they were for real or having us all on with their feel-good, sunshiney popness. Truth is, I still don’t really know, but I don’t care. The song is upbeat, both the music and the positive lyrics. I eventually came to like it, after it was well and truly stuck in my head, anyway.

The song went to Number 10 in Australia (Platinum), Number 8 in Canada, Number 9 in New Zealand (Gold), 36 in the UK, and 19 in the USA (Gold).

Next up, a video that definitely made me go “WTF?!”: “To Die For” by English singer/songwriter Sam Smith, who I’ve shared several times before.

The song and video were released in February of this year, which means I saw it a lot during lockdown. To put it mildly, it is—unusual. The song opens with a sample from the 2001 film Donnie Darko, which relates to the song, but I have absolutely no idea what the singing mannequin head thing is all about. Smith opened a pop-up wig shop in London named after the song about the time it was released. Which doesn’t clarify anything, of course. Still, I liked the song as I have most of Smith’s other songs, but the video definitely gave me pause.

The song hit Number 15 in Australia (Gold), 56 in Canada (Gold), 34 in New Zealand, 18 in the UK (Silver), and 46 in the USA.

Finally, this week a very different song, and one of the most successful I’ve ever shared: “Blinding Lights” by Canadian singer/songwriter The Weeknd (real name Abel Tesfaye).

What I liked about the song was the 1980s vibe that permeates the song, sometimes blatantly, other times less so. I really liked the sound of the song, except for the part where the whole song slows down, like a tape recorder with dying batteries, which was a "WTF?" moment for me, actually. I think that part of the song is silly and adds nothing to the song, though in the video it at least makes some sense.

In any case, the song went to Number One in 32 countries in the world, including all the countries I usually write about: Australia (5x Platinum), Canada (5x Platinum), New Zealand (2x Platinum), UK (2x Platinum), and the USA (Platinum). Rather popular, then.

And that’s it for this week. A real mixed bag of songs by a little UN of artists. All the songs got stuck in my head for a variety of reasons, but they all ultimately got stuck there because of their videos. I’m okay with that.

Stuff turns 20

Stuff's current logo.
I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t normally comment on a news company’s anniversary, and certainly not the anniversary of its website’s launch. However, this one is something I have a somewhat indirect connection to: Yesterday the Stuff website turned 20.

In 2000, I was working for INL (Independent Newspapers Ltd), the company that launched the Stuff website. I was working for the Auckland division that published the Sunday Star-Times and Sunday News Sunday papers, along with the weekly tabloid/gossip paper, NZ Truth, the racing titles Friday Flash, Best Bets, and Turf Digest, along with some magazines, the biggest of which was NZ TV Guide (there was another Auckland-based division that published a stable of magazines).

When the website launched, we were given some swag (which I still have somewhere), and our own internal company site, Our Stuff, which had. Among other things, stuff, as it were, about the company and the industry.

Not long afterward, our division was rebranded “INL Sundays” (which, we joked, made us sound like an ice cream shop). The company began internal reviews that resulted in job losses at other divisions, so when it was out turn, my teammates and I joined a union (I mentioned that in a post about unions back in 2014).

Not long after that, in June 2003, the company was sold to Australian media conglomerate Fairfax Media. I transferred to another division shortly afterward (which I’d planned ahead of time), and left the company altogether the end of that year.

In July 2018, Fairfax merged with Australian media conglomerate Nine Entertainment Co. (which had once owned New Zealand TV channel Prime). Nine made it clear it intended to sell its New Zealand assets, by then branded under the “Stuff” name, and that finally happened—after the lockdown—with a management buyout (for “one dollar”). Stuff now owns the Stuff website and all the surviving papers—the weeklies, Sunday Star-Times and the Sunday News, along with daily newspapers Dominion Post (Wellington), Christchurch Press (Christchurch), Waikato Times (Hamilton), plus a bunch of regional papers.

I basically stopped reading Stuff several years ago because so much of its content was shallow clickbait. I returned when the country’s biggest newspaper, The New Zealand Herald put up a paywall because I thought the paywall was a very bad deal, and its existence meant I could never be sure whether the Herald story I saw a link to was free or not, so I just stopped following links to the paper’s website. Instead, I started checking our other New Zealand news sites, including Stuff, among others.

Like most NZ mainstream news organisations, Stuff’s journalism is varied, especially when it comes to covering New Zealand politics, leading some to claim it has a rightward tilt—though not nearly as much so as the Herald. Maybe so—such things are mostly a matter of opinion. However, many of the company’s journalists are very good. For example, I think Henry Cooke is the best political reporter in New Zealand, an opinion I came to after reading his reports on US politics and election campaigns—the first NZ journalist I’d ever seen get it right. Given how complicated and labyrinthine US politics is, anyone who gets that right is bound to do well covering NZ politics, and he has. If only the politics journalists at competing major media companies were half as good, we’d have a decent newsmedia overall.

My connection to Stuff, then, is only that I worked for the corporation that started it, and in an entirely different division and city than where the site was born. Even so, I was keenly aware of its launch, and I relied on it for a long time. Then, it changed, I changed, and then we both did that some more, and now I’m back to checking them out frequently—though not every day. Another thing that’s changed over these 20 years is that I often need a break from all news, and I’m certainly not alone in that feeling.

Here’s to another 20 years of stuff from Stuff.

See also:

“Stuff turns 20: From unwanted child to biggest NZ website, the story of how Stuff grew up”
 – Stuff

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Talking about it

Yesterday wasn’t a good day. Most people going through emotional pain won’t say anything. I just did. And that’s the point.

Yesterday morning, Sunny wouldn’t eat, yet again. I have no idea why not, but she didn’t, even though she was acting completely normally in every other way. I still have trouble with frustration, and for some reason, despite being a small frustration, it was a trigger, and I had the biggest meltdown I’ve had in ages.

The sobbing went on for far longer than usual, and my stomach became quite sore. In fact, I stopped mainly because of that, and especially because I was also exhausted. I thought about just going back to bed. I didn’t. I had things to do.

Sunny ate some dinner that evening (and ate normally today), but I had another cry yesterday evening, anyway, that time because I was looking at photos I’ve shared online, all of them showing the good times with Nigel, one way or another. I was also going through some work papers Nigel left behind to see what had to be securely destroyed, and what could just be thrown away. That gave me a particular insight into Nigel’s career, and that made me sad.

My bad day yesterday serves up several reminders. First, if I hadn’t said anything, no one would know I had a bad day. That’s a reminder that we may not know what private hell someone else is going through at any given moment while remaining silent. In fact, I’ve done that most of the time, too.

Another more specific reminder is that dealing with terrible loss and profound grief isn’t a closed-ended process, one with a beginning, middle, and end, but, rather, it’s a process and journey that has no schedule, no set course, one that will take as long as it takes. Along the way there will be good days, and some bad days, some of which may even be very good or bad.

A long time ago in this process I said that no one had to worry about what I say, but only if I stop talking. That was on my mind, too, and I knew I had to say something about my very bad day, if only to keep myself honest. After all, it provided lessons for me, too.

Sure, I had a very bad day, but that’s not what’s important; I’ll have more bad days and others will be good ones, and I may not say anything about either of them. If someone like me, a person who talks openly about what’s really going on in his life, doesn’t always talk about what’s happening, just imagine what others, people unaccustomed to talking about what they’re going through, may endure in silence. Unless someone speaks up, we may never know what private hell they’re going through. We really do need to be kinder and gentler to others, even strangers. That’s my real point.

Because yesterday wasn’t all bad, of course (no day is all good or all bad). Among other things I got the results of my most recent blood tests and they’re all fine. And Sunny did eventually eat. And Leo slept in my lap whenever I sat down. And I got some chores done.

So, yesterday wasn’t all bad, but the parts that were bad were very bad. How many other people around us could say the same thing on any given day? I’ll try to remember this lesson. Sometimes I will, other times I won’t, but one thing I know for sure is that I’ll have bad days again. What I don’t know is whether or not I’ll say anything about them.

This time I did.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Things need to be done

Things need to be done, which is very annoying. Why can’t those things just wait until we’re good and ready to deal with them? But, no, they demand attention regardless of what we want or want to do. On the other hand, doing things can be really good for a whole bunch of reasons.

Yesterday I mowed the lawns (Instagram photo above). As far as I can remember, it’s the sixth time I’ve done that, though not always been both front and back. For example, in early May (the last time I mowed?) I only did the back lawn, and it had grown a lot since then, the front less so. It needed to be mowed, but not nearly as much as the back lawn.

Sunday night, I assembled some storage shelves for the laundry area in the garage. I’d originally planned on putting a cupboard in the space, but thought a shelving unit with wire-mesh shelves would be better for a place with moisture around than fibre board cupboard would have been.

That space became available for the shelves when I moved the dryer on top of the washing machine. I needed my brother-in-law to help me lift it because it’s a condenser type, which means it’s much heavier than an ordinary dryer. It wasn’t all about making space, though: The dryer needs to be cleaned out all the time, and the exchanger unit thing is at the bottom of the dryer, and there’s a port inside the machine (at the back, of course) that has to be vacuumed out. With the dryer sitting on the floor, the only way to clean all that was to lie down on the floor, which I wasn’t keen on doing, not the least because it’s harder to get up off the floor than it used to be. Creating the space for the shelves was actually a benefit from making the dryer easier to clean.

Those are some things I’ve been doing, things that needed to be done. But the far more important things had nothing to do with the house, or chores.

On Saturday, I went with my cousin-in-law and sister-in-law to the Tamahere Country Market, a monthly thing that’s part farmer’s market, part artisan market (the specific mix varies from month to month). It’s a way of supporting local producers, as well as spending time out. It’s held the third Saturday of the month at the farthest reaches of Hamilton, near Cambridge, all of which is why I’d never been to it before.

Afterward, we went for brunch at a nearby cafe (Instagram photo below), the first time I’d been there, too. On the way home, we stopped at a shop I’d never even heard of, much less been to.

The next day, we all went to the restaurant at an olive farm in Southern Auckland. The family had given me a gift certificate for my 60th birthday, but my hospitalisation last year made it difficult to plan a trip, then Nigel died, and, well, it seemed like there’d just never be chance to use it. So my sister-in-law (the same one from Saturday) organised for us to go before it expired. And, it was lovely.

As I was waking up Sunday morning, in that weird dreamlike state that’s neither asleep nor awake, I thought about the trip ahead, and imagined they’d have beef cheeks on the menu (they’re very trendy right now). The very name grosses me out, and I imagined turning my nose up at it, trying it reluctantly, and even involuntarily making a face as I did so.

When we got there, they did, indeed, have beef cheeks on the menu, so I felt obligated to order them (one simply doesn’t ignore the demands of a dreamlike state). As I did, I briefly made the face I’d imagined—just for my own amusement, to be honest; I don’t think anyone noticed, it was so brief. For the record, it was okay, but I wouldn’t have it again—too strong and even gamey for my liking.

The week before, I’d gone with my cousin-in-law to the house of some friends of hers for dinner. I knew them, though Nigel knew them much better than I did. It was the sort of thing that would have made me feel quite anxious, even if Nigel had been with me, but especially if he’d been unable to go for some reason. Under the circumstances, I could have expected to feel overwhelmed, and the anticipation of that may have me decline the invitation. So, I don’t know why I agreed, but more, why I didn’t feel anxious. In fact, it was a nice evening.

What all these outings have in common is that I was doing unusual things, tings I wouldn't normally do, and all in a short period of time. In fact, these days I’m far more likely to agree to doing social things than I ever have been, and that’s not merely because I don’t have to consider anyone else in my household. I don’t know what makes me do social things, when, on the face of it, many of them are well outside my comfort zones.

It’s been going on long enough now that I think this is one of the ways in which I’ve been changed, possibly/probably permanently. It’s not a case of “feel the fear and do it anyway” (I’ve done that in the past, especially when I had to an event with nothing but strangers). Instead, it’s not feeling the fear in the first place. At the moment, I think it’s because I’m so matter-of-fact about life in general, and I just don’t care or worry about things that at one time would have bothered me.

All of that is on top of the day-to-day things I need to do. Mowing the lawns is an example of new chores, one of the things I do know that I didn’t do in the past. Moving the dryer and putting up shelves isn’t in any way unique, because I’ve done similar things all my adult life. What’s changed is the context, because I’m now doing things for myself alone, and to make my daily life easier and/or better.

Things need to be done. Always. But sometimes it turns out that doing things can be really good for a whole bunch of reasons. I don’t think I’m done finding out what those reasons are.

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.