Friday, December 13, 2019

Twelve weeks

Twelve weeks ago today my husband Nigel died. So much has happened since then, but I still have a very long way to go, as today reminded me. Actually, I’ve been aware of that for 12 weeks.

Today I had a few cries, which, of course, isn’t unusual: Half of me was ripped away, and that hasn’t even begun to heal. That’s why I talked about feeling “happy-ish” about the new house: I’m not happy, and I have no idea when I will be, or even if I will be (though I expect to be happier someday). This is where I still have the farthest to go.

In Nigel’s last couple weeks, we talked about everything we needed to say. He asked me at one point if I had any questions for him, and, knowing he knew from personal experience what I’d be facing, I asked him, “how long does it take, not before feeling better, but before it doesn’t hurt so fucking much?” He said that while it’s not linear (which I knew, of course), after three or four months there would more times when I wouldn’t feel sad all the time. Slowly, those times will become more often, he said, but even a long time afterward, emotions can strike back without warning. So far, that’s exactly how it’s played out. In fact, only a few short weeks ago I couldn’t have imagined ever describing myself even as “happy-ish”.

I think about that all the time, and that it means that even now, twelve weeks after he died, Nigel’s still giving me comfort and wisdom. He’d be glad I listened—and he’d probably make fun of me for supposedly never listening to him. That was one of his things.

While Nigel’s been in my thoughts most of the day today, I didn’t have an especially bad day (having a few cries in a day is my normal life, and it’s somewhat better than it’s been). I didn’t have a great day, but that was mainly because I’m just plain worn out from work, from grief, from trying so hard to find a path for myself alone.

I used the word “alone” to underscore an important point: While the family has been extremely supportive and helpful, and, as I said the other day, that would make Nigel very happy, everyone knows that, ultimately, this is a journey I must take alone because only I can find and make a life for myself. I don’t want to do that—I want my old life back—so even as I try to move forward, I’m still held back by not wanting to even have to do it—I want Nigel back. It’s up to me to work though that at my own pace.

And yet, I really am better today than I was twelve weeks ago, just as Nigel told me I would be. I really am “happy-ish” about moving to my new home (I found out today that it really might be possible to move up settlement after all, something that would be good for all sorts of reasons). And I’m happy that even though I don’t share life with Nigel any more, I still benefit from his wisdom, and his love.

Twelve weeks ago today my Nigel died. So much has happened since then, and I still have a very long way to go. I’ve been aware of that for the entire 12 weeks, especially today.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Big news about moving forward

There are times when things happen that we want to talk about, but for any number of reasons, we just can’t. I’ve just been through one of those times, and there’s a story there, but the headline version is this: I’ve officially bought a house in Hamilton.

A while back I talked about finding a section to build a house, but that wasn’t to be. The problem was that the developer’s covenants—which are legally binding rules—were far, far too restrictive. Developers’ covenants for new housing developments normally deal with the look and feel of the development, including minimum size of houses, how long construction may take, those kinds of things. But that developer went far beyond that to dictate behaviour of homeowners (among other restrictions, they dictated how many pets people could have, banned all campers, etc., and any of that could mean that any future neighbour who simply didn’t like me could have made my life difficult by enforcing the covenants, which are legally binding on all owners).

Because of those covenants, that whole thing fell apart a couple weeks ago, and while I’ve become very matter-of-fact about all this sort of stuff, it was nevertheless disappointing. That and other things going on left me felt feeling quite down, so I decided to go to Hamilton to be around family.

I arrived on Saturday (November 30), and my brother-in-law suggested we go look at some areas of Hamilton that I hadn’t considered very much. We set off, with my brother-in-law being tour guide, and we ended up going to a new development. It was nice, with all the houses either new or under construction. After we drove around a bit, we decided to move on.

As we were leaving the development, we noticed a real estate agent putting up a sign for an open home, and, even though we hadn’t planned on going to any open homes that day, we decided we may as well go have a look, anyway, since we were there. As we went back around the roundabout to head back into the development so we could go find the house, I thought to myself, “This is just the way this sort of thing would work out for me: I’m in a relatively random area of the city, by pure chance we see a real state agent putting up a sign, I go, look at it, like it, and buy it. Just like that.” And that’s what happened. Also, the agent that day was just filling in for the listing agent, so that coincidence of conditions was even more extensive.

The process for buying a house in New Zealand is fairly straightforward: A buyer makes an offer, which usually has at least a few conditions, that is, things that the buyer wants to specify to happen, such as, time to organise financing, getting official information from the local council (like the city government), that sort of thing. The vendor (seller) can accept or offer counter proposals, including on price. Once agreement is reached, the clock starts ticking.

Ordinarily, the countdown begins as soon as the vendor signs the agreement, or sometimes the next business day. The buyer’s solicitor (lawyer) usually has up to fifteen working days (excluding weekends) to complete everything. Once the conditions are all met, the offer is said to go unconditional. In my case, that happened today, some five working days after the contract went to my solicitor for review (shortening the time was the only thing the vendor changed in the contract).

At the end of the process is settlement, which is somewhat similar to closing in the USA. A few days before the settlement date, the buyer and seller go to their own solicitor’s office to sign the relevant paperwork, and that’s that until settlement day. On that day the buyer’s solicitor transfers to the vendor’s solicitor the funds to complete the purchase, and title to the property is transferred to the buyer. The buyer then picks up the keys, usually from the realtor, and that’s that.

In my case, settlement is on January 24, which, as it happens, will also be the eleventh anniversary of when Nigel and I had our civil union ceremony (back in those pre-marriage equality days). I, of course, knew that, but didn’t mention it until just now, in part because I’d hoped to move up the date. However, I now think that date is fine, and actually appropriate because it’s a sort of symbolic bridge for me. That means I’m likely to move in Saturday, January 25.

Obviously, I liked the house—in fact, I liked it when I saw it from the street. It’s brand new and will meet my needs now and also over the coming years as I get older. It also has a really good feel.

I honestly don’t know whether Nigel and I would have chosen it together, since it’s a three bedroom and we’d have looked for a four bedroom so we could each have an office (one of the things I learned in our life together was the importance of us each having our own space). However, after two and half decades together, I definitely do know that Nigel would have liked the house and he’d have liked it for me. It feels good to know that, but there was one more coincidence with the property: One of the investors in the overall development is Tainui Holdings, the investment arm of Tainui, the iwi (tribe) in the Waikato (the area Hamilton is in). That matters to me because Tainui was Nigel’s iwi. So, it’s like giving money back to his iwi, and it also feels like I belong there even before I move in.

All of this has arranged itself fairly effortlessly, which is one of the things people (especially my sister-in-law) said to me: When the house was right, it would be easy (or, maybe just not as difficult). She was right.

I’m keenly aware that some will see in all this the possibility that Nigel was helping/guiding me. Maybe so, maybe not. While I don’t believe in anything magical, nor am I in any way spiritual, the core point of being a sceptic is that anything is possible, and all it takes to work out what’s true and real is evidence. So, I certainly have an open mind.

What I do know for certain is this: I need to move to Hamilton in order to begin whatever my new life will become, and while moving there was always the plan for Nigel and me, none of this would be happening right now, or in this way, if Nigel hadn’t died. I also know that Nigel repeated many times in his final days that he wanted to make sure I’d be okay, and I will be. I know that he’d have liked the house I’ve chosen, and he’d have been very happy for me to live there. Is there anything supernatural beyond all that? I have no idea, but what I do know is more than enough for me.

I also know one more thing: I’d never have gotten to this point if it wasn’t for the love, support, and help of the family. That, too, would have made Nigel very happy.

When I got back to Auckland after I made the offer to buy that house, I told my -in-law, “For the first time in 10 1/2 weeks, I feel kinda happy. Well, happy-ish, maybe, but I’ll take it.” That’s still true.

There are times when things happen that we want to talk about, but we just can’t. In this case, I couldn’t talk about it because things had changed so many times already, and I wanted to be certain this was actually happening. Now, it’s certain: I’ve officially bought a house in Hamilton, and that makes me happiy-ish. Only 11 1/2 weeks after Nigel died, that’s a really good space for me to be in. The new place will be, too.

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.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

How I know it gets better

This week provides the reason I know things will get better for me, that this grieving will ease. I know because it’s already happened.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the USA, and it will also be ten weeks since Nigel died. That’s reason enough to for me to want to avoid the holiday, but I have another reason: My father died on Thanksgiving Day in 1979—forty years ago.

Forty years is a long time, and I no longer grieve my dad like I did back then. I laugh when I remember the funny things he said, I get appalled when I find myself saying things he did—or even standing like he did. How did I get that “old”? So, yeah, things did get better.

My dad’s death gives me one more piece of evidence that grief gets better: Thanksgiving Day 1979 was November 22 (the 23rd here in New Zealand)—last week. I didn’t remember. It’s true I have a helluva lot on my mind right now—trying to figure out what my new life might be, trying to get things organised to make that life possible, and all the day-to-day stuff I have to do right now (such as, for some reason the dogs stubbornly refuse to feed themselves). And the huge reality overshadowing all of that is my loss of Nigel. That’s at the centre of my thoughts and feelings right now.

There’s another fact about my forgetfulness, one that’s a little embarrassing. The real reason I didn’t remember the 40th anniversary of my dad’s death is that it was on Thanksgiving Day, which means I thought about him around that holiday, but the truth is that I didn’t remember the actual date—in fact, I had to look it up for this Note. Actually, my mother adds to this: I have no idea what date in 1980 she died—June sometime. Sure, I knew at one time, but the importance of remembering the dates faded as time went on.

Be that as it may, I doubt I’ll ever forget losing Nigel, and probably not the date. He was my husband, the one I chose to build my life with, who I loved and who loved me. We were soulmates. But there’s also the fact of time: My dad died forty years ago, and it took that long for me to actually forget about his death. I’m 60 now, and bad at arithmetic as I am, even I can work out I’m unlikely to live another 40 years. So, as long as I don’t lose my marbles, I’m unlikely to forget.

Because of all this, I can see that a time will come in which I won’t feel the pain as keenly, and I won’t be at risk of suddenly bursting into tears. But there will be one thing that will be different from my dad’s death: While I know that I’ll also remember all the funny things Nigel said (and he was very funny, though I seldom admitted that when he was alive…), and I know that I’ll also find myself saying things Nigel did, or even standing like he did, I know I won’t mind at all. In fact, I’ll smile.

So, I do know things will get better. The fact I forgot my dad’s death on its 40th anniversary shows that—and also why things are nowhere near getting better now. Nigel’s death is still overshadowing everything in my life right now, and it will for quite a while. But I still know it gets better. Eventually.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Hidden wounds

One of the things I’m told the most often is how well I’m doing. People will say that I’ve managed to get through a lot, that I’m making progress and showing strength and courage by doing so. They even say that Nigel would be proud of how well I’m doing, under the circumstances. It’s all said with sincerity and the best of intentions, and what they say is literally true (well, somewhat true at least…). And yet every time I hear such things I feel like a fraud because, to me, what can’t be seen far outweighs what can.

People see me making plans for where I’ll live, and they see me work on projects to make that happen. They see me chopping away at all the details of settling the estate, even though most are so small that I don’t even mention them. They see me get together with family rather than stay alone all the time. All of those definitely are noticeable, they really are signs of progress, and they’re also a small part of my reality.

Most people can guess that I miss Nigel keenly, but they may not realise that I miss him so much I sometimes feel actual physical pain. They’re not around me when I cry so much that my stomach muscles ache. They’re not around me when the ONLY thing I can think about is how fucking much I miss Nigel, and how I would literally do anything, pay any price, to have him back with me again and for this all to have been the worst nightmare I’ve ever awakened from.

But most of that isn’t visible most of the time because it’s rarely possible to “see” others’ pain. I seldom tear up, much less cry, in front of other people, and my sobbing is never public. They don’t know that at any moment I can be plunged into the abyss of grief, triggered by the smallest of things—or even nothing at all.

Not long after Nigel died, a much-loved long-time friend sent me a link to a piece by John Pavlovitz, which had been shared on Facebook at the time. In the piece from 2016, he was writing about grief, and how one sunny Saturday he’d received a phone call telling him that his father had died. Because of that, every Saturday after that became what he dubbed “a Grief Anniversary”. He wrote:
“In the wake of losing a loved one, everything in your life becomes a potential surprise memorial. Out of nowhere you are broadsided by days of the week or times of day or numbers on the calendar, or songs that were playing or cologne you were wearing or the feel of the grass beneath your knees as you fell at the news. These seemingly incessant reminders force you once again to observe the loss anew.”
For me, that’s been most common on Fridays, the day of the week that Nigel died. Sometimes Mondays, the day we said our final goodbyes, can throw a spanner in the works, too.

Pavlovitz continued:
“And since these days and times and triggers aren’t obvious to most people in our lives (and since we don’t have the time or the words to describe them all), they are usually unaware of just how much and just how often we mourn. Even those who are closest to us and care for us greatly remain largely oblivious to our recurring sadness. Our grief can feel like a very lonely journey, which in many ways it is because it is specific to us and to the one we’ve lost. It is a customized but hidden wound.”
It’s precisely because most people “are usually unaware of just how much and just how often we mourn” that it can appear as if we’re doing “better” than we really are. Which is not to say that we don’t keeping moving forward—most of us do, and I do, too. Instead, it means is that anyone mourning the loss of a loved one carries “a customized but hidden wound” that can open up with searing pain at any moment.

Until now, I never knew it was humanly possible to miss someone as much as I miss Nigel. I also didn’t know it was possible to love someone so much that this depth of pain would result from losing them. I guess I didn’t know much about love up until now.

So, when someone tells me how well I’m doing, that I’ve managed to get through a lot, that I’m making progress and showing strength and courage by doing so, or that Nigel would be proud of how well I’m doing under the circumstances, it’s all completely true from what they can see. And sure, all of that it IS good, and it IS progress, but I nevertheless feel like a fraud because, to me, my customised but hidden wound far outweighs what can be seen. We all carry hidden wounds of one sort or another. I really never realised that until now, either.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Black Friday here

New Zealand has Black Friday, too. Like the USA, where the shopping event was born, it’s not limited to a single day, but it also doesn’t inspire the same sort of shopping frenzy as the USA’s does. The photo above is of three retail flyers that arrived in the letterbox today alone. All the stores are part of the same New Zealand retailing company, but plenty of other retailers are taking part. all of them broadcasting TV ads aplenty.

It’s safe to say that most New Zealanders are only vaguely familiar, if at all, with the connection of the day to the USA’s Thanksgiving holiday, and they certainly don’t know the alleged origin of the name. Actually, many Americans may not know the second one, either, but, does it matter? There’s stuff to be bought!

Black Friday is a relatively recent arrival in New Zealand. Wikipedia says that it “started picking up in New Zealand around 2013,” and that sounds right to me. It started out pretty small and has grown.

When I arrived in New Zealand 24 years ago, the only local references I heard to “Black Friday” were in place of “Good Friday” of Easter Weekend. The new version has become so pervasive that I realised recently that I can’t remember the last time I heard the previous usage.

Personally, I don’t care either way about “Black Friday” sales. If it makes people happy to take part, they should do so. If others don’t want a bar of it, they should stay home. It’s not that hard, really—at least, not yet. This could change in the years ahead, or not.

In any case, another American tradition seems to be taking root in New Zealand, and more successfully, in my opinion, than Halloween. I have no opinion on whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but, for me, I’d much rather have Black Friday than Halloween. But that’s easy for me to say: I don’t take part in either.

Monday, November 25, 2019

It’s all about balance

The video above is the 30-second version of an ad currently running on TV to raise awareness of the fact that the New Zealand Electoral Commission is in the process of open review of proposed adjustments to the country’s Electorate boundaries to ensure they have roughly equal population. Other countries do this, too, of course, but New Zealand’s work is completely non-partisan and independent of all elected politicians. It’s a good system.

Generally speaking, there’s not much opposition to boundary changes because most people simply don’t care that much about it. Sometimes people will grizzle about losing an MP they like for a different one they may not like as much, but that’s about it. Because Electorates are geographic entities, they reflect the populations of those areas. So, areas that strongly align with one party or the other are likely to remain so even after the boundaries are shifted. That’s not a concern of the Electoral Commission, however, so sometimes party balance does shift.

The Electorate we moved from isn’t changing, the Electorate we moved to is changing, and the one I plan on moving to sometime next year isn’t changing. Of those three, the only grumbles I’ve heard so far have been about the electorate I live in now because, complainers say, the proposed new boundaries “split communities”. Trouble is, very often most of those supposed “communities”, if they existed at all, were hardly unitary entities in the first place, so no “splitting” could actually happen. Still, when boundary changes really do threaten to “split” communities, genuine appeals unusually resolve the issue.

The video below is the 15-second version of the ad, which I think works well: It retains the important parts of the longer ad without sacrificing meaning. This is the version I’ve seen on TV the most often, and I think its brevity makes it the best one.

Finally, the 7-second version. I’ve never seen this one on TV, and I think that’s a good thing: While it reinforces their message that “it’s all about balance”, in my opinion it doesn’t provide enough information to explain what they’re talking about, or why, exactly, “it’s all about balance”, or what that even means.

Objections the proposed boundaries are open until December 20, 2019.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Highs and Lows are predicted

The process of losing someone important to us can be described many ways. I’ve called it a rollercoaster, but it’s also like a weather forecast: There will be highs and there will be lows, but the specifics—like if they’ll give good or bad weather, or even when they’ll arrive—are all guesswork, things no one can ever know for sure. The same is true of the grieving process, something that I’ve once again demonstrated.

Last week, I talked about good things that happened as well as some things I’ve learned along this journey. That’s must’ve been some sort of cue, like a rain dance or something, because the next day it all came crashing down around me.

I’d arranged for my sister-in-law and her two sons to come round on Saturday to help me stage the house for sale. She’s had experience doing that, and since I’m not allowed to do anything too strenuous, I knew I’d need help to get stuff moved. It was the logical solution.

We began looking around, and she offered suggestions for paring down the lounge, which I wasn’t too keen on taking because I’d still have to live here while the house was on the market. That was one thing, but what happened next shook me. We got to my office and suddenly I froze: “I can’t do this,” I told them.

This hit me hard because it was so very unexpected, and I couldn’t figure out what caused it. After all, I have no particular affection for this house, and my office was just my stuff, no real connection to Nigel. It should have been easy.

Only later did I realise what the problem was: I may not have attachment to this house—the building—but paring down and getting stuff out of here meant disassembling our HOME, something that obviously goes way beyond the building. It turned out that I wasn’t emotionally ready for it. On the plus side, I did get a nice afternoon just visiting with my sister-in-law and nephews.

I was planning to leave for Hamilton on Sunday to spend a few days with family, and after what happened Saturday, I briefly considered cancelling. Instead, I went anyway. I think I knew that I needed to be around family, and also away from what was upsetting me.

When I arrived, the first thing I said to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, the folks I stay with when I come to Hamilton, was “I’m here to use you”. I then told them about what had happened, and they knew that I needed to be with family.

We later went to some real estate open homes because I was still considering selling the house I live in to start the process of buying a house in Hamilton, rather than building. But that wasn’t clear sailing, with timing a problem. It was likely that all my stuff would need to go into storage, and I’d need to stay at my brother-in-law’s house for maybe weeks or months, though fewer than if I’d built a new place according to the original plan. Still, building wasn’t off the agenda.

The next day, my brother-in-law and I drove around (in the rain…) and looked at sections I might be able to buy to build on. We rang the house building company we’d met with about one section I liked, and she said it was sold, and then told us about others in another development that were becoming available. I found one there I really liked, with neighbours on only two sides (the third faces a wetland area designed to catch stormwater run-off and purify it; when we were there we saw a heron and two ducks using it, and the plants aren’t even mature yet). It was also less expensive than many of the sections I’d looked at, and quite a bit less expensive than some.

She wasn’t sure if the section was available, but she said that when the developer, who was out of town, returned on Wednesday, she’d find out and let me know. She rang me yesterday afternoon to tell me the section was “earmarked” for me (because it’s not quite ready to be sold).

Today we met with her again to go over some details and she showed us a standard design she thought could be adapted for what I want—and at a good price point, especially since the section was less expensive than I’d originally planned on. The next stage is that she’ll do preliminary plans, which I’ll then look at and revise, before some real plans are drawn up. Ultimately, once that’s all done and the building permits are issued, it’ll probably be February before work starts, which means I’ll be in the new house sometime in Spring of next year (Spring begins September 1).

Nothing is set in stone yet, and there will be hurdles to jump, but this is the most progress yet: I’ll get the house I want, in a location I want, in a setting I want, and at a price I want to pay. To make all that happen, I had to work out a way to keep the house I’m living in, putting it on the market only when the house is nearly built.

That matters because then I can stay in this house and work through the purging and paring down at my own pace, as I can face it, when I’m ready to face it. It also means that I’ll be able to shift from here and move directly there, which is important to me—my stuff won’t go into storage, and I won’t have to live with anyone before I move in to my new home. It was the perfect solution.

I’m definitely impatient to get to Hamilton, in part because it means I can truly begin my new life. I have absolutely NO idea what that new life will look like, but I can’t work that out while living in limbo, betwixt and between. None of this was ever in my lifeplan, and I absolutely don’t want to do this: Instead, I want to have my life with Nigel back. But that’s not the way these things work, which is why being able to move directly into that new house, and being able to take more time getting this house ready to sell, will help me so much: I’ll be able to better deal with the inevitable emotional strain, and certainly do so much better than if I had to sell this house quickly, as the original plan called for.

All up, this trip turned out to be very productive, and great progress.

And in this way, a Low was turned back into a High. I’m sure this won’t be the last time that happens. And when it does, I know the family will be there to help me weather the storm. This past week has once again demonstrated that.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Eight weeks ago

Eight weeks ago today was the day that changed my life forever, the day my beloved husband, Nigel, died. It was a time of loss, of shock, of fear, and all of that has continued in some form or other since. Even though much of it has eased with time, the simple fact remains that I haven’t been the same since that day eight weeks ago, and I’ll never be that person again, not with half of me missing.

I’ve used these Notes to chronicle my journey, and my intent was to, as the saying goes, speak my truth, to share openly and honestly what I was going through—events, feelings, emotions, all of it. I did so to bear witness to what was going through in the hope that it might help someone else. I also had a more practical reason: The certainty I have that one day I’ll have forgotten many of the small details of this time, and I don’t want to forget.

Doing this has taught me how important it is to talk about our emotions and our challenges—a burden shared is a burden halved, as the proverb puts it, and sharing definitely lightened my burden. Trust me on this: Talking and sharing is probably the most important thing that someone in pain can possibly do, provided they do so with the right people.

I know that because I’ve also learned that the best way to respond to someone who is grieving is to just listen. People often say that they don’t know what to say to someone dealing with profound grief, but the reality is that none of us actually has to say anything—we just need to listen. A grieving person will need to talk about the person they’ve lost, to share their burden by talking about why the person they lost was so important to them. They also need to cement their memories of that lost loved one, and talking about them helps to do that.

Providing practical help is also important, though there’s a paradox there: A grieving person will most likely need help and support the most soon after their loss, at a time they’re also least likely to be able to think through clearly what help they need. Similarly, later on the process when they know what practical help they need, it may be harder to find, for all sorts of reasons.

In his final couple weeks, Nigel made me promise to ask for and accept help, so it was a bit easier for me than it might be for someone else, despite it being against my nature to do that. I was also lucky that we had an awesome family that rallied around to help me through this time—and, in fact, they still do. Next to talking, asking for and accepting practical help is the second most important thing a grieving person can do.

So, I’ve learned some good and valuable lessons from this experience, but I’d rather not have needed to learn them. Sound obvious? Of course it is, and that’s the point: Anything “good” that comes from a grieving process can never compensate for the loss. The acute pain will last as long as it lasts, and there’s nothing anyone can say or do that will change that. Some grieving people move on in their lives, seemingly relatively easily, and others live the rest of their lives within their pain. Most of us are somewhere between those two points.

I thought about all of that today, in addition to thinking about Nigel. It’s probably why this was the first Friday in eight weeks that I was okay, and I mean that literally: I wasn’t great, I wasn’t awful, I was okay, and that was good enough.

I still miss Nigel desperately, and sometimes I cry so much that my stomach muscles ache. But at the same time, I’ve gotten on with things even when I didn’t want to. I’ve also begun to figure out things for myself as needed, including technical stuff, and that almost surprises me as much as it would surprise Nigel. Actually, that’s not true: He had far more faith in me than I did.

As much as I miss him, though, I’ve also enjoyed sharing his story and more about him, because I want everyone to know how awesome he was, including people who never met him. It’s why I tell stories about him, like the one about him creating an electric gate for us.

But there’s so much more, and even now I continue to find things that make me proud of him all over again. For example, I’ve talked several times about the Kia Puāwai programme at Auckland Council, and today I saw something else about it worth sharing. In his regular email to Auckland Council staff, CEO Stephen Town said this today—exactly eight weeks after Nigel died:
This week, I’m pleased to share with you that Auckland Council has won seven awards recently.

If you attended one of my recent Conversations with Stephen events, you would have heard that I’m extremely moved by, and proud of, our Kia Puāwai programme. Well, now we have even more reason to be proud, with the programme winning the Community Award at the YWCA Equal Pay Awards on Tuesday night.

Initiated by our Customer Services department, the Kia Puāwai programme brings local people who are currently unemployed into our Contact Centre team…

Te Puāwai is an outstanding initiative and I’d like to recognise the late Nigel King’s vision, as well as acknowledge the work of Monique Oomen and her team. The programme is a wonderful tribute to Nigel's work and the legacy he left us.
My thoughts exactly. To see and hear others talk about Nigel’s work and achievements has been awesome, and it’s made me very happy. There’s been more said about him that I’ve heard about, but not directly, so I wasn’t able to quote it. That’s why I’ve been so glad to have been able to share actual words when I get the chance.

As good as hearing all the good stuff said about Nigel by others has been, and even as happy as that makes me, it doesn’t take away the sting of losing him, nor does it make it any easier to learn to live without him. Nigel was the love of my life, my soulmate, my best friend, and so much more. He is irreplaceable.

But today, eight weeks after losing him, I’m okay, and that's good enough.

John Lewis and Waitrose Christmas ad 2019

One of the Christmas ads I wait for every year is the ad for UK retailer John Lewis, which I’ve been posting every year since 2013 (complete list below). John Lewis is a 155-year-old chain of high-end departments stores in the UK, run by John Lewis & Partners, which is an employee-owned company. John Lewis & Partners, in turn, is owned by John Lewis Partnership, a trust run for the benefit of employees.

Another division of of the Partnership is Waitrose & Partners, which runs the Waitrose supermarket chain in the UK. Some years I’ve also shared the Waitrose Christmas ad.

Things are a little different this year, and the video above is the Christmas 2019 ad for both John Lewis & Partners and also Waitrose & Partners. The ad has much in common with the John Lewis ads of previous years—sweet, heart-warming, all that sort of stuff. The combined ad, however, is probably a money-saving effort because the retail chain announced its first-ever half-year loss in September.

As an article in The Guardian put it:
Retailers are facing a tough Christmas as shoppers rein in spending amid economic and political uncertainty.

Sarah Vizard, a news editor at Marketing Week, said: “Most of the money when doing a big campaign goes into [buying space] and they have now got the same agency across two brands so there will definitely be efficiencies of scale. Having one big creative campaign is also going to have helped cost levels.”
That may also explain the return to form of sorts for the ad. At least, that’s what observers in the UK are saying.

I like the ad—what’s not to like, really? It’s sweet and all that, and filled with all the feels we’d expect from a John Lewis ad—even with Waitrose tacked on. It doesn’t sell products as much as feelings, and I think that makes it a nice change from the hard-sell ads that are so common this time of year.

This ad also uses a pop song as its backing track, as they’ve done several other years. This year it’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” which was a hitin 1984 for US band REO Speedwagon. The version used in the ad is sung by Dan Smith, who is the lead singer for UK rock band Bastille. The video of the original song is at the bottom of this post.

I doubt very much that I’ll post anywhere near as many Christmas ads this year as I have in the past, but for a bit of an unusual reason: I looked at previous years’ ads and found that some companies (too many) had deleted their videos (an action I loathe because it makes it so much harder to research things like advertising over time). So, rather than have a lot of those grey nothing-to-see-hear-move-along boxes from YouTube, I decided to be far more selective in the ads I share.

Of course, skipping lots of ads pretty much means it’ll be utterly impossible for me to hit my annual target for the total number of blog posts, but due to the circumstances in which I now find myself, that was never likely, anyway. Better to concentrate my admittedly limited attention span on posts that are less likely to end up with grey nothing-to-see-hear-move-along boxes.

There’s always next year, I suppose—hope?

Previous John Lewis ads I’ve shared:
“First UK 2018 Christmas ads") – 2018
Moz (my post: “First UK Christmas ads") – 2017
Buster The Boxer (my post: “Buster the Boxer’s ad") – 2016
Man on the Moon (my post: “Something nice") – 2015
Monty the Penguin (my post: “Another nice ad”) – 2014
The Bear and The Hare (my post: “Because it’s nice”) – 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The good side of the ride

I said last month that this process of dealing with a major loss is a rollercoaster—because it is. I’ve certainly proven that over the past week and a bit, haven’t I? From the height of a good Tuesday, to the depths of a bad rest of the week, and back up to an awesome day today. It’s certainly been a ride.

I think one of the main things I’ve learned from this experience is to take each day one at a time, and to remember that bad patches don’t last. On the other hand, good patches don’t last, either—let’s be honest about that—but a reasonable thing for me to hope for right now is simply to have fewer bad patches. The shiny, happy, rainbow-filled days can come later, at their own pace. Right now, “average” is good.

Today I got two bits of good news, and what’s important about them is that they’re not unique: They’re bits of good news, things that made me happy, and those are the sorts of things that help with healing because they help to lift me out of sadness.

I also find routine helps with that, and I had some of that this week, too.

I went to the doctor for one of my quarterly visits to renew my prescriptions. There was nothing unusual about that at all—everything was routine—but I also hit my annual cap for prescriptions, meaning I won’t pay anything more until the end of January. That kicked in yesterday—for a couple of my prescriptions this time—so I only paid $15 rather than the usual $25. However, I’m also unlikely to get any more prescriptions filled until February, so that was kind of a minor victory—but I’ll take it.

It’s only been recently that I’ve started to get into new routines, since the old ones just don’t work anymore. That mostly affects ordinary things, like when I buy replacements for groceries, because it takes me much longer to get through things. That’s not a bad thing, by the way.

When I was in hospital in May, one of the doctors subtly said I was fat. She said, “there’s evidence that fat around the heart is toxic to it, so you might want to think about maybe losing some weight.” She was cheeky. And I’ve been working on taking her advice since.

Over the past five or six months, I’ve been slowly losing weight. I’ve done it mostly by substituting a few meals a week (usually three) with low-calorie nutritionally complete meal substitutes. I chose that option because the prescriptions I’m on make me too tired to even go for a walk, and strenuous exercise is forbidden completely at the moment. On the other hand, those same drugs mean I haven’t had any alcohol (and their empty calories) since May, and I also don’t drink much calorie-rich non-alcohol wine (mostly just when we have a family gathering).

After several months of those substitutions and deletions, I’ve lost around 5 kilograms (around 11 US pounds). While I still have a way to go to get to an ideal weight (or a more ideal one…), the last time I hit this same weight was nearly 14 years ago (and even that was about 8kg heavier than I eventually got to the following year).

There are three things about this. First, I’m very happy about it: I’ve long known—long before that doctor’s cheeky comment—that losing weight was critical to improving my health and maybe one day not needing so many prescriptions. Second, the doctor was pleased. Third, everyone who’s noticed (and thank you to them!) has assumed it’s because of my grief, not knowing I’ve been making a deliberate effort for months.

None of which should be taken to assume that I’m living like a monk or anything: I still have the things I like, and too much of them sometimes. When there have been rough patches for me, I’ve been known to engage in substance abuse: Chocolate. There are chemicals in chocolate that can help with depression, which is why we may crave it when we’re sad or depressed, and sometimes I may have had a bit more chocolate than I should have had. Oops.

What all this means is that we have to choose our own path, what works best for us. This is especially true for someone dealing with depression like profound grief. In particular, those of us going through that need to pay close attention to our health. However, others may not understand what we’re up to, and we may have to ignore that in order to do what’s right for us—because most of us know instinctively what we need, regardless of whether we act on it or not.

Speaking of health, one of the worst things that happened to me in the earliest weeks after Nigel died was that I just couldn’t sleep properly: It took me forever to fall asleep, no matter what I did, I woke frequently, and seldom got more than six hours of sleep. When I was lucky. In the past couple weeks or so, that improved noticeably, to the point where I now usually sleep through the night, and get a proper amount of sleep, too. I’m still tired—those prescriptions are still there—but no longer sleepy like I was before.

There’s one final bit of apparent good news, something I haven’t mentioned before because I thought it might be an illusion (delusion?). A few days ago I had the strong feeling that I’d turned a corner. Of course, the path I’m on has many corners, but this felt different, like I was beginning to move forward emotionally. It was the first time I’ve felt that way since this all began.

This is NOT to say that I won’t have bad patches again—of course I will. Nor does it mean I’m suddenly a happy fellow—I’m still in profound grief, and will be for a long time. But maybe good days can be quite good now, and the bad ones? Well, maybe they won’t be quite as bad.

Right now, this is the good side of the ride. I hope it continues, but I’ll still take things one day at a time.

This is an edited version of something I originally posted to my personal Facebook this evening.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Today I’m okay

Today, I’m okay. Add that to the phrases I’ve already talked about, the expressions that both describe and help me get through this time of grieving, such as, “What I can, when I can”, and its cousin, “Maybe tomorrow.” There’s another phrase that Nigel and I used to say to each other all the time, whenever health issues of any sort got to us, and that phrase described most of this past week for me: “I’m really struggling”. But, today, I’m okay.

Nigel and I used to say “I’m really struggling” whenever we had some illness, or some other health thing, like, in my case, when the medication doctors put me on made my life unliveable. The phrase was our way of sharing our burden with each other, and our usual response was simply, “I know”. In those few words, we’d both share the burden and acknowledge it, a sort of “here’s my challenge” along with “I see your challenge, I love you, and I’m here with you.” One of the last things Nigel ever said to me on his last day was, “I’m really struggling, Bub.” I told him, “I know.” After two and a half decades together, that was all we needed to say in order to say so much more.

Last week I struggled, and despite the relatively good day on Tuesday, the rest of the week was the exact opposite. There was no trigger—nothing happened to bring it on, and there was absolutely no reason for it—nothing apart from dealing with having half of me ripped away, of course.

I realised how awful things were on Wednesday when I got angry at terrible drivers in a carpark in Takanini, used my horn a lot, and even flipped off a woman who was blocking us all because her driving was so bad. Now, to be fair, her driving really was awful, and she probably deserved my primal response, however, it wasn’t her terrible driving that set me off, it was the inexplicable hot rage that sometimes comes rushing out of me like searing, glowing lava.

Anger is a common feeling among people grieving the loss of a loved one, and from what I’ve read, there’s seldom an actual cause or trigger. In my case, I’ve noticed that right now I simply cannot handle any frustration, even including the petty annoyances we all deal with every day—like terrible drivers in a carpark.

I also know that such things are phases to be endured: They pass, as all things do, and I knew that I just needed to ride it out—alone. I couldn’t be around other people, not the least because I knew I couldn’t trust myself to “behave”, but even more because I knew that being among other people would be absolutely overwhelming. The better choice, I knew, was to “hide in my cave,” as I put it at the time. Plus, I had a lot of work to do, anyway.

Staying busy is my thing, it’s what’s always gotten me through any emotional rough patches, especially when I don't know what else to do (and right now I’m in about as rough a patch as there is). Which is not to say that I work very efficiently or quickly—right now especially, I certainly don’t do either—but it does get me out of myself and keeps me physically active, both of which are helpful for me. Other people do different things, and I bet that for some people staying busy would be the worst possible thing to do, but a lifetime of experience has proven to me that staying busy works—for me.

The bad patch started to lift by Saturday morning, just as unexpectedly and inexplicably as it had begun. Sunday was somewhat better again—until the evening.

I was working on my monthly work project on my new MacBook Pro, as Nigel and I had intended and planned, when an external hard drive failed. It was, of course, the hard drive that had all my work files on it, and I was immediately faced with the prospect of losing everything I’d done that week and having to start over, from scratch.

This was exactly the sort of thing that could have sent me back down again—but it didn’t. Yes, I was frustrated, which led me to throw (well, toss…) my reading glasses across the table at one point, but I mainly kept plugging away until I sorted it out which, I was well aware, is exactly what Nigel would have done. That could well be why I was calm. Still, I lost more than an hour, and didn’t finish up until well after 3am, and didn’t get to bed until 4am. Then, a half hour later, the dogs started barking at a cat howling somewhere nearby.

After all that, it would be understandable if I was in a bad patch today, but I’m not. Tired, absolutely, but otherwise okay. I have a lot of things around the house to work on this week and that will help ensure I stay okay.

In addition to staying busy, I, obviously, also think about things and analyse my situation. It’s precisely because I think that I can deal with what I feel. Some people overthink their situations, but for me it mostly provides a rational, logical balance to the often irrational emotional reactions I face right now.

And yet, long-held habits don’t suddenly stop, do they? Not when they help, anyway.

Last week, in the midst of that bad patch, I said out loud to Nigel, “I’m really struggling, Bub.” Now, if I was in a Hollywood movie, I’d have had a visitation, or if I was character in a novel I’ve have suddenly entered an other-worldly state. None of that happened, of course, and the closest thing to any of that was that I knew that if Nigel really could have heard me and responded, he would have said, “I know”. That was really all that I needed because it was all Nigel and I ever needed to say in order to say so much more.

And, today I’m okay.

Warehouse Christmas ads

I’d planned on sharing these ads this past weekend, but life got in the way. Naturally, since last week was the first full week of November, I saw some of these ads a lot. Those gifts won’t buy themselves! Well, not yet, anyway.

The video above is the long version (30 seconds) of an ad for discount retailer The Warehouse, part of the same group that owns Noel Leeming, whose ads I shared the other day. Like that store’s ad, the long version is the strongest, but unlike it, the short versions work, too.

What I like about the ad above is, first, that it represents the diversity of modern New Zealand life, and the message that there’s no single or “correct” way to “do” Christmas is strong. This is also the main commercial running at the moment.

The short (15 second) version I’ve seen the most is this one:

That commercial includes scenes from the main long commercial and another long one I haven’t personally seen on TV:

It has its own short version, which is more specific to the scenes in the second long ad:

The reason that the short ads for The Warehouse work as stand-alone ads, unlike the Noel Leeming ad, is that they aren’t trying to tell a specific linear story that has to be truncated. For makers of Christmas ads, having short scenes that can be mixed together in various ways must be really useful; it’s certainly a way to keep the ads seeming fresh because none of them are precisely alike.

The Warehouse often does ads that are perfectly fine: They do the job they’re intended to do, they’re not offensive and—not the least because there are several versions—they’re not overly repetitive despite being in heavy rotation. I think they did well.

Friday, November 08, 2019

More NZ Christmas ads

On Monday, I shared the first NZ Christmas TV ads that I’d seen—and that had been posted on YouTube. One of the ones I saw around the same time is the video above. It’s for electronics retailer, Noel Leeming, part of the same company that owns discount retailer, The Warehouse.

The ad above is the long (30 second) version of the ad, which tells the entire story. The video below is the short (15 second) version, and I don’t think it works: The joke, such as it is, is missing from the shorter version, and the woman comes across as a smartarse. The long version provides the full context. However, I can’t recall having seen the short version broadcast on TV, though it’s entirely possible I wasn’t paying attention when it came on.

This is not one of my favourite ads. It’s okay, I suppose, and it’s certainly relevant to what it’s about (retailing), which is really all that can be expected of an ad like this. So, while this may not be an awesome ad, it's good enough, and that’s what matters.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Finding good things

Today was a day of finding things, though that’s not exactly what I set out to do. Even so, it was a very welcome addition to what would otherwise have been just packing up Nigel’s stuff. They were good finds.

Today’s project was to pack up the bits and pieces in Nigel’s office, most of which Nigel had already sorted into various groupings. My brother-in-law, Terry, stopped by this morning on his way to a meeting to help me do that. It didn’t take long, and it also wasn’t particularly emotional for me, though I didn’t think it would be. I found a bunch of stuff that was cool, useful, or that was very personal and comforting for me.

Among the useful stuff was a corded Apple keyboard, the sort they don’t make any more. My original one broke and I replaced it with a third-party keyboard that looks a LOT like the original, but it’s, um, quirky in its performance.

We had the Apple keyboard still in its packaging for years, and I knew that Nigel had taken it to use with some project or other. But he preferred the heavy clunking keys on his other keyboard, so he put the Apple one aside, which turned out to be lucky for me, because it’s hardly been used.

This matters because I wanted to plug a full-size keyboard into my new MacBook Pro, not the least because when I type using it, I often accidentally touch the trackpad and the insertion point jumps to somewhere seemingly random on the page (and no, I’m not blaming technology for my typos…). The full-sized keyboard doesn’t have that problem, of course, and it also has a numeric keypad, something I need when working with spreadsheets. As an explanation for the modernists, I prefer “old fashioned” corded keyboard because they don’t need to be charged.

As it happens, I’m using that keyboard to type this, and it works great. It’ll make my work so much easier.

I also found three pairs of Nigel’s reading glasses (just inexpensive ones, not prescription). Nigel “lost” them at some point and bought a new pair, realising only when he was ready to pay for them that they weren’t a cheap pair, but around $100 or so. “I was too embarrassed to tell the lady,” he said at the time, so he bought them anyway. I like them because the lenses are glass, not plastic, but the pairs I found today will be useful, too, because I leave pairs all around the house so that I never have to go far when I need a pair. Which is why Nigel sometimes borrowed mine—he could always find a pair of mine.

The best part, though was that I found a bunch of storage devices, including Some “thumb drive” USB sticks. Nigel had so many that I used to joke that he had about a quarter of the global supply of them. After going through his office, I think that MAY have been a conservative estimate. I’d have made that same joke to Nigel, and he would’ve had some sort of snarky retort, just like always.

I was reminded of that because among the other things I found was a microSD card that had been used in his dashcam. The card had video recorded over a few days in late October 2016, when we were not only still at the old house, we weren’t even looking for one to move to. While the camera was just looking out through the windscreen (duh), it also recorded audio within the car. Some of the video was of one of Nigel’s morning commutes, beginning with him talking aloud to himself as he drove from the house, telling a neighbour who was briefly blocking the shared drive to “get out of the way, arsehole“, which was funny to me because I knew how much he disliked the neighbours there. The rest was of his drive, and silent apart from the audio book he was listening to.

Other videos were recorded when he and I were in the car on our way somewhere nearby, and it was those I especially loved. I could hear us just talking about everyday things, such as that our friend Richard Hills was about to be sworn in as an Auckland Councillor (he has just been sworn in to his second term). But there was so much more! At one point, Nigel apparently farted, and we then discussed the qualities of its odour, as we almost always did. I loved hearing all that because there are so few recordings of us just being us, and they actually made me very happy, not sad at all.

All of which means that today’s task not only wasn’t sad for me, it actually ended up making me really happy, which frankly doesn’t happen all that often at the moment. The videos made me feel like I was with Nigel for a few minutes, and that meant the world to me. Fart talk included.

There was boring stuff, too, like piles of papers from his work, which I’ll return to them for destruction or whatever. I needed to go through them to make sure there was nothing belonging to us mixed in them (there wasn’t much). In doing that, I also found his dashcam itself, which he took out of the car when he was getting his next one, the one we sent back recently. I’ve been looking for that dashcam for a year or two. Dealing with that boring stuff was basically no big deal to me after I saw/heard those videos.

Nigel said in his last days that he didn’t want me to “have to go through all my toys”, all the electronic bits and pieces he left behind. So far, I’ve mainly just packed it up and I’ll go through it in my new place—however, for the record, I realised that I can, in fact, identify a LOT of the stuff, something I didn’t think I could do. Also, because we packed up his office today, I found some cool stuff, some useful stuff, and some that was very personal and comforting for me.

Today was a good day because I found good things. I hope this process gives me more days just like this one.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Figuring things out

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure things out. It’s not usually about what happened, it’s about what will happen. I can’t change the fact that Nigel died, though I would do literally anything to change that, so all I can do is figure out how to move forward. It’s what Nigel wanted, and what I need, too.

These posts have been about that “figuring out”, and also about both dealing with everything and what I plan on doing (all of which changes over time). One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that time matters a lot. This sort of enormous grief is entirely individual, of course, and the process of dealing with it can neither be rushed nor even necessarily predicted—though I’ve certainly tried to do both, with no success. The core message is that patience is the most necessary thing for me to have right now, and the hardest to come by.

Not long after Nigel died, a sympathetic reader of this blog sent me a PDF of a pamphlet on grief originally produced by the UK’s National Health Service. I don’t think I learned anything new about the grieving process, but it provided validation of things I was thinking and feeling, and that was a very good thing.

For example, the pamphlet said that it can look to others that the grieving person is just “sitting in a chair doing nothing”, when, the pamphlet said, the person is actually thinking—about the person they’ve lost, about the good times, and about the bad times. I didn’t care what others might think I was doing (I seldom care what other people think about anything I’m doing), but the matter-of-fact description of what happens was entirely accurate.

In my case, I didn’t (and don’t) think about “the bad times” because we were fortunate in that we really didn’t have many of those. I think that maybe I replaced that with thoughts about trying to answer the question, “So what do I do NOW?!”

As the days have passed, I now sit and think less and instead do more. I’ve talked about family helping me do some of the jobs around the house that were just too much for me to take on alone, but there are other things that I work on by myself, and they, too, are moving things forward.

For example, today I went through Nigel’s shirts in the wardrobe, trying them all on and deciding which ones both fit me and looked okay. I assumed that this wouldn’t be a particularly emotional thing for me, and I was right: It wasn’t. I’d always ironed Nigel’s shirts for him which probably gave me almost a sense of ownership already, but I’d also (repeatedly…) asked him to cull the shirts that didn’t fit in order to free up some room in the wardrobe (I also wanted him to buy some new shirts to replace the ones that didn’t fit). That feeling of a sort of ownership, along with my long-held desire to get rid of some of the shirts, made the task just that: A task.

I mention that specifically because it’s important to know that not everything a grieving person needs to do to prepare to move forward is a source of emotional distress. Of course I thought about Nigel as I went through his shirts, but the context was mainly trying to remember the last time he wore a shirt (often too long ago for me to remember). On the other hand, I did sometimes imagine what he’d say if I tried it on in front of him, ranging from “that looks nice on you” to “oh, no!”, with most probably being the equivalent of “yeah, that’s okay”. We would have had laughs.

And none of that upset me. As Nigel and I would both say, “it’s just a shirt!”

I have a few more big tasks to complete. For example, I need to pack up my office, which only I can do. That will actually make me feel happier, not sad, because it’s way overdue (and it’s all my junk). Packing up Nigel’s office may be more difficult because it has the stuff he was currently working on, but even there I think it’ll probably be fine: A few weeks before he got sick, Nigel started separating the stuff in his office into categories, so all I have to do is box it up. Which isn’t to say that there won’t be things to make me sad, just that there will be few of them—and fewer than there might have been if I’d attempted that same task a few weeks ago.

Time, it turns out, really is the great healer. I knew that. Probably everyone knows that. But now I can offer affirmation that time probably matters more than anything else in the grieving process, and the move toward what we might call the recovery process, when a grieving person starts to shift from mainly grieving to concentrating more on the “So what do I do NOW?!” thing.

I still feel like most of me is missing, and the pain is sometimes almost unbearable, but—with time—I get through it. And every time I make it through a bad patch, like the one I had on Saturday, I move just a tiny little bit further into that recovery process.

It’s taken me weeks to figure this out because it took me awhile to understand it. Which goes to show that sometimes taking time and “sitting in a chair doing nothing” can turn out to be a very productive thing to do.

First 2019 Christmas ads

If I’m going to start adding blog posts like I used to do, what better one to begin with than videos of Christmas ads? I don’t know that my Christmas ad series will be as extensive this year as previously, but this post has two, so that’s a good start.

The ad up top is for Farmers, a NZ department store, and I first saw it this week. It’s appropriate that the first words spoken in the ad are, “this is tradition”, because it’s a pretty standard Christmas ad for a retail store. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just that the ad isn’t innovative, but, then, they probably know better than me how to do their ads.

A completely different sort of ad is for New Zealand Post, which I saw for the first time tonight:

I like this ad. It plays on what’s kind of a trope—secrecy and little lies as people try to hide what they’re getting people for Christmas. However, the Pinocchio imagery lightens that, and the The Fleetwood Mac song “Little Lies” in the background helps both reinforce the message and lighten it. The final scene plays off all of that to established what is said is true. This ad is particularly good because of that scene which wraps up the entire ad while remaining within the world it’s created.

Today I also saw an ad for another company, but it that hasn’t shared the ad online yet. So, that’s three NZ Christmas ads on TV, and it’s only November 4, hard on the heals of attempts to promote Halloween. As I’ve said before, NZ retailers don’t have anything to mark the start of the Christmas shopping season like the USA does, and by starting so early, retailers have a chance to maximise sales. Or, repeat sales, as the case may be.

In any case, those are two of the NZ Christmas ads in TV right now. Sharing them is my gift to you, and that’s only a little lie.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

A bad/good day

Every bad day has its good parts, and every good day has its bad ones, as I said a few weeks ago. This is just reality for most of us most of the time, but it’s especially true for those of us in the process of dealing with the loss of someone we loved very much. Over the past few days, I was reminded of how true that is.

Yesterday was a very hard day, because, unlike our marriage anniversary two days earlier, about which I had mixed feelings, November 2 was a clear and valued anniversary for us both. I desperately miss Nigel, obviously, and that made November 2 incredibly hard for me.

Even so, the day was also brightened by family. Nigel’s Mum stayed with me last week, and she was going to be picked up this weekend. As it turned out, five of the Hamilton Crew came up and, joined by a sister in law who had been travelling overseas when Nigel died, together we packed up the garage to get the stuff ready to put into storage.

That could have been a really bad time for me, since it was already an incredibly sad day, but by focusing on the task at hand, and with the support of family, we got it done. Well, to be honest, they got it done, actually—I just concentrated on a few things that had some particular emotional resonance for me, like packing up Nigel’s 3-D printers, for example. But even that could have been difficult, but wasn’t because of the family.

After lunch, we mainly just visited until dinner time, which is pretty much a perfect afternoon for me. We had the awesome fish and chips from the local takeaway shop for dinner, something I mention because it’s one of the few things I’ll actually miss when I move away.

As the evening began, the family members—who had planned on staying the night to finish up today—decided they may as well go home, since we’d finished what we set out to do. But Nigel’s brother read my emotional state, and he and his wife stayed with me that night. His sister and our brother-in-law took their Mum and my nephew back home (the other sister-in-law had already left by then).

That night, he and I talked about Nigel, his death, and what’s happened since, mainly just because we’re all trying to make sense of everything that’s happened and it’s very helpful to have someone to talk such things over with, someone different who we don’t talk with like that all the time.

They left this morning, and I realised a particular reason why it was good they’d stayed the night: Otherwise, everyone would have left all at once, either last night or this morning, and I’d have been suddenly all alone. It was nice to have a sort of transition.

This morning, Nigel's brother and I had a look around the house and realised that there’s really not much I need to clear out in order to get the house ready to sell—so little, in fact, that it’ll be relatively easy to do. That means I won’t need another Family Army to help me, which I think is good. I do think, though, that it’s been good to have had two workdays with two different groups of the family so that no one had to give up a lot of time in order to help me get this phase completed, and, thanks to them, I now pretty much have.

All of that work was necessary so that I can get the house on the market soon. That’s critical to my next step, and I’m still committed to all that, and to the move to Hamilton—even though at the moment I can’t be sure what, exactly, that will look like (it’s a work in progress).

The important thing in all this is that I’m getting through this by focusing on the tasks in front of me—the whole one day at a time thing (or, more specifically, “what I can, when I can”, as I put it awhile back). Second, all of that is possible because of the support and help I’ve had from the family. I couldn’t possibly have accomplished what I have without them.

So, yes, every bad day has its good parts, and every good day has its bad ones. Over the past few days, I was reminded of how true that is.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Twenty-four years

Twenty-four years ago today, I arrived in New Zealand to stay and began my new life with Nigel. We always used to celebrate this anniversary as our own because it was when “we” began, and that made it important to us. This year’s is the first one without him, and I still have no idea how to do this—create a totally different life than the one we’d planned together. I at least know (hope?) that the next anniversary may not hurt quite as much.

Posts from previous, happier years:
Eighteen (2013)
Fifteen (2010)
Fourteen (2009)

Ex, but not ex- – A 2006 post about being an expat
Changing policies and lives – A 2011 post about becoming a permanent resident
12 years a citizen – A 2014 post about becoming a NZ citizen
Foreign-born human – A 2015 post re-examining the word “expat”

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Mixed feelings day

Today I have extra justification for feeling sad: Six years ago today Nigel and I were legally married, which makes this my first marriage anniversary without him. Arriving exactly six weeks after what turned out to be his last day, it was bound to be hard. Thing is, I don’t know what I feel about it.

I don’t think that either of us ever expected to be able to be legally married, not up until it suddenly became legal. When Civil Unions became legal in New Zealand in April, 2005, we didn’t exactly jump at the opportunity. While Civil Unions gave gay couples most of the benefits of marriage, it was NOT marriage, which was reserved for opposite gender couples alone. It was nearly four years later—January 24, 2009—before we got a Civil Union, with a big family celebration, because we’d decided that some legal recognition was better than virtually none.

At the time, the Civil Union ceremony itself was the happiest day of our lives—up until October 31, 2013, when we were married at the Auckland Registry Office. On that day, we became legal spouses and could legitimately use the title “husband” for the first time, something neither of us ever really expected to be able to do.

We chose October 31 because it was the closest we could get to November 2, the date we’d always considered our anniversary because in those pre-legal recognition days the date we started living together in 1995 was a logical one to pick. In 2013, we had a big family party on November 2, which was also our 18th anniversary together.

Anniversaries! Anyone who’s followed my blog knows that every year I’ve marked a string of anniversaries that I came to jokingly call “The Season of Anniversaries”. It began with the anniversary of when I arrived in New Zealand as a tourist (September 12, 1995). When we had our Civil Union, my pretend season extended all the way to January 24. The anniversary of our marriage added another date to that list. Will I continue to mark these dates? I simply don’t know. Probably. Maybe not.

Because six years ago today was such a happy day, and this anniversary is only six weeks after what was the worst time of my life, I honestly don’t know what to feel. Mostly, and most obviously, I’m missing Nigel as I do every single day. However, we didn’t make a big deal out of any of our anniversaries, including this one, though we were always aware of them. If Nigel was still alive, we would have said something to each other about the day, like “Happy Anniversary”, and that would have been it. So, because it was never that big a deal, I can’t be upset about what I’m missing out on today—again, apart from missing having Nigel with me.

One random thought popped into my head, though, as has happened a lot over the past few months since Nigel became sick. Because of when Nigel died, he and I had known each other 24 years, but he died before our 24th anniversary together, and before our sixth wedding anniversary. That means that, technically, we were together only 23 years and married only five. Anyone who knows me in real life will know how much that numeric incongruity will always annoy me, and anyone who knew both me and Nigel would know how much he and I would laugh at that.

But another, sadder, random thought also popped into my head: Six years ago today Nigel and I gained the legal right to call each other “husband”. Six weeks ago I got another title I never expected: Widower. The first was wonderful, but the second is hardest thing I’ve ever faced. It will remain that way for a very long time to come.

So, sad and with mixed (and often conflicting) feelings, all I can think of to say is what I would have said to Nigel if he was still alive: Happy Anniversary, sweetheart. I love you.

Previously, in happier times
Fifth Anniversary (2018)
Fourth Anniversary (2017)
Third Anniversary (2016)
Second Anniversary (2015)
Still married (2014)

To be married
Husband and husband
Just one more

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

My clever Nigel

Nigel was the smartest man I’ve ever known. Years of practical experience helped that, but he just had an innate cleverness that meant there was almost nothing he couldn’t work out. I relied on that, as, in fact, many people did. One great example of that is something I use nearly every day.

The photo above is of an electric gate system that he figured out, designed and built, mostly by himself. It is so very Nigel, and an example of why I was both so impressed and proud of him. I planned on blogging about that gate months ago, but never got around to it.

The background to this story is that when we bought the house, there were two wooden gates across the dive, painted to match the fence on the left side of the photo, but without the trellis at the top. They were heavy, awkward to open, and manual. In rainy weather they became heavy and swelled up, making them harder to close. And, we got wet opening and closing them.

We always kept them closed so that we could let the dogs run free. However, that meant that when we were entering or leaving the property, we had to open the gate and then close it again, and that was a pain—especially for me.

When I say “we” had to open the gate, I actually mean that I had to open the gate. Nigel would usually open the gate in the morning, though sometimes he had me come downstairs to do it for him, like if he was running late. When he opened it, he’d drive off and leave it open for me to go down and close, and the dogs and I would go out to do that. This was in the time BL—Before Leo—because that little guy would have gone tearing down the drive through the open gate.

When he was nearing home, Nigel would ring me, we’d have a chat, then he’d tell me how far away he was so that I could make my way downstairs to open the gates for him. He’d close them after he parked—and after he greeted Sunny and Jake.

This was a nuisance, especially when it was raining, and extra especially annoying in winter when it was both raining and cold. We knew we wanted an electric gate opener, which would mean a new gate, and Nigel set about solving the problem.

We knew that conventional electric gate would be very expensive since we’d have to have power run out to the gate, something that was difficult in itself, especially because the circuit breaker is difficult to get wires to because of the way the house is built. We knew that would cost many thousands of dollars just to get power to the gate; the cost of the gate and mechanism would be on top of that.

Solar power was the obvious answer, and Nigel designed the system and ordered the parts, including the opener mechanism itself. The missing piece was the gate.

Nigel couldn’t get just a gate anywhere in New Zealand (they all either wanted to supply the complete package or were too expensive, or both). Part of the problem was that it’s a non-standard size opening, so we needed a custom gate. Nigel ended up ordering the gate from a company in New Zealand that brings in custom-sized gates made in China—after consulting with me about the style: I suggested it should be solid on the bottom, rather than open, like it is on the top part, so that that the dogs wouldn’t stand there and bark up the drive, annoying the neighbours. Nigel agreed with me, and it’s worked out exactly as we intended.

So, on a very cold, windy, rainy, and wintry Sunday morning, we drove to meet the guy who’d imported the gate so we could collect it from him as he headed south to Hamilton (ironically). Since it’s made of aluminium, it wasn’t heavy—just awkward. We strapped it to the car roof, endured a wild ride back—though we still stopped for lunch on the way home.

Meanwhile, we’d had the fence at the right of the gate replaced to make it stronger. Originally, it was just like the fence to the left of the gate, and poorly built, so it was too weak to deal with an electric gate.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, before we’d hung the gate, we installed the solar panels (I held them while Nigel screwed them in), then he wired everything up, and adjusted how the mechanism opened and closed, until he was happy with it, though the final adjustments had to wait for the gate to be hung.

We hung the gate together, without much trouble or too many cross words. When he was done attaching everything and testing it, he proudly showed me his handiwork, and it was impressive even then. He had no idea that I’d been watching out the window much of the time.

Nigel wasn’t done yet.

He had to adjust a few things. The opening mechanism was powerful enough that it pulled the bolts out of the gate, so he had to fix that problem first. Then, he wanted the gate to stop at a certain point, and no further, when it closed. So, he installed a rubber bumper on the driveway at the left side of the gate so it could hit that to help stop it being rubber, he said, a car could just drive over it without damaging the tyres).

Next, he pounded a wooden stake, like what’s used in construction to hold forms for concrete, into the ground to give the gate something to stop against when it opened.

Finally, he added a wheel so that when the gate is closed it’s resting on it, rather than hanging off the fence post with all its weight. The ground slopes slightly inward from the gate, so when the gate is open the wheel is hanging in the air, which means it doesn’t get stuck on anything.

We had two small remote openers, one he put in his car, and the other was for me. That way we could drive up and open the gate—no more getting out in the rain to open it. He also put a button on the fencepost above the gate so that it could be opened, since the point of the gate was to keep the dogs in, not security, and because that way no one would try and force the gate open, possibly breaking something.

He also got a wireless key pad that he planned on attaching to the fence outside the gate and positioned so that visitors, like family, could open the gate without getting out of their car, but he never got around to installing it, and we’ve since lost track of where it is; maybe it’ll turn up when I pack things up.

The gate has worked perfectly ever since, and it made our day-to-day lives so much easier. But Nigel still rang me every day on his way home, just for a chat.

I tell this story mainly because I want to share how awesome and clever my husband was. It’s true, as I said on Sunday, that he didn’t always finish his projects, but when he did, shit they were amazing!

Nigel never went to university, something that’s not usually necessary in New Zealand, but it was something that he sometimes felt he’d like to do, anyway. It was largely irrelevant for him: He was naturally gifted and almost magically knowledgeable about so many things—technology, business, politics, human nature—that if he had a limit to what he could do, I never saw it.

Well, that’s not entirely true: He often misplaced things and I had to find them for him. I became “The Finder of Lost Things”, a name I admittedly gave to myself, but it was accurate. Maybe that was my contribution to his many projects.

I said earlier that I’d planned on blogging about the gate months ago, and never got around to it. I took that photo up top back in May, and the gate project was actually completed months before that. One of the reasons I didn’t talk about it before was that Nigel was modest about his own abilities and was actually embarrassed if anyone made a fuss about the stuff he did or could do. So, much as I wanted to share his awesomeness, I often didn’t so that I wouldn’t embarrass him.

The fact is, I relied on Nigel so heavily, especially for technological things, that I kind of lost the ability to do a lot of things for myself. Why would I maintain my computers, for example, when he could do it better and far more thoroughly than I ever could—in fact, better than anyone I could hire? Over the past few weeks I’ve realised how deeply reliant I was on him, and so, how much I have to learn—or re-learn, as the case may be.

But Nigel taught me that the true mother of invention is persistence—keep researching, keep learning, keep trying until you figure it out, even if that means taking your time. That will serve me very well in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

But, then, I have a great example to follow. Nigel was the smartest man I’ve ever known.