Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Good riddance

I couldn’t possibly be happier to see the end of 2019. I hated this year, with good reason, and it can’t end fast enough as far as I’m concerned. Even when it does, all the reasons I hated it, and all the bad things about it, will still be there. But at least it won’t be this year any more.

My loss of Nigel overshadows absolutely everything else that happened this year—of course. I know I must’ve had some really good times during the year, but the only one I can remember is the awesome 60th birthday party Nigel organised for me back in January. Aside from that, it’s all fuzzy and blurred.

I had my own personal challenges this year, too. Back in May, I was hospitalised again for afib, and they rebooted my heart. That was traumatic, but just the most dramatic part of what’s been a hard bad time for me for a few years now: Constantly tired, and, depending on which drug I was on at the time, with blurred thinking and inability to focus.

But all of that is overshadowed by what happened a few months later. Nigel got sick, then died, and I had to add that deep loss to what I was already trying to cope with. It hasn’t always gone well, and sometimes it’s gone very poorly, indeed. It’s no wonder that I hate this year.

There have been plenty of other things that have worked my last nerve this year (yes, including that lying criminal conman polluting the US White House), but none of them—none of them—have affected my life as much as losing the love of my life. Hell, getting my heart shocked was the best fun possible compared to that. And it’s why none of those things things that worked my last nerve can gain any of my attention.

I have no idea how 2020 will go, obviously, but early in it I’ll make a major change, the first steps toward starting whatever my new life will be—my life without Nigel. That’s progress, I think, and good, but—well, I want my old life with Nigel back, not this new one.

And that’s why I hate 2019. It took from me the thing that mattered most to me in the world, the most important part of my entire life: My Nigel. I have absolutely NO idea how I’m supposed to do life without him, but I believe that I’ll figure it out—eventually.

So, yeah: I couldn’t possibly be happier to see the end of 2019.

Extenuating blogging circumstances

Goals are nice to have, but sometimes they have to be ignored, and this is one of those times. This year, there was never going to be any way I’d hit my goal of an average of one blog post per day. I couldn’t possibly care less.

I was behind in blogging much of the year, mostly because of the continuing challenges of living with drugs that make me extremely tired. I just didn’t have the gas to complete the drive.

Everything changed, of course, in September. On the thirteenth, I wrote:
“…fair warning—I know that I almost certainly won’t achieve my blogging goal this year, for reasons I’ll explain another time. Right now, though, I’ll say this: I don’t care about that. Part of the reason for that is, as I’ve said before, the goal itself doesn’t really matter. I now truly understand that.”
At the time, we thought that Nigel was very sick, and I thought that getting him well would take a lot of time and effort, leaving me with little or none for blogging. It became clear that things were worse than we could have imagined, and a week after I published that post (which was actually written a couple days earlier and scheduled for publication), Nigel died. After, I just didn’t give a shit about blogging.

What brought me back to blogging at all was that I needed to tell stories—Nigel’s first, and also mine as I try to work out what my new life without him will be all about. But that drive couldn’t possibly ever be enough get even remotely close to my annual goal, as I said at the start of this post. And I’m completely okay with that.

Next month, I move into my new house in a new town in a new life. Some of that will go very well, some won’t, but I’m planning on talking about it all. I may or may not hit my goal next year, but I don’t really care either way. Life really is too short to “sweat the small stuff”.

So, as this blogging year draws to a close, I’m feeling completely relaxed about where I’m at with it. But I’d quit blogging and delete everything if it would bring back my life with Nigel, and that’s the reality overshadowing everything in my life right now.

I’ve learned that goals are nice to have, but sometimes they have to be ignored. This yearI didn’t hit my goal of an average of one blog post per day. I couldn’t possibly care less.

Remembering my mother’s birthday in a new life

Today (US time) was my mother’s birthday. She would have been 103 today, and later this year she will have been gone for 40 years. My parents’ deaths were the first truly significant ones I lived through, but I was young and it was a long time ago. Right now, it’s kind of amazing I remember at all, because of the obvious life changes I’m going through.

I remembered my mother’s birthday yesterday, but decided against writing about it, as I have in previous years, because I’d been upset about Nigel earlier in the day and I simply didn’t need any more reasons to feel bad. At the same time, I realised it’s actually more appropriate to talk about her birthday on what was the date she experienced, not a day earlier as I’d done on this blog.

And here we are.

It could be tempting to try and compare my current grief with that of four decades ago, but there wouldn’t be any reason to do that: They’re not very similar.

There is, first, that fact that she died nearly four decades ago, because it really IS a long time ago. My current grief is recent. My parents gave me life, but my life with Nigel allowed me to actually live. They’re just not the same.

Still, I definitely have been thinking about my parents’ deaths over the weeks since Nigel died, and remembering what it felt like, different though it was. Remembering good feelings about my parents, as I have about Nigel, and not about their deaths, has made me feel somewhat better.

On the other hand, these posts have never been about remembering my loss, but the fact I had my mother at all. I’ve wanted to make sure that I remember her birthday because, as I’ve said many times, when she was alive her birthday could get lost in the midst of all the holidays at this time of year. It’s just that this year those memories are competing with my grief over losing Nigel.

Next year will be different—a year is a long time, after all. I have no idea what I’ll be feeling then, or where/how these conflicting memories and feelings will settle, but I know that I’ll try to do a post honouring my mother’s birthday, and probably on this date again.

Because, the reason for these posts is the same: Once again and always, Happy Birthday, Mom and thanks. Always.

Tears of a clown
– one of my favourite posts about my mother

Previous years’ birthday posts:
Still remembering my mother’s birthday (2018)
Remembering my mother’s birthday (2017)
My mom would be 100 (2016)
Mom at 99 (2015)
Remembering my mother (2014)
Mom’s birthday (2013)
Mom’s treasure (2012)
Remembering birthdays (2011)
That time of year (2009)
Memories and words (2008)

Monday, December 30, 2019

Today I fixed a thing

Today I fixed something that seemed broken. There’s nothing unusual about that, but the way it unfolded says something literal and figurative about how my life must be now, what I must do.

The end of next week, I’ll be doing a “pre-settlement inspection” of the house I’m buying, which is done to make sure everything is as it should be, that the vendor hasn’t removed any chattels, that sort of thing. One of the things I want to do at the same time is measure the windows for curtains, and that’s where the trouble began.

Nigel and I had a laser measuring device—basically like a tape measure, but without the tape. I wanted to use it at the new house because I knew it would be faster than using a tape measure, and more accurate.

I found the device in the garage, but it wouldn’t turn on. I assumed it was dead batteries, and I planned to buy new ones. I also vaguely remembered that Nigel told me some time back that it wasn’t working. I guessed he must’ve meant the batteries were dead.

On Sunday I bought some new batteries, put them in, and still nothing. I worked out that one of the batteries had leaked, and, I thought, that was that: I’d have to replace the unit.

But then I decided to Google it to see if there was a way to clean the contacts, and there is: White vinegar or lemon juice removes the battery gunge from the contact—or so the Internet told me. And, it actually did. I put the batteries in again, and the unit worked perfectly.

I always relied on Nigel to take care of something like this, and he would have done exactly what I did: Search for a solution, try it, and fix the problem. He would have been very happy I did that. On the other hand, though, in this case I’m sure he’d have known what to do without looking it up, but the larger point is the same: I have to rely on myself now, and I have to solve inevitable problems or challenges along the way. Sometimes that will still mean finding someone who knows how to do what I need done. Other times, like this, it’ll mean doing as I did this time: Looking stuff up, and fixing things.

That’s been on my mind a lot lately as the move to the new house draws closer. The family, especially my brother-in-law, have been awesome and far more help in this process than I can express, however, there are still a lot of things only I can sort out, and there will be more once I’ve moved. The biggest thing of all is that I’ll need to learn to live.

Today I was thinking about the reality of the move, especially that it will mean leaving the last home that Nigel and I had together. I suppose it was the fact that it’s getting closer that did that, because it wasn’t a bad day (apart from being overcast, sometimes darkly so). Whatever the cause, I had a few teary moments today, and there will be more to come.

Aside from leaving our last home together, I know that there are other things possibly more prominent in my mind. For example, everything I’m doing is only because Nigel died, and the move to the new house will mean, in a sense, a major move—a big push, really—sending my life into a new direction, one that Nigel won’t be part of.

This is what’s making me feel conflicted about this move, and why I’m not excited as such. In a sense, this will be the first time in my life that I’ve made a move away from something, rather than toward something, even though it’s moving toward something, too. Like I said, conflicted.

Because of all that, I was missing Nigel more strongly today than I have in awhile, and that’s one thing I can’t fix. Time, though, will help.

Today I fixed a thing. But I have so much more work to do to repair myself and my broken heart.

Friday, December 27, 2019

It turned out okay

Me on Christmas Day.
I was given a lot of warnings about Christmas, both publicly and privately. It could be a very hard time, I was told, especially the first year after a loved one dies. Perhaps those warnings paid off because it turned out that Christmas wasn’t bad after all. In fact, it was okay.

I said a few times that since Nigel and I didn’t have any particular Christmas traditions, aside from spending it with family, I didn’t think that Christmas would be bad. I was right, but it helped that I was with family. Next year our Christmas will be at my new house because our family tradition, of sorts, has been that whoever’s moved into a new house hosts the Christmas after that. This mainly applied to Nigel and his siblings’ families, and it seemed for a time that someone was moving every year.

I posted a couple photos on Christmas Day, which allowed me to share a bit of my day and, I think, helped to show others that I was okay. The trip to the new house gave my mother-in-law her first chance to look inside—by peering through the tinted windows, so it wasn’t perfect. I’ll have to make sure she’s there, too, the first time I unlock the door.

So, Christmas wasn’t bad. In fact, it was good to get together with family, as always. We talked about Nigel, of course, but the tears were fortunately minimal. Mostly, we laughed and joked, including about Nigel, and all that means that we included him, in our own way, and it was good.

One of the bridges across the Waikato River. Note the pigeons roosting on the far side of the bridge.

The next day, Boxing Day, I went with my brother-in-law for a walk along the Waikato River while my sister-in-law went for a run (a photo of one bridge from that walk us up top; note the pigeons gathering on the far side of the bridge). And therein lay disappointment.

I was adamant that we walk for 15 minutes so that we’d walk back 15 minutes, and in that way I’d close the exercise ring on my Apple Watch. I was keen on doing that because closing that ring one time would give me a special award (Competitive? Me?!). However, for some reason my watch didn’t count the exercise, even thought it counted the kilojoules burned, the distance I’d walked, and the number of steps. Unless our technology validates our experiences, they didn’t happen. Obviously.

Seriously, though, I pushed a little too hard, considering I don’t move much these days due to the prescriptions I’m on always leaving me extremely tired. At the end of the 30 minutes, we sat and rested until our runner came back and joined us. A bit of water (and an iced coffee—for sugar, really), and I felt better. But I didn’t feel normal until I had a short nap.

Today I left late morning, bringing my mother-in-law with me so that she could spend the weekend with one of my sisters-in-law (she comes to my place Sunday or Monday). Leo insisted on sleeping on her lap, with the air conditioner blowing in his face, and he frequently looked out the side or front windows—and for the first time since he came to live with us, he didn’t get car sick. Maybe my mother-in-law will always have to be with me when I drive anywhere with Leo.

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to a little gathering at our next door neighbour’s house. They have a lovely garden, and tomorrow is supposed to be a nice day.

Apart from that, I just have a (very) little packing to do—just stuff that I want to be able to find the day I move into the new house. I decided last week to bring in movers to pack up the house and then move the stuff to Hamilton, a decision that took an absolutely enormous amount of pressure off of me. My target date to move is January 15.

Jake and Sunny enjoyed their Christmas Day.
As I said on my personal Facebook earlier this evening, I wish I could be excited by the move, but I’m just not. The whole reason I’m moving is because I don’t have Nigel any more—if he hadn’t died, it’s highly improbable that we’d be moving anywhere right now, though we may have moved later in the year. So, the only reason I’m moving is that Nigel died, and that fact keeps me from being excited about the new house. Maybe I’ll feel a bit differently once I have the keys in my hand.

Even so, there are plenty of things I’m looking forward to, because there are fun things about a new house—especially a new house that’s literally brand new, something I’ve never had before. That means that I do have things to look forward to, even if it’s not the same—and definitely not as fun—as it would be if was I were moving with Nigel. Maybe it’ll be enough? I’ll find out soon enough.

So far, then, this period has been going pretty well, and that means I’m doing pretty well, too. As I say so often, right now, that’s enough.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2019

The Queen’s annual Christmas Broadcast has been posted to YouTube, but I’m not sure if it was broadcast on television in New Zealand or not: The TV wasn’t on all day. As it happens, I haven’t even watched the video yet because I simply haven’t had the time.

Nevertheless, it is tradition for me to share the YouTube versions on this blog, and so, I am. And, another December tradition is done!

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2018
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2017 (and 1957, too…)
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2016
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2015

Previous years’ broadcasts are no longer available.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas 2019

It’s Christmas Day 2019 here in New Zealand, and, as usual, I’m spending the day with family. This is also the first Christmas I’m spending without Nigel. I have no idea how I’ll feel on Christmas Day without Nigel, so I’m writing this in advance and setting it to post automatically on the day, just in case I don’t feel up to it.

Last year I said something that turned out to be especially good advice:
As I say every year, I’d like to send holiday greetings to all my whānau, friends, and friends I haven’t made yet. Everyday is what you make it, but that’s especially true for holidays. I won’t waste it, and hope you won’t, either. [emphasis added]
The best Christmas gifts we can give anyone we love is to make sure they know we love them and to spend time with them. Nigel and I did that for each other, not just on Christmas, but every day. That was our real gift to each other.

I truly hope you have a magical day, filled with love and laughter.

Merry Christmas!

I took the photo above in December 2016 at Birkenhead Wharf. I suppose I’ll need to find a new photo for next year.

Some AmeriNZ Blog trivia: My 2018 Christmas post was post number 352 for that year. This one is post number 257 for 2019. That’s just concrete evidence of how awful this year has been for me.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

I've just one wish

There’s a Christmas song that’s been on my mind lately because its words have taken on new resonance. It mentions Christmas Eve specifically, so sharing and talking about it today, Christmas Eve in New Zealand, makes sense.

Nigel and I both liked The Carpenters, but their 1970 song “Merry Christmas, Darling” had been one of my favourites since it was released. As I said back in 2010, “For many years, this song was on my AM radio shortly before I got up to open my presents on Christmas morning, and this was way before it was ever available for purchase.” Technically, that last part wasn’t true: It was released as a single the year it was recorded (1970), and was re-leased in 1974 and 1977. I didn’t own it until I bought their 1978 album A Christmas Portrait, and I didn't know it had been a single until I prepared this post. Actually, the song was re-recorded for that album (that version is in the video above, which is from their TV Christmas special) because Karen Carpenter didn’t like her vocals in the original. The lyrics were written by Frank Pooler in 1944, and Richard Carpenter wrote the melody in 1966.

Talking about that’s really just stalling, though. Sure, I’ve talked about songs before, but they were ordinary ones, not one that was strongly resonating with me at the time. This song means a lot more to me this year than any other, and while this song has emotional resonance because of fond memories of my late childhood, the reason it resonates this year is the lyrics:
Merry Christmas darling
We're apart that's true
But I can dream and in my dreams
I'm Christmas-ing with you

I've just one wish
On this Christmas Eve
I wish I were with you
I wish I were with you
Nigel and I had no particular Christmas traditions, apart from spending it with family, so in that sense I’m not particularly upset about Christmas—I’m upset I’m not spending every day with Nigel. Since everyone talks about how special the day is for them, about spending time with loved ones, and the things they’ll share with their loved ones that day, it all reminds me that for the first time in 24 years I won’t be with the person who mattered most to me.

I’m prepared for it to be a trying day for me, but it’s only the first one I’ll need to face over the next month.

Every year for about as long as I can remember I’ve seen in each New Year, even the years when everyone else was asleep. But even in those years Nigel usually woke up at midnight and we had our first kiss of the year. I told him once that there was an old superstition that the first person you kiss at midnight on New Year will be the person you’ll be kissing at the end of the year. Clearly that’s bullshit—but I'm glad for every New Year kiss we had.

My plan for this year is very different from what I’ve done my entire life: I plan to go to bed well before midnight. It’s the only way I can think of to protect myself from what is sure to be a crap time for me.

Three weeks later it’s my birthday. Nigel always made a fuss over that (because he knew I liked it when he did). I’m tentatively planning a housewarming in the new house a few days later, on a weekend that has happy memories already, and that’ll give me something positive to focus on instead of feeling miserable.

I can’t have the one wish I have for Christmas or New Year or my birthday: To have my life with Nigel back. I know that. I also know that I have to protect myself from what could be a very, very difficult month for me, so I have plans and strategies to help—and some of them may even work.

Nevertheless, I still just have one wish on this Christmas Eve: I wish I were with Nigel.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

2019 December Solstice

The December Solstice arrived in New Zealand at 5:19pm NZDT today. That means that today was the longest day of the year—and they’re now getting shorter. It seems like we only just started having them get longer, but June does feel like a lifetime ago. Today was a nice day—one of two in a row, actually, with lots of sunshine and some blue sky (though a bit windy).

In this part of the world, we always say Summer begins on December first, so the December Solstice three weeks later doesn’t really have any particular meaning. Add to that the fact that because equinoxes and solstices are astronomical events, the date and time of their arrival changes each time. That’s a good reason to ignore them and just use the first of the month in which it occurs.

We’re now done with astronomical events for this year. I often talk talk about all of them, but not this year: I only published this post and one about the June Solstice. That was because the March Equinox was at the time of the Christchurch terrorist attack, and the September Equinox—well, there are obvious reasons I wasn’t paying any attention to that.

Here’s the list of when the solstices and equinoxes arrive in New Zealand next year, provided by TimeAndDate.com:

March Equinox: 4:49pm NZDT on March 20, 2019.
June Solstice: 9:43am NZST on June 21, 2019
September Equinox: 1:30am NZST on September 23, 2019
December Solstice: 11:02pm NZDT on December 21, 2019


In New Zealand, Daylight saving starts each year at 2am on the last Sunday in September, and ends at 3am on the first Sunday in April, so our current NZ Daylight Time (NZDT) ends at 3am on Sunday, April 5, 2020, and we resume NZ Standard Time (NZST). Then, at 2am on Sunday, September 27, 2020, NZDT returns again. In both cases, the dates and times are fairly easy to work out, unlike solstices and equinoxes.

I created the graphic above for a post in 2012. I used an image in the public domain and claim no ownership over that image, however, the composition is licensed under my usual Creative Commons license.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Tales to tell

Because of what I’ve experienced, and what I know about the experiences of others, I now understand that grieving people need to talk about the loved one they’ve lost. As it happens, there’s a lot I want to tell about Nigel, things I didn’t talk about when he was alive. Many of those who also loved him would like to hear those stories again (or for the first time), and sharing them will help even those who never met Nigel to know him, at least a little bit. There are so many stories about Nigel I haven’t told—yet—and this Note is about one of those.

The graphic is a screenshot of one of Nigel’s own posts on Facebook a couple years ago. He’d just graduated from a special program conducted by Auckland Council and the University of Auckland to train participants as Civil Defence (now usually called “Emergency Management”) controllers, that is, the people who are in charge of the city’s response to an emergency, like a natural disaster. He was very proud of his achievement, and I was proud of him, too. However, I’m also embarrassed by the fact that I haven’t talked about it nearly enough.

Nigel was shoulder-tapped to become a controller: His bosses asked him to do it. Nigel had excellent decision-making skills, a calm temperament, and the ability to understand a problem and then work out solutions. I’m sure others saw that in him, too.

Among other things, the course involved lectures and field visits to see the typical hazards Auckland faces, the kinds of things that disaster controllers might be involved with. He enjoyed the course, and came home telling me in great detail about those hazards (which I found interesting, actually, and Nigel’s enthusiasm for the subject no doubt made it even more so). At the end of the course, he became a Civil Defence Controller for Auckland Council.

Auckland Council was training more controllers so that there could be more of them in the pool, because it was a burden for the individuals: During the time they were on duty, which was about a week at a time, they were required to stay in Auckland, had to keep a VERY heavy portable battery powered satellite phone nearby (I called it “the football”, after the nickname for the briefcase said to contain the US nuclear launch codes that’s always near a US president) They also had to be reachable by phone 24 hours a day.

Because of the increased number of controllers, each one only had to do it every few months, and Nigel was on duty two or three times, as I recall. There was never a disaster, fortunately, when he was on duty, though there was once a storm front that came through Auckland that could have been bad, but, fortunately, wasn’t.

I can say with total honesty that I feel that if Auckland had ever faced a disaster when Nigel was on duty, the city would have been in the best possible hands. I really did feel safer when he was on duty.

In addition to coordinating the city’s response to emergencies, the controller has the authority to actually declare an emergency, so one of the specific things the controllers were trained in was how to deal with politicians. It was possible that in a disaster someone elected, like a Councillor or the Mayor, might try to intervene, or they might try to push the controller to declare an emergency. Among other things, the controller on duty could ring Wellington who can, basically, order the politician to back off. The controller is the arbiter of what the city’s response is, and Wellington backs up the controller.

One of the reasons that Nigel was so proud of his achievement was that he’d never attended university. A university degree isn’t necessary in New Zealand, but he always felt he’d missed out on something. He frequently talked about doing some papers (what Americans call “courses”), mainly in business, and maybe even working toward a degree. However, aside from some seminars here and there, he never got around to it. Which means that completing the controller course—with distinction, no less—meant a LOT to him.

Proud as I am of his success and achievement, and despite the fact that I knew how important completing the course was to him, and that he did it with distinction, and also how significant it was that he was asked to become a controller, I’m nevertheless embarrassed by it. That’s because despite its importance, I forgot to mention it when I was putting together his memorial gathering—though, to cut myself some slack, Nigel didn’t mention it, either, and I was a bit distressed at the time…

Another issue for me, though, is that I was used to not talking about Nigel’s achievements. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to—I wanted to very badly. It was just that I was trying to protect him.

Working for a government body can expose workers to, shall we say, over-reaction from politicians and voters. I wrote and podcasted about politics a lot, and I didn’t want him to be targeted because of something I said, so, to avoid linking his work with my “side projects”, the best option was to say nothing about what he did or that was even remotely connected with his work. Instead, I limited what I said about him to what we did in our life together. For the same reason—wanting to protect him—before I got involved in New Zealand politics, I asked him if it was okay . He said it was, obviously (because I was involved for awhile), but I would have stayed away if he’d said it could be a problem for him.

Beyond that, as I said back in October when I talked about the electric gate he put in for us, “Nigel was modest about his own abilities and was actually embarrassed if anyone made a fuss about the stuff he did or could do.” I didn’t want to embarrass him.

That’s why up until now I haven’t shared many stories about Nigel. While I wish I’d talked more about this awesome stuff while he was alive, I can at least do that now. I knew him better than anyone, especially what he really thought and felt, so I’m making sure to talk more about him so others know him, too: I want everyone who knows me to know just how wonderful he was.

As I said the other day, no one has ever impacted my life as much as Nigel did, so I think that the very least I can do is to now share some of the specific reasons why that’s true. There are so many stories about Nigel I haven’t told—yet. But I will.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Nigel’s shadow

The truth is, no one has ever impacted my life as much as Nigel did. That’s not an exaggeration of any kind—it’s just a fact. As obvious as that is, it was only this past weekend that I realised why, exactly, that was. Beyond the good life we had together, the love, the good times and how we made it through bad times, aside from all that, there was one more thing: Time. We didn’t get nearly enough time together, and it will take me a lot of time before I don’t miss him as terribly as I do, but it was also time that has made all of that matter.

This past weekend I realised something that was actually obvious, or it would have been if I’d ever stopped to think about it. I realised that I lived with Nigel longer than anyone, including my parents. I was 20 and 21 when my parents died, which means the life with them that I was aware of was, what? Eighteen years at best? And I was a child for much of that time. Nigel and I had 24 years, all as grown-ups (more or less…), and it was a family we chose to build together.

This is why I mourn him so deeply: He was the most important person in my life. I knew that all along, of course, but the importance of the time we had together that is what I’ve only just realised.

Since Nigel died, I’ve tried so very hard to learn to live again. I often fail in the effort, but I keep pushing, anyway, mainly because I don’t know what else to do (apart from talking about it all, obviously). I’m keenly aware that every success I’ve had, such as they’ve been, meant passing through setbacks, too. On the other hand, no setback has been permanent, so there’s that.

One reality I don’t talk about very often is that I’m incredibly lonely. This is both obvious and to be expected after 24 years in which I spent nearly every day with Nigel. I’ve also previously talked about how isolated the area around our current house is, which only makes that loneliness worse. Not even the furbabies can always make up for that.

I’m keenly aware that once I do shift to Hamilton, I’ll still be spending a lot of time all alone (with the furbabies). But the important difference is that I’ll have options for the first time: None of the family in Hamilton is more than a few minutes away, so it’ll be possible to get together with one of more of them spontaneously, and some of them will sometimes just drop by, something that never happened at our current house (because of how isolated the house is). There will also be plenty of things to do in Hamilton, none of them more than a short drive away. I know that I’ll still have times when I’m lonely, but I won’t be isolated any more, and that’s what’s important.

All of which is why the move to Hamilton has been so important to me, why I’ve pushed so hard to get it done, and why I was able to endure the setbacks, despite not having a lot of emotional resilience right now. This week I had a success on that front: I got the settlement date for my new house moved up to January 10. Because of that, I think that I’ll probably shift to Hamilton sometime the following week, after the photos of my current house have been taken for the realtor (the moving date isn’t certain yet).

The original settlement date, January 24, is the Friday of Anniversary Weekend, a local public holiday weekend (the actual public holiday is the following Monday). So, I’ll probably do my housewarming that weekend. It already has a lot of significance to the life I had with Nigel: We had our Civil Union ceremony that weekend back in 2009, and ten years later—last year—we had my 60th birthday party, which Nigel coordinated and where he said some utterly beautiful things about me and us. Unfortunately, no one recorded that, and because I wasn’t expecting it, he caught me off guard. That’s one of the reasons I don’t remember what he said that night. The important point, though, is that since the last weekend of January already has happy memories attached to it, adding a new one about my new house seems appropriate to me. Nigel would think so, too.

So, Nigel still has a big influence on me and my decisions and my plans, and he will for a long time—because time is part of what allowed us to become what we were together.

The photo up top is the lock screen of Nigel’s phone. I took it over a little while ago, though I’m not yet using it for myself, for a whole lot of reasons. But that lock screen photo is the one that Nigel selected, and it was a photo he took of his own shadow. I don’t know if the photo was on purpose or not, but he really liked it, and it seems appropriate to me: His shadow still falls on so many people.

Today I got an email from one of his Lead Team (the senior managers who reported to him, though he hated it whenever I described it that way—Nigel was a leader, not a manager). There was one sentence in the email that made me a bit teary:

“We had our Lead Team Xmas lunch last week and paid homage to our wonderful Nigel, with a toast to thank him for playing a role in the leaders we are today. It was wonderful to reflect on some great memories.”

So, I know that even now Nigel still influences me, the family, his friends, and those he worked with, too, among others. As for me, no one has ever impacted my life as much as Nigel did, and I now understand that time made that possible. And I now truly understand how his shadow is still visible to us all.

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.