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 drive, 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, meant 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.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The rollercoaster

It’s common to describe times when we face a lot of challenges as a rollercoaster, with the varying speed and velocity, along with sudden changes and unexpected hills and valleys that implies. But the rollercoaster metaphor isn’t really applicable to bad times, because when we choose to ride an actual rollercoaster it’s because we expect it to be fun, thrilling, exciting—positive, in other words. So, the word “rollercoaster” hardly seems appropriate for what I’m going through.

And yet, this has certainly been a rollercoaster.

On Friday, for example, my ride suddenly went downhill fast and hit a low point that curved around a bend sharply. At that moment, all I could think of was calling a halt to everything because I just couldn’t cope. I should have known that I was in for a bad patch: The night before I was crying as I was tidying the kitchen before I went to bed, but I didn’t stop the tidying because I had too much to do. Friday morning, I had a similar thing happen.

As that rollercoaster was careening around the sharp curve on Friday, I thought to myself, “why am I feeling this way all the sudden?” I thought about it, and how I actually DO want to keep moving forward, and then I realised the actual problem is that getting this house ready to sell, the decluttering in particular, is daunting. Extremely daunting, in fact. I decided that the main issue is that it’s kind of embarrassing how much there is to go through, and, more specifically, that I’m not really going to do that: I’m going to just pack things up and go through it later, when I’m in my new house (whatever that may be). I just don’t have the emotional or intellectual room to do otherwise.

I also knew I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. In Nigel’s last days, he said that he wanted to live long enough to get rid of all his “toys”—the various computer and technical projects he was working on (including four 3-D printers he’d built or was building). Many of his projects are unfinished, and figuring out how to box it all up will be a challenge.

Nigel didn’t want me to have to deal with all that, but as things worked out, I do have to. I thought that I was embarrassed because I felt I “should” go through the stuff when, for a whole lot of reasons, I’m not ready to.

I’ve come to realise that it was wasn’t actually embarrassment as such, that was just how I perceived it. Instead, the real issue, and the reason boxing it all up affects me, is that the stuff Nigel left behind is stuff that is more “him” than almost anything else in the house because they reflect his interests, his passions, things he enjoyed working on—in a sense, they are actually him.

Part of why I worked this out was that I wasn’t embarrassed about getting help with the gardens, even though they were my responsibility and, technically, my “fault” that they got out of control. But that’s just it, I thought: That was in my control, and I knew I needed help to deal with it (besides, there were reasons things got out of control, including taking care of Nigel). The reality, though, or the additional one, maybe, is that those gardens never reflected either of us—they were just things to be maintained.

I can’t claim credit for figuring all that out by myself. My brother-in-law Terry happened to ring that afternoon, after my low point had passed, and talking it over with him helped me to further work out what had happened, and why.

The momentary crash passed, as they always do, and the rollercoaster started heading back up again. I was actually feeling pretty good when family members got to the house later that afternoon to help me with my mini working bee outside the house the next day. My mother-in-law was among them, and she’ll be staying with me this week. So, Friday night was nice, and so was the fish and chips we had for dinner, just like Nigel and I always had on Friday nights.

Saturday went really well, and the gardens look awesome (I realised too late that I should have taken before and after photos. Oops). My personal goal was to make some repairs to the fences, and I did that, but I overdid it a bit with another project: The previous owners left a nearly-full compost bin that I’d never emptied, mainly because I had no idea what they’d put in it, and whether it was suitable for vegetable patches. So, I dug it out, spreading it in a low part of the garden that’s usually covered with weeds, all so we could put the pulled weeds into the bin. The problem is that it was heavy work that I attempted a little too fast.

I spent the rest of the afternoon after everyone left quietly talking with Nigel’s Mum. It was relaxing.

So, my rollercoaster went from a relatively uneventful bit of track, to a sudden sharp drop followed by a steeply banked curve, only to head back up again. The ride continues.

There are some important lessons I take from all this. First, and most obviously, rollercoaster rides are unpredictable—obvious, I know, but it’s good to remember that there can be low points and high points relatively close to each other. The second thing is that if I stop to think about whatever is upsetting me, I can usually work out what the real issue is and deal with that. I never knew that this all could be necessary, but, then, there are a lot of things I never knew would be necessary until they were. Knowing that, along with the reason why they’re necessary, is the sort of thing that made me cry while cleaning the kitchen.

I have a long way to go on this ride, of course, and this rollercoaster ride is likely to be very rough sometimes. I know that. In real life, I can’t ride rollercoasters anymore because they give me motion sickness. The metaphorical one kind of does that, too. And that’s the third thing I learned from this experience.

But the biggest lesson of all is that I can endure and make it through nearly anything, including a rogue rollercoaster ride, when I turn to others for help.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Coping strategies

Anyone mourning the loss of someone vital to them develops coping strategies to help them get through it, things they do to deal with the tough times, and to make themselves feel better. Like anyone else in my position, I have strategies like that.

Up until now, I’ve talked mostly about the comfort that came from talking so much over with Nigel before he died. Because of that, it was like he was there with me. But we didn’t talk about some things, and, of course, new things come up all the time. The photo up top points to one of my strategies, currently my main one.

The photo was taken in Takapuna back in 2015, and has always been pretty much my favourite photo of us—so much so that it’s been my Facebook cover photo ever since. If you look at the wrist of Nigel’s right hand, you’ll see a silver bracelet, open with two knobs on the end guarding that opening.

Nigel bought that bracelet many years ago—I can’t remember how many—because he’d always wanted one. He pretty much wore it non-stop after that: He slept with it on and even showered with it on. I have no idea why he didn’t take it off because I never got around to asking. He took it off the night before he died (or maybe the night before that) and gave it to me to take home for him. I only did that after he’d died, because I was there his last two nights, staying in his hospital room with him.

When he died, I thought about that bracelet, and put it on before going to the first visitation after he died. It was kind of an impulse thing, and I had to squeeze it a bit more closed because his wrist was larger than mine is, but when I put it on I felt like he was with me.
Me wearing the bracelet a few days ago.

Since then, I’ve put it on whenever I’ve wanted to feel he was with me, like when I was going to Open Homes in Hamilton last Saturday, or shopping for a car. Today I took my first longer drive in my new car, and I wore it again.

I know it’s just a piece of metal, but when I wear it I think of him and that’s comforting, kind of like a little hug. In the future I probably won’t wear it as much as I do now, and certainly not as much as Nigel did. I think, because I really don’t now. For the near future, at least, if I post any photos of me at a family event, if you look at my right hand, you’ll probably see it.

I have other coping strategies, of course, but this is the most obvious and visible one, especially to those who know where that bracelet came from. I was always more sentimental than Nigel, as he’d readily admit, but I’m not sentimental about everything. And, of course, it’s not sentiment that’s operating here, it’s a coping strategy that works for me.

Anyone mourning the loss of someone vital to them develops coping strategies to help them get through it. Mine is simple: I wear a bracelet.

I originally posted this on my personal Facebook shortly before posting it here. That's the way it will be from now on: I'll post things here on this blog the same day I post it to my personal Facebook. However, they may still be edited somewhat, and this is certainly no promise of a return to daily blogging. It's now at least possible, though.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Moving forward

When a spouse dies, there’s always a list of things that must be done. There’s also a list of things that would be nice to get done quickly, but that probably can’t be done fast. In between those two is a list of things that are achievable quickly, even though they’re not necessarily urgent. This weekend I made progress on some of those mid-list items, and they’ll help me move forward.

Yesterday I talked about some of what happened this past weekend when I was in Hamilton, but there was more to it, as I said in that post. There was even stuff that was emotional, but in a good way.

On Saturday, as I said, I went to Open Homes in Hamilton. Before that, though, we stopped for a coffee, which I love doing. Our first stop after that was actually to buy a new MacBook for me, and there is, of course, a story behind that.

When Nigel was sick, we talked about preparing me for the future after he was gone. “We need to get you a new MacBook so you can do your work anywhere.” He wasn’t done with instructions. “You also need a dock so you can connect a bigger monitor when you’re home, and a bigger keyboard.”

The reason he insisted that I get a MacBook was, first, that what I use now is a “Hackintosh”, basically a PC he built from very specific components so it can run the MacOS and software. Actual Macs are all made with components that are always compatible, obviously, but those machines are also really expensive. Trouble is, updates to the MacOS may make it incompatible with a Hackintosh until the hardware is tweaked (like updating the BIOS or whatever), and I’d have to hire someone to fix it for me every time that happened.

That’s because Nigel always took care of all computer stuff for me—he built me a LOT of computers over the years, and built a lot for family members, too. I don’t know how to do any of that stuff myself, where I do fully understand Apple products. Logically, and because of all that, an actual Apple product made the most sense for me, and Nigel knew that.

He wanted me to get a MacBook rather than a desktop Mac because then I can take it with me and work wherever I am. I’m glad I listened to him because there will be times over the next few months where I’ll need to work when I’m away from home, and for the first time in years, I’ll be able to (the last time I could do that, more than a decade ago, I was on a PC and had a PC laptop—which Nigel also had to maintain).

So, I went into the store knowing exactly what I wanted, picked a dock, as Nigel suggested, and an external hard drive to store the files that don’t need to travel with me, along with my back up, that sort of thing. That’s exactly what I was talking about yesterday when I said that Nigel “was part of the decision making process”. Basically, I just put our plan into action.

We also looked at a few cars on Saturday, because while getting a car had been on the “non-urgent” list, it had to be moved up. It had actually been on the list of things to do for Nigel and me for a few years, but it recently took on increased urgency.

The car (a Honda Civic) was originally Nigel’s back in 2001, and I took it over in 2004 or 5 (I think). So, it’s an 18-year-old car, with none of the typical features in a modern car, including safety features. Nigel knew we needed to upgrade it, but months ago he joked, “I’m not sure you deserve a NEW car!” I didn’t rise to the bait. “I never said it had to be a new car; it just has to be newER”.

When Nigel was first diagnosed, and we thought he’d be getting treatment, I said we needed to get a car he wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen being driven to appointments in (his car was a lease vehicle, an SUV that was too big for me, and due to go back in a couple months, anyway). He laughed—but I wasn’t wrong: He’d grown to really dislike that Civic.

A couple weeks after Nigel died, I took the Civic to get a new Warrant of Fitness, a certification all vehicles need every year. The car failed its Warrant. The repairs aren’t structural, but they are required, and the problem is that the car is worth so little now that it didn’t make much financial sense to repair it.

To shorten the story, on Sunday I bought a car. Naturally, it has all the modern features—safety features in particular—that everyone else takes for granted, but that I’ve never had before. I feel all modern and junk and stuff. It also has the benefit of sitting a bit higher than most cars, which is important for a tall person like me getting into and out of—especially when my lower back is being grumpy. My old car will be bought for a bit more than what I’d get as a trade-in.

So, that was two things checked off the list.

On Monday we met with a home building company (the biggest in the Waikato, the region that Hamilton is in). They offer house and land packages, which means a new house on a section (“lot”, in Amercanese) that I choose. This is at a very early stage at the moment—they’re just doing concept drawings and coming up with options, so I haven’t paid a cent. If everything goes perfectly, they’d probably begin construction in January, so they’d have a few solid months of good weather. After they start building, the completion will take maybe seven months-ish.

What this does for me is ensure that I get exactly what I want in a house, like purple walls. I’m kidding, of course: I’ve watched enough home shows over the years to know to keep an eye on resale value. Fortunately, that coincides with my taste and what I want in a house.

Another advantage of this option is that it’s a staged process with progress payments along the way so that I can start it all now without needing to sell my current real estate. If I bought a used house, I couldn’t even look until I’m all cashed-up (because they sell so fast), and there might not be anything suitable at that time, anyway.

One thing I was adamant about is that I don’t want to go backwards: Nigel and I worked too damn hard for too damn long for me to have to settle for less than what we had. This is a way to ensure that I get exactly what I want and at a good standard. That’s what Nigel would want for me if he could choose, and he’d be excited about this idea because he and I always talked about building a new house one day.

But, then, there’s no contract at the moment, and this could still change, though I think it’s unlikely to do so. Once I make a decision, I don’t usually second-guess myself. I simply know when something is right for me, both intellectually and—equally importantly—because it feels right.

What all this means is that I’ve checked off my list two of the things than were important to building my new life, and I’m working on the third. Which is why I’m pushing to get the real estate in Auckland on the market, another necessary part of this process. Even so, I at least feel like I’m making progress toward being able to move to Hamilton full-time, and into my own home, and as important as that is to me, I know it’s also what Nigel would want for me.

My brother-in-law said something to me this weekend that’s very true. “I know this is all hard, and not what you wanted to do,” he said, “but it’s okay to be excited about it, too.” To be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me to not feel excited about some of this stuff (new computers and cars are always fun, after all). And yet, I know that some people in my position do feel guilty about being excited about some of this sort of stuff (like a new house). That’s just not me.

The reality is that I miss Nigel more than I can possibly ever say properly, though I’ve no doubt made my reality pretty clear in these posts. I think about him every day, and every time I do anything important—and often even not so important things. I still cry about having lost him, and that he’s not at my side anymore. I don’t think most of that will ever change completely.

However, I must now create a new life for myself, one I can be happy in. I can be, and am, excited about the positive changes I’m making because each decision brings me closer to moving into that new life, which Nigel wanted me to do. I want that, too. Because we were so connected, I know that Nigel would have approved of all of my decisions so far, and he’d be both happy and excited for me—though if he was able to feel those things, he’d miss me as much as I miss him.

There’s a difference, I think, between moving on and moving forward. To me, “moving on” implies leaving the past behind, even forgetting about it. I can never leave Nigel behind in that sense, but I can move forward in my own life while carrying him in my heart and in my memories. Life goes on, after all, and plans must be made and acted on. Not all of them will be as exciting—or worth talking about—as the ones from this past weekend, and it could be quite some time before I have any more big ones, but I’m moving forward, and that’s a very good thing.

This weekend I made progress to help me move forward. Damn right I’m excited about that, not the least because I know that Nigel would be excited for me, too.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 22.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Progress isn’t linear

The thing about this process is that it’s not a direct path. Over the past few weeks I’ve said that several times, and about different aspects of this journey I’ve been forced into. The important part, I think, is to remember that the path is indirect, and so, progress itself isn’t linear. I was reminded of that this past weekend, and how it’s still possible to move forward.

This weekend, I went to Hamilton partly for a break, but also to look at houses to get an idea of what the market is like. I had a few other things on my “to do” list that I planned to do, and they went all fine—apart from an unexpected and sudden emotional jolt.

When we were heading out to go to open homes, my bother-in-law said to me that it might be difficult, and I should just speak up if it became too much for me and we’d stop for the day. It turned out to not be bad (apart from one house that reeked of cat poop…), probably because Nigel and I used to look at houses sometimes, and my first thought when we did that was, “can I see myself living here?”, because if I couldn’t, the rest would be hard. My next question was about whether it was a good fit for the two of us, and then whether it was safe and good for the dogs.

This weekend I asked myself only the first and last questions, of course, but because I’d done that so many times before, it didn’t seem at all unusual. In fact, nothing I did that day was—and I was having a good day—until we went to the grocery store to pick up some stuff.

We went into the Te Rapa New World supermarket in Hamilton, which was a store Nigel really liked. As we walked in, I was imagining going there to do my weekly shop and then I had a sudden thought: “This isn’t fun any more,” I said to myself.

The specific trigger was that I realised that’d I imagined doing a weekly shop like I always have—for the two of us. After all these years living with someone else—the majority of them with Nigel—I don’t actually have any idea how to shop for one.

That made me sad, and I was close to tears, recovered, then later on, with lots of family around I became overwhelmed. I haven’t been around lots of people since Nigel’s funeral, and—probably because I was already feeling sad—it became too much for me, so when our takeaways arrived for dinner, I went to the loo “to wash my hands”, then turned on the extractor fan for noise, and had a small cry. Then I washed my hands and re-joined the others.

Later, as the others talked, I listened to the music, and a surprising number of songs made me sad, so much so that I nearly cried a few times. That wasn’t about the songs as much as that I kept thinking about Nigel—such as thinking about what I’d already given a name to (as I often do…): “The New World Incident”. I thought about how much Nigel loved family gatherings, even though they were noisy, and I thought about the stuff I’d done that day, and how I don’t want to plan a life without Nigel.

The family has been awesome, both in helping me work through nuts and bolts issues, and in giving me emotional support. But despite all that, I am, of course, the one who must decide on my own future.

Being suddenly reminded of how different my life will be now, and how painful that fact is, left me unexpectedly emotional. That sort of thing happens from time to time, and it will happen again.

Even so, I got a lot done. For example, I got a very clear idea of what housing is like at various price points, and also how quickly they tend to sell (short version: higher priced houses are better and sell slightly slower). This has helped me focus pretty clearly on what I’ll do.

All the stuff I did this weekend—some of which I’ll talk about tomorrow—was about things I’d talked about with Nigel, so, to me, he was part of the decision making process. It was only when I strayed beyond that, into the reality I’m now in, including what some of my future looks like, that the sadness returned. All of which will happen again, I know.

This weekend was kind of a small version of how things are right now: Moving forward, but along a path that meanders and sometimes even doubles back on itself, before moving forward again.

Progress isn’t linear, you see.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 21.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Progress made

Every now and then something happens that’s not related to what I’m going through—and, yet it actually is. Today was one of those days, and what happened was good.

Today I met with the cardiology team, an appointment I’ve been waiting some five months for (because my case isn’t as urgent nor as life-threatening as some others are). They agreed that I’m a good candidate for the ablation procedure (something not everyone wants, for some reason). To shorten the story a bit, they’re applying to have me added to the “urgent” list to get the procedure done, though in this case “urgent” could still mean six more months.

So, the senior cardiologist will check to see if my private health insurance covers the procedure, in which case it should be done by Christmas, or maybe a bit after. Merry Christmas!

They use the cryo method that freezes the naughty parts of the heart rather than zapping it with what are essentially radio waves. The freezing method has a higher success rate, which means that more people are fixed with one procedure, rather than needing two or more as is more common with the other method. While it has many of the same potential complications, it doesn’t have all of them, which is good. In general, it carries about the same level of risk as the cardiac stent I got in 2016, and that worked out well.

This has been in process, one way or another, since 2016, when I had my first tachycardia incident (it was a couple more years before I was officially diagnosed with atrial fibrillation—“afib”). It’s only been about the last year or so that they’ve been considering me for this procedure.

All of which means that Nigel was fully involved in this at every step, including taking me to hospital three times, and A&E three times. I know he was worried about me, though he didn’t want me to know he was worried. But after all those years together, I knew what he was thinking all the time, so I knew. I also know that he’d be so happy that things are now, finally, moving forward.

Here’s the thing. On the list of the most stressful things we humans can endure, are death of a spouse and moving house. And now I’m talking about adding a medical procedure—I must be nuts?

The truth is, I’m just realistic. This needs to be done so I can have a proper life, something that I don’t actually have with medication that makes me so tired all the time. And if I was to put it off until a “better” time, when, exactly, would be “better”? How much of my life would I miss out on while I wait for that time to arrive?

No, I need to get this done so I can begin my new life, whatever that turns out to be. I can’t do anything about my ongoing grieving—it’ll take as long as it takes—but the actual stress of Nigel’s death has pretty much ended. Besides, I know full well Nigel wouldn’t want me to put it off.

At the same time, it scares the crap out of me that I might have another afib incident while living here, all alone, and have no choice other than to call an ambulance, no matter how difficult that would be (dealing with the dogs, for example). Nigel took care of me when I had an afib incident and helped keep me from freaking out. That’s all gone now, and I have to rely on myself, and that’s frankly terrifying. I’m sure it won’t be the last time I’ll feel that way.

If I were already in Hamilton, there would be family nearby who could, if nothing else, take care of the dogs without having to drive an hour or more to do so. Obviously, though, even with a long drive there would be family to give me support, but making it easier would be better for us all.

The best solution of all, though, is to fix the problem, and that’s why I’m going ahead with getting the ablation procedure done, and hopefully sooner rather than later. I have plenty of support to help me should I need that—like if everything happens all at once.

Today’s news isn’t directly related to what I’m going through—and, yet it actually is. Nigel knew about this problem, and he’d be happy for me that it’s about to be dealt with.

Things are still fully connected, and Nigel’s still a part of this. That’s extremely comforting.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 17.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Slow and steady

There have been a lot of things going on quietly behind the scenes since my last note on Friday. Fortunately, it’s also been mostly good since then.

After a bad day on Friday, the rest of the weekend was okay. I finished this month’s work project on time—actually, slightly earlier than last month. So, all things considered, it turned out okay in the end, despite everything.

On Tuesday (yesterday), I met with the people who have handled our home loans and insurance, and without getting into the boring details, one thing is important: When the dust settles, they said I’ll be in really good shape, and that was particularly good news because the one thing that Nigel cared about at the end of his life was that I’d be okay, and I will be.

That underscored for me the importance of being prepared for the worst-case scenario. They also said one particular thing that resonated with me. Talking about retirement, one of them said, “do the fun stuff first”. His point was that too many people retire and scrimp and save and plan to do stuff, like travel, sometime later—and then they run out of time and either become sick or die.

What Nigel’s death has driven home for me is the importance of living each day as if it’s our last because sooner or later, we’ll be right. Nigel and I always talked about visiting Hawaii, and I thought it could be a good thing to do for our 25th anniversary next year. We never made it there, and never had a chance to plan for our 25th. So I’ve learned to try to not put things off, though I’m still under my current motto, “what I can, when I can” (I have to settle everything first).

At the moment, I’m planning a “working bee” for the Labour Day holiday weekend (end of October) to get the house ready to go on the market (the section—yard—is overgrown with lots of weeds…). After our real estate is sold and some other details are sorted, I’ll buy in Hamilton. However, I’m in no hurry, but, rather, moving according to a plan that will take as long as it takes to complete. It could be as late as the end of summer or even autumn before I move to Hamilton (Autumn starts March 1), because most of this is out of my control, and I’m fine with that.

Having said that, I expect that I’ll be spending a lot of time in Hamilton (with the dogs…) once the house is on the market because then I won’t have to spend so much time keeping everything tidy in case there’s a viewing (anyone with dogs knows what a challenge that can be).

However, there’s another reality here: I don’t like being in this house by myself. If I could have, I’d have moved to Hamilton already, but that was never possible. So, instead, I focus on what I can do, even if it’s simply planning the way forward.

As I’ve said, there are good parts of bad days, and bad parts of good days. That’s as true now as ever. I find myself crying unexpectedly, sometimes only briefly, other times enough to make my stomach muscles hurt. I know that won’t change for quite some time, but if I keep working on what I can control, everything will slowly move forward.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 16.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

It’s just reality

At the moment, every bad day has its good parts, and every good day has its bad ones. That’s just reality. Overall, I try to focus on the good bits, and today that was Leo: He was close to me most of the day, either sleeping in my lap—even when I was working at my desk—or else somewhere nearby, usually where he could see me. While this isn’t unusual behaviour for him, it’s also not common, either. I think that maybe he sensed it wasn’t a good day for me today.

Today definitely was not a good day. Three weeks ago today I watched Nigel take his last breath, and that moment has played over and over and over in my head ever since. What I’ve learned along the way is that there’s no escaping such memories, and all I can do is wait them out. Because, they do pass. One day this sort of day will pass entirely without incident, or, at least, the bad parts will become less frequent. I know that, and that right now there’s no point trying to fight against the natural course of this.

Despite all that, I made progress on some stuff I need to get through. It turns out that there’s a surprisingly large number of small things that have to be dealt with when someone dies, and, fortunately, most of them don’t need a lawyer to sort them out. Yesterday and today I made progress on small things, despite everything.

In fact, the only obvious bad thing that resulted from my state today was that I found it difficult to concentrate on work. As it happens, though, I had to stop work, anyway, because of some last-minute changes, so that meant it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

I also knew that work was going to be difficult this week, given what I’m going through, but it’s worse than that. When I worked on this project last month, it was right at the start of Nigel’s decline. I stopped frequently to check on him, to make some food for him, whatever he needed. Sometimes he just wanted me to stay with him for awhile, and I did. On the following Monday, I took Nigel to hospital for the first time. Exactly two weeks later, we were at his funeral.

I happened to be awake this morning at the time that Nigel died three weeks ago. It wasn’t on purpose: I got up early to give the dogs their chew sticks, and went back to bed. But I had trouble falling back to sleep. I glanced at the clock and realised the exact time was nearing. So, I stayed awake, of course—and Leo snuggled up against me a little closer.

This week, and today in particular, was always going to be hard because of the associations I have in my head. That means that today was neither unusual nor unexpected, and this will happen again. The thing about grief is that it’s not linear. There’s no distinct end point: It’s not like having a cold.

Every bad day has its good parts, and every good day has its bad ones. That’s just reality. But I also know that tomorrow will be a better day, at least in parts.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 11.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Another farewell

Yesterday [October 9], some of the family and I attended a memorial for Nigel organised by his colleagues at Auckland Council Customer Services, for which Nigel had been the General Manager. It was awesome, and really moving. I even had a new role of sorts.

The team organised a service that reflected Nigel’s professional life perfectly. They put together a video of various photos, and some of the work ones I’d never seen. I also provided some photos from his younger days, as well as several of him with furbabies, and ones of me and him. They also had some videos of him, including of him joking around. It was all moving, and very well done.

People said some very kind things about him, such as, what he meant to them as part of Customer Services, as a manager, and as a friend and colleague. Some of those stories I’d also never heard.

Toward the end, I got up and spoke. I’d like to recount specifically what I said, but I didn’t prepare remarks in advance, so I have no record of what I said. I wanted to make two main points. First, I wanted to personally thank Nigel’s work colleagues on behalf of the family and me for the kind words they sent, and for keeping Nigel in their thoughts during his illness. I told them that I read many of their messages to Nigel when he became too weak to hold his phone. I also wanted them to know how much Nigel genuinely loved working with them, and how he was passionate about customer service, and how proud he was of them all.

That’s the gist of what I said. Like I said, I don’t know specifically what it was. For what it’s worth, I’m told I spoke well. I’d like to think so, anyway. Mainly, I was relieved that I said what I wanted to say, and especially that I didn’t cry (I quickly changed tack when I felt myself choking up). I wanted to do that for Nigel: The day was all about him, not me, and not the family, so I didn’t want to become a distraction from that—even though, obviously, no one would have held it against me if I had cried. I did that later, at home. As I do every day.

After the service, we visited with people and I hugged many of Nigel’s team members and comforted some. I did that at the hospital, too, but this was the first time I’ve done that since Nigel died. I’ve found that right now I do best when I have something to do, especially something that matters to others.

They also provided a box for koha (donations) to the Anxiety New Zealand Trust, because Nigel had asked for donations to it. I went to the Give A Little page this evening to get the web address to include in this post, and found that they’d collected $300 for the Trust. That’s wonderful news!

In many ways, it was a much sadder even than Nigel’s funeral was, in part, I think, because many of us were still numb from the shock of Nigel’s death. Yesterday was also our final public event saying goodbye to Nigel, which may have been part of it.

Even so, it was also far easier in some respects. The room was filled to overflowing, just like the funeral, and also like it there were many people I’ve known for decades, in addition to some people I’d never met before. It was nice to see people Nigel had talked to me about (proudly, I might add), and also to hear so many stories of how much Nigel meant to them. I found that very, very comforting.

So, despite the reason for us all being there, and how incredibly sad it was, it was also a beautiful event filled with love, laughter, sadness, respect, and positive feelings and thoughts. Nigel would have hated being the centre of attention, but he also would have been so proud of the great job his colleagues did—and humbled by the enormous outpouring for him.

For me, sad though it was, even painful in parts, it was also extremely uplifting. I know how much Nigel loved his work (minus the occasional frustrations like we all have), but it was wonderful to see how much his workmates loved him back.

It was a unique farewell, and much appreciated by all of us, all of us who are a wide extended family thanks to Nigel.

The family would still appreciate donations to the Anxiety New Zealand Trust, which helped Nigel so much, but none of us would ever expect it of anyone. The site collects donations in New Zealand Dollars, so if you're overseas you'll need to convert the amount from your currency to NZ dollars before you enter it.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 10.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Good and bad

The reality for all of us is that we encounter good and bad things every day. How good and how bad may differ from day to day, and within each day, but they’re common for all of us. Ramp that up several levels and that’s what I experience at the moment.

It’s important to know that in order to understand the things I say about the journey I’m currently on. The only thing I know to do is to be honest and open about it all, and that will include both good and bad days, and parts of days.

Yesterday, I apparently concerned some people when I talked about how the nights are awful. But that’s just a simple a fact—they are awful because night is when I miss Nigel the most. Some nights are worse than other nights, and that, too, is a fact. None of that is going to change any time soon, and I’m not expecting it to—neither will my talking about it go away when I have something to say about it, like last night.

As I’ve said, part of my motivation is that I’m aware that something I say may help someone else who someday finds themselves in something like my situation. But my biggest motivation is simpler: I have absolutely no idea what the future will be like, and in such situations I’d talk with Nigel about it. Since he’s not here, I’m talking about it openly in order to work it out for myself. The fact that I’m doing this in real time means that the swings and roundabouts may be a bit more obvious than it would be if I held back and commented more as reflection after the fact. That was never going to be my way.

So, last night was a bad night. Tonight isn’t. Some are good, others aren’t. It’s just my reality.

Today was a similarly mixed bag.

The company that Nigel leased his car from was coming to pick it up today. I decided to give it a bit of a tidy up, because Nigel would have, and I accidentally made myself extra work in the process. That was very close to upsetting me a lot, but it didn’t because I breathed deeply and worked through it.

When they later came to collect the car, I was sad—it had been a part of our lives for the past few years, but—as Nigel would say—it’s just a bloody car, nothing important. And, sending it back means that it will be settled sooner and will be one less thing on my list of things to take care of, all of which is good.

But I also remembered something yesterday, knowing the collection of the car was imminent. Every morning, when Nigel drove off to work, I’d stand at the side of the window in our dining area, pull back the curtain just enough, and watch Nigel drive off to the road, and keep watching until he turned left heading away. I did that every day, and was even a little grumpy if something made me miss seeing that. I don’t know that Nigel ever knew I did that; it didn’t seem important to tell him, and he never mentioned it. But because that had been my daily routine for the entire 2 and a half years we’ve lived in this house, I dreaded seeing Nigel’s car being driven away. In the end, I didn’t see that, exactly, because I was down at ground level (so I could close the gate before I opened the front door). So, what could have been an awful experience for me turned out to be neutral, and I count that as a win.

In the afternoon, I discovered that our usual email server, which we’ve been using for years, suddenly stopped working. Their website wasn’t a lot better. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and I still haven’t. This again brought me close to losing it, but I figured out temporary workarounds until I can understand what happened so I can then fix it. That’s not a perfect resolution, but at least I didn’t get upset about it, which could easily have happened.

Today I also got the results of my latest blood tests, and everything appeared to be in the normal ranges. That’s an unequivocally good thing. After the things that went wrong today it was kind of hard to feel happy about that, but it’s still good news.

Then this evening I went to our next-door neighbours for dinner again. It was a really nice evening, and a nice distraction.

So, today I had a mixed bag of good and bad, as most of us do most days. All of mine are directly related to the one big thing I’ve been going through, which makes it a little different from what most people experience in a day.

For the foreseeable future, there will be good and bad days and/or nights. And I’ll talk about them both. Today was a kind of typical day for me at the moment, one that could have been bad, but had good moments mixed in with some not so good moments. I’m okay with that, and I hope other people will be, too.

The reality of this whole thing for people following me on this new journey is simple: You don’t need to worry about me (or someone else) talking about the bad stuff, but you might need to worry if we don’t.

Not much danger that I’ll stop talking about all this. You have been warned.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 3.

Monday, October 14, 2019

It’s just the little things

It’s the little things that get me—the little memories, the little annoyances/frustrations, the little chores. The big stuff is being tended to, sometimes even by me, but that little stuff? It never ends.

The day after the funeral I caught The Plague, a nasty gastric bug that swept through the family at the time. It knocked me down for several days, which meant I got very little done. Maybe that forced rest was a good thing, but the other parts of The Plague I truly could have done without.

In the couple weeks since then, I’ve mostly been focused on adjusting: To the silence, to not having Nigel nearby to talk to whenever I wanted to, to not having my rock and pillar of strength when I need him the most. Mostly, it’s been about simply adjusting to a life I never planned for and couldn’t have imagined. In fact, I still can’t imagine it.

This experience helped me see what should have been obvious to me, but wasn’t until I experienced it: Deep sorrow and mourning like what I’m going through is depression. My depression has a very specific cause, obviously, and, ordinarily, this sort of depression gets better on its own. In my case, it’s as I do more to settle things and move forward (taking action on what I can, when I can), that I get better overall. I know that if it doesn’t get better I can seek help, and I will, but part of what sets this apart from chronic depression is that I can see an end to it. I simply can’t imagine how people with chronic depression cope, but I hope this experience will make me more empathetic and supportive of others in the future.

I’ve talked a bit about what moving forward means for me, and there’s one particular aspect of that I feel I need to talk about specifically because most of what I’ve said about it has been in reply to comments: Why I’m moving to Hamilton, and why I’m making it a priority.

The first time I talked about moving to Hamilton, in a note about ten days ago, I said that much as we liked Auckland, it was “not where we planned to stay forever”. In fact, while our current house wasn’t ever going to be our “forever home”, it wasn’t even going to be a long-term one: A few months ago we started looking at other properties with an eye toward moving late this year or early next year. Plans got stalled, which turned out to be a good thing because this is not an area I can or would want to live all alone.

After two and a half years here, neither of us made any friends apart from our next-door neighbours. This area seems like a nice beach village, and on the weekend and summer holidays, it is. But during the week its true nature emerges: It’s actually mostly a “bedroom community” where people are gone most of the day for work elsewhere in Auckland. It’s peaceful and very quiet, yes, but also a spectacularly lonely place for anyone living on their own. It would have been even worse if we had moved to a more rural location.

So, there was never any question whatsoever about whether I would move from here, the only questions were, how soon and where? Nigel encouraged me and talked with me about this, and with him I decided I’d move to Hamilton where the greatest concentration of family is, as I said in that post about ten days ago. He and I agreed that I shouldn’t muck around, since there was no point in that. Nigel didn’t want me to be forced to be alone any more than I wanted that, and his love and support made the choice amazingly easy to make.

The point, really, is that the decision to move to Hamilton was well-considered and it felt right to both of us. We thought about it and talked about it a LOT over Nigel’s last couple weeks, so I know that he was relieved and happy that it was what I’d decided to do because he knew how important having family nearby would be for me. He wanted me to be okay, and in Hamilton I know I will be.

There’s no specific timeframe for all this to happen. I’ve been looking at houses online, but at this stage it’s mostly to get a feel for the sorts of properties that might be available when I’m ready, along with working out the things I like and don’t like, must haves and most not haves. First, my solicitor has to transfer title to my name alone so that I can then sell up. Then, I can go to market.

Meanwhile, I have a lot of stuff to do. For example, Nigel left all sorts of electronic bits and pieces behind, many of which I can’t even identify, much less have any idea about whether they have any value or not. I’ll have help with that sorting, but it’ll take some time. I’m also going to have a working bee so that friends and family can help me get the section (yard) looking its best. Our realtor will give me advice on what I need to do and what isn’t worth spending money on.

The previous owners put what became our house on the market around Christmastime, to catch the folks who came here on summer holiday, probably. We bought it not long after and then in February we moved in. I may follow a similar pattern when I sell, or I may go to market before then.

All of which means that the timing isn’t certain, but my direction is clear and decided.

It feels good to have such a big decision made already—and that it was made with Nigel’s help, advice, support—and his love. Taking action on that big thing, and so many small things, is what will ultimately help me the most in moving on.

None of which means this is easy in any way, and some days will be bad. This past weekend was especially bad, not because of anything specific—no triggers, reminders, or anything like that—it was just bad. The thing is, having already made so many big decisions means that I can deal with getting used to living without Nigel, working through my pain, without also working through figuring out how to deal with all the big and small things I need to.

Things—and I—are moving forward, slowly. It’s just the little things that get me.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 8.

If it wasn't for the nights

The nights are awful. The house is so quiet, even if the TV's turned up loud, even if the rain is pouring and strong winds are rattling the roof. Even then, I can hear the silence.

It starts around 5pm or so, when Nigel used to get home from work, and gets more intense as the evenings wear on. Routines like making some dinner or feeding the dogs don't help. Nothing really does. Instead, everything just makes me notice the silence all the more.

I go to bed early these days (usually early-early, not Arthur early), mostly so I can shut out the silence by sleeping. I generally fall asleep reasonably quickly because I'm always so tired. But then I wake up during the night, and I reach over to Nigel's side of the bed, but he's not there, of course. One of the furbabies might be there, but, much as I love them, they're not what I'm reaching for, they're not who I'm missing.

Morning eventually nears, and I usually wake up while it's still dark. I lie there pretending that I might fall back to sleep, but I seldom do. I get up, earlier than I should, and start my day. The silence starts to recede as the sun rises. Then it returns again at the end of the day. And that cycle repeats.

The video above is ABBA performing their song "If It Wasn't For The Nights" from their 1979 album Voulez-Vous. I'm pretty sure I played the album a lot when it was new, so much so that my mother started to call it "that album with a beat". She eventually decided she liked it, though. A little more than a year after the album was released, my mother was dead. But that never made me think of that ABBA album. To be fair, I haven't thought about the album in years. But now the refrain of that song is stuck in my mind on an endless loop:

If it wasn't for the nights
(If it wasn't for the nights I think that I could make it)
If it wasn't for the nights
(If it wasn't for the nights I think that I could take it)

Usually, having a song stuck in my head is annoying, but this one at least helps drown out the silence. That's a good thing. In the day, I manage really well, and, an occasional cry notwithstanding, I feel almost normal (so called…) in the daylight. And then it gets dark again. "Somehow I'd be doing alright if it wasn't for the nights (If it wasn't for the nights I think that I could make it)."

Apparently, humans can't just hibernate, so I have to endure this daily ritual. I know this awful feeling will eventually get better. But until then, I'd be doing alright if it wasn't for the nights.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 2.

The end of the song

One week ago today, we said our final goodbye to Nigel. In this whole journey, in fact, in my entire life, that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. For me, the worst part was when I followed Nigel’s coffin out of the hall and to the hearse. It was the music that both hurt and helped.

That day had gone exactly as I planned it, except for one thing that almost didn’t: The music we’d play. I’d been quietly and secretly fretting about the music for ages because Nigel never got the chance to tell me what he wanted, though, not surprisingly, he had strong ideas about music. The songs I’d pick had to be what felt right to me because that would mean it would be right for him. I trusted myself because I knew Nigel would.

The morning of that day I was up early with a brilliant idea to check Nigel’s iTunes to see what songs he was listening to lately. Turned out, he didn’t use iTunes (and I still have no idea what he did use).

I was beginning to get a bit panicky when Nigel’s younger brother, Terry, arrived. I told him my dilemma. He suggested that I check Nigel’s phone.

When I opened his Apple Music, the most recent song was “If Heaven” by Andy Griggs (video above). I knew he loved that song, but I had no idea when he’d last listened to it. I realised it may have been quite some time before then, but it was at least as likely that he may have played it when he was in hospital his final week for courage or strength or whatever. I also knew that he may have left it there as a message to me. Both are possible, and both are equally unlikely. I’ll never know. But whatever the truth was, I knew instantly that was the song we’d play as Nigel was being carried out of the hall. It. Was. Perfect.

He was carried in to Keith Urban’s “Memories of Us”, a song with some lyrics that had taken on new and sudden relevance when Nigel died. Nigel often sang the song at family karaoke nights, and it, too, was one he loved.

In between, we played a couple others we new he loved, including another of his karaoke night standards (close family and friends knew that, though others wouldn’t have known). But those songs weren’t originally planned: They were needed because so many people were coming up to leave messages on Nigel’s coffin that we needed to buy some time.

But it was by far that final song that got to me.

“If Heaven” may seem as if it’s religious, particularly because of the title, but the lyrics are more spiritual than specifically religious, and, in any case, Nigel had a much more relaxed view of the possibility of an afterlife of some sort than I did. I made him promise me that if there really is an afterlife he’ll send me a clear and unmistakeable message—nothing that has to be interpreted. He laughed.

As we carried Nigel out, the song filled my ears, drowning out everything else. At the same time, my entire field of vision was reduced to an almost photographic soft-focus blur, except for one spot in crisply clear sharp focus: His nameplate on his coffin. I focused on that, and it pretty much guided me out of the hall. I could see where I was going, even with tears filling my eyes, because I could clearly see his name showing me the way forward.

Sometimes even the smallest details have hidden meaning (such as, why I picked the shirt I wore that day, as I mentioned Saturday). The song I picked for the end of his farewell was perfect, and he would have been pleased I picked it—assuming he didn’t pick it for me. As with so many other things that day, that song had special meaning most people wouldn’t have known.

I’ll never hear that song the same way again, but that’s okay. If there is a “heaven” of some sort, I know that Nigel’s part of what it’s made of. That’s just one last gift from the love of my life on the day I said my final goodbye.

The song ended, but the pain hasn’t, and won’t for a long time. Of course. But I know that while our song together has also ended, our music never can.

But now I need to find my own song. That will take some time. Stay tuned.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 30.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Blogging Interstitial

I’m still in this midst of re-publishing things I originally posted on my personal Facebook page, all two weeks after the original date of posting on Facebook, but at the same time of day as the original. Beginning this coming week, re-published posts will appear here around a week after the original published date, though still at the same time of day. Some time soon after that, they’ll appear on the same day, which will mean I’ll be returning to same-day blogging.

This is happening because rather than wait for a specific day to roll around, I decided to re-publish on this blog on consecutive days, even if I didn’t do that on Facebook. I began these posts on my personal Facebook three weeks ago, but it’s never been something I did every day because those Facebook posts weren’t every day, either. Those gaps give me the chance to slowly catch up as long as I post something here every day.

So, sometime in the next couple weeks I should be back to regular original blogging, and not just re-publishing what I originally posted on Facebook. When I do, I have absolutely no idea what it will look like.

Everything right now is a work in progress, and that includes this blog.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Promises to keep

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” By Robert Frost

Over the past week I’ve shared stories and photos in order to share more of Nigel’s story, specifically the parts with me, because I promised him I’d share his wider story. I also wanted people who I know only through the Internet to know something of the life Nigel and I had together. I hope it’s obvious that what I shared on Facebook, my blog, and my podcast was only a small sampling of how rich our life together really was.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love in the wonderful comments and FB reactions from people near and far. I read the comments to Nigel when he was in hospital, until he became too weak, and the outpouring really touched him. It also truly helped me through this horrible time, and I appreciate that support more than I can ever adequately express. Thank you.

I thought I’d take a moment to talk a bit about myself, because all of this has raised some questions. I’ve shared my truth and authentic self on my blog and podcast for all these years, so I’m not going to stop now.

How am I doing?

I’m doing surprisingly well—far better than I expected, actually. The main reason for that is my New Zealand family. I’ve had one or more of them staying with me every night since before Nigel died, right up until tonight. One or more of them also rings me or texts me every day. My sister in the USA also rings me through the miracles of the Internet.

So, I’ve been well looked after.

Today I decided it was time to spend the day here at home alone with the furbabies. This is our new reality, and we need to adjust. But, then, the days are easy: Nigel worked long hours, so the furbabies and I always spent much of the daytime alone.

Tonight is my first night alone since we took Nigel back to hospital for the last time. I have no idea how it will go. The worst that could happen is that I’ll cry myself to sleep, but as Nigel frequently said, “no one ever cried themselves to death”. So, I’m sure that I’ll be fine. And, if it’s rougher than think, I have ample support.

I’ve done a lot of laundry today, just trying to bring back some normality (and clean clothes…). But one thing I’ve learned is that at the moment my most useful phrase is, “maybe tomorrow”. There’s really nothing urgent that I need to do, so I can just take everything at my own pace.

I made promises

I made promises to Nigel, and the biggest was, to put it crudely, that I will continue. The original context was that Nigel asked me to promise I’d look after our furbabies, which was an obvious thing for me to promise to do.

In Nigel’s last days, he also asked me, “What is it your really want to do with your life?” I told him that the only thing I’d ever wanted to do was write. “Then do that,” he said. To be honest, it was kind of an order, and he wasn’t one to be ignored when he ordered something (Rule 1). His real point was that he wanted me to live the life I wanted, and to fill it with that (since I couldn’t have him in it…).

I’ll keep all those promises, plus a few I made to myself that I’ll talk about over time. There’s much to be done.

The immediate future

Obviously, nothing about this new path is actually obvious, and there’s a lot I can’t possibly know. However, there is one thing I know for certain: I will not return to the USA—New Zealand is my home. I’ve lived here for 24 years, which, for comparison, is about two-thirds the number of years I lived in the USA (birth to 36). Or, if you take adulthood as beginning at 18, then I’ve lived more of my adult life in New Zealand than I did in the USA.

But it’s not really about numbers, it’s about “fit”. Nigel—who you may have noticed said a lot of insightful things in his final weeks—asked me if I’d go back the USA, and I said no. "Good!", he said. He then added, “To be honest, and I don’t mean this in a negative way, but I think you make a much better Kiwi than you do an American.” I think he’s right. I didn’t ask him why he thought that, but I have a pretty good idea what he meant, or part of the reason he said it, anyway.

However, the numbers are relevant in that the America I left no longer exists, and I’m not talking about politics (no, really!). Places have changed, friends have died or scattered around the country, so nothing there now is anything like what I left 24 years ago. That means that I have continuity here, not there.

At the moment, I expect to move to Hamilton, about an hour and a half south of Auckland. While I really like the awesome mess that Auckland is, it was the place Nigel and I spent most of our years together, and not where we planned to stay forever. He wanted to move to Hamilton one day, at least in part because a lot of his family is there, and more family is with an hour and half drive. So, I’m fulfilling one of our long-term plans, but it’s also what just makes sense for me: I don’t want to be alone, and moving to where the greatest number family members are based ensures that won’t happen.

One last thing. I dressed sombrely for Nigel’s two visitation days, but the day of the funeral I wore the same shirt I wore for our civil union (wedding) ceremony back in 2009, pictured. Nigel hated the picture (and made me stretch it a bit to make him look thinner), but in his final weeks he told me that was the second-happiest day of his life—the first was the day we were legally married in October, 2013. Funny that; they were my happiest days, too.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me—it’s meant a lot to me. I have no idea what my new story will be, but I’ll certainly share it. That’s what friends are for.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 28.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Nigel’s Story

The photo I used on the cover of
Nigel's funeral programme.
One week ago today, Nigel left us. Today I went to collect his ashes, which was surreal. I haven’t yet decided what I’ll do with them—Nigel left that up to me, but it’s nice to have them home. They’re not him, of course—instead, Nigel lives on in my heart and in my memory.

A couple days ago, I shared my final message to Nigel. I mentioned that he’d largely written his own story. I’ve now edited it so I can share it here, because while it was important to him that people know his whole story, some parts of it were private to the family. Still, many of my Facebook friends knew Nigel, even if only from our online adventures, including our old Internet radio shows. He wanted you, too, to really know him.

So, here’s Nigel’s story, which he mostly dictated and I finished for him. The first part is what was also read to everyone right before Nigel’s story:

Nigel specified that he didn’t want a traditional funeral service, nothing stuffy and formal, and not at a funeral home, crematorium, and certainly not a church. He wanted a hall, and it’s appropriate that we are here in a community hall so close to the place he loved living.

Nigel wanted you all to interact with each other—sad as the reason for us being here is, he wanted us all to focus on each other.

Nigel said several times that kids should take the balloons home with them. It was important to him.

At any time anyone can come up and write a message or draw a picture on Nigel’s coffin. Markers are provided for that. He wanted it to be a big, beautiful mess.

There will be time for anyone to share some words about Nigel, to tell a favourite anecdote, or to tell a joke—especially that. There will be tears, of course, but he wanted there to be lots of laughter, too.

Today is all about Nigel. He knew many people in his life didn’t know all the details of his life, so in his final days he worked with his husband, Arthur, to make sure that his story was told.

So: Since this is about Nigel and his story, let’s begin with that.

Nigel’s Story

Nigel was born on the 27th of August, 1964 in Matamata, New Zealand. His parents had met in the Navy. After leaving the Navy, they become sharemilkers in the Waikato.

Nigel was child Number Six, with four older sisters, and one older brother. And no, his parents weren’t Catholic—they just didn’t have television in those days.

After a few more years of sharemilking, his father got a job as a prison officer at Waikeria Prison, and moved the family to Waikeria.

In 1970, his father got his dream job and became the Fisheries Officer for the Coromandel Peninsula, and the family moved to Coromandel Town. Coromandel would become home for the family. As you can imagine, Coromandel was a great place to grow up—endless summers, where you could take off on your bike and only come back for meals.

Nigel’s career began after he left school, when did his Electronics Technician apprenticeship with Tisco. He hated it: All that dealing with dusty TVs in filthy homes, but he loved the people/customer service side of it. He decided to change careers and joined the telephone operations part of New Zealand Post, which would eventually become Telecom NZ, as a telephone operator.

Nigel would go on to hold a variety of positions in telephony and customer service, constantly advancing his career. He had increasingly important roles in Australia, then back in New Zealand. He joined the former Auckland City Council, moved on to the Hauraki District Council, back to Auckland City, then, more recently, Auckland Council, where he was General Manager, Customer Services.

In 1989, Nigel went to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, where he met Gary, and once again decided to follow his heart and move to Australia and start a new life. From the very beginning, Nigel knew that Gary was HIV positive, and Nigel knew their time together would be limited. Gary died in 1993.

Nigel returned to New Zealand to be with family in 1994.

In early 1995, Nigel was with friends in a chatroom on Apple Computer’s online service, eWorld. There was an American in there who was looking for folks willing to give advice to a friend of his, Arthur, who was travelling to Australia and New Zealand later that year. Nigel agreed, and supplied his email address.

Arthur picks up the story. “I wanted locals to give me advice on what to see and, more importantly, what NOT to see. My friend gave me three email addresses. One was a bad address, and the second was an Australian guy who said he was ‘faaaaaaaar too busy’ to offer advice right then, but I should email him closer to the time. The third email address was Nigel’s.”

Nigel and Arthur realised there was a connection pretty much from the beginning, and Arthur joined eWorld so that they could chat—MUCH cheaper than international phone calls in those days. Over the weeks and months following that first email exchange, Nigel and Arthur began to realise they wanted to be together.

Arthur finally arrived for that trip Downunder in September, 1995, found a job, then went back to the USA to wait for the visa to come through and to tidy up his affairs there. They racked up a fairly large phone bill in that time.

On November 2, 1995, Arthur arrived back in New Zealand, and Nigel and Arthur began their life together.

They faced challenges along the way, including Arthur’s temporary immigration status, which threatened to separate them when the company Arthur worked for shut down, making everyone redundant.

But one of their biggest challenges came in late 1999, when they lost Nigel’s older brother, Trevor, followed by his father a few weeks later.

Many of you may not have known about Nigel’s struggle with mental illness for most of his adult life. He found different ways to deal with it, but it became worse in 2010, with the massive stress caused by the amalgamation of Auckland’s local government.

There were times Arthur had to accompany Nigel to meetings and then wait in the car, all so Nigel could be sure of being able to drive there and back home. He needed to know that Arthur was there for him. There were other times Arthur drove to meet Nigel in the city so that he could follow Nigel home in order to make sure Nigel could get across the Harbour Bridge.

Nigel found help through the Phobic Trust (now called Anxiety New Zealand Trust) and psychotherapy, which delivered him from a very dark place. It allowed Arthur and Nigel to enjoy many good, happy years together, though clearly not even nearly as many as they’d planned.
Nigel’s life with Arthur was mostly quiet and peaceful—apart from family parties. It turns out that his four sisters could hold ten different conversations going on all at once, without ever losing their place in any of them. Others nearby may have lost their hearing, though.

Nigel and Arthur had three rules for a happy relationship: Rule 1. Nigel is right about everything; Rule 2. Everything is Arthur’s fault; And Rule 3. If in doubt, refer to Rules 1 and 2.

They had three other, more practical rules. First, never go to bed angry. Naturally, they never argued. Well, maybe once or twice. Second, they said “I love you” every single day, and third, they shared a goodnight kiss every night. That’s part of what made things work out for them for two and a half decades.

In what turned out to be his final years, Nigel was at peace with himself and his life. He loved his job at Auckland Council, especially the people he got to work with. He was extremely proud of the good work they did. He taught many people how to be good leaders.

Nigel had no real regrets, and he made sure in his final days that he and Arthur left nothing unsaid. The one thing he was worried about was that Arthur would be okay, something he told family members several times. His concerns weren’t about what was ahead during his health struggle, though, naturally, he had worries about pain and suffering. Instead, he was worried about others. That was just who Nigel was.

Nigel died early in the morning of Friday, September 20, 2019, aged 55. His family were there with him, and as he drew his final breath, Arthur was at his side, holding his hand, as Nigel’s siblings and mum drew close around him. He wasn’t in pain, and it was unlikely he was aware of anything that was happening. It was a largely peaceful end. Even though Nigel’s years were FAR too few, they were filled with love and laughter. And music. And tech stuff. And Star Trek—and each of you.

This concludes today’s telling of Nigel’s story. After Nigel leaves, Arthur and the family invite you to remain for a cuppa and a snack.

But now it’s time to send Nigel on his final journey. I ask you all to stand to acknowledge Nigel as he and his family exit the hall. You may follow them outside if you want to, or remain here.

• • •

Thank you for reading Nigel’s story. It was important to him that people knew his story, and that made it important to me, too.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 27.

In accordance with Nigel’s wishes, the family would appreciate donations to the Anxiety New Zealand Trust.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Saying Goodbye

The photo I used on the cover of
Nigel's funeral programme.
We said our final goodbye to Nigel on Monday [September 23]. The day went better than I could have hoped, because, hard as it was, I was able to give Nigel the send-off he wanted. In his final two weeks, he’d started telling me what he wanted, but ran out of energy to finish it, so I had to improvise a bit. But I think the event captured what he wanted.

It was a non-traditional thing, not in any way religious, and held in a community hall—all things he told me he wanted. The hall was overflowing with people, and I was told that all available parking on the roads in the area was taken. He would have liked that.

Nigel wanted the event to be about telling his story, and he started dictating that to me, though I had to finish that, too. It was to be read by a former colleague of his so that everyone there would know all of his story, not just the parts they knew because of where their lives overlapped.

I decided I wanted Sam to read a message from me, too; I knew there was no way I could read it myself, but I wanted to add more to Nigel’s story, while also having one last chance to publicly declare my love for him, and to help people understand how deep it was, and why it was so strong. He was a truly amazing man.

I thought I’d share my message here. I may share his story, too, but that will take some editing (it was never intended for publication). But, for now, anyway, here’s mine:

Arthur’s Message

Nothing in my life ever prepared me for today. I’ve lost loved ones before, of course, but how do you say goodbye to the love of your life, your true soulmate? The only thing I know is to tell stories about the man I’ve spent the past two and a half short decades with.

Nigel’s story talked a bit about how he and I met indirectly over the Internet before we ever became a couple. What he didn’t say was that I very nearly ruined it all.

In early 1995, I visited a friend in San Francisco, and, as I did in those days, I sent a group email instead of postcards (it was the mid-90s...). When he got his, Nigel thought he’d misread things, and he pulled back. I continued to email him, but got no replies. Finally, I sent an email titled, “Where oh where has Nigel gone?” And our budding romance was saved. Nigel may have brought up that incident once or twice over the years.

One of the first things I saw when I arrived back in New Zealand to stay happened the day I landed. Nigel had begun a new job just a few days before, so he couldn’t meet me at the airport. I got myself to the house, and when I opened the front door I found that Nigel had printed out a path leading into the house from the front door, one letter to a page. “Welcome Home”, it said. I knew I was. That was the beginning of our lives together.

One of the reasons we were such soulmates is that we shared a passion for social justice. Many, many years ago, Nigel told me about an idea he was working on to train people for customer service jobs in Auckland Council. Eventually, those early ideas evolved into Kia Puawai, a partnership between Auckland Council, the Solomon Group, and Work and Income New Zealand. It brings in long-term unemployed people, many of whom had been considered unemployable, and trains them for jobs—careers—in the contact centre industry. The programme transforms people’s lives, and so, their families, their communities, and the even the country. Nigel was very proud of that programme.

I was so proud of him for his work on it that I often insisted that friends and family members ask him about it, because I thought it was so awesome and because I knew Nigel was too modest to bring it up. He wanted to help bring the idea to local councils around the country, but never got the chance. I hope someone else promotes that work.

Nigel and I largely shared political viewpoints—especially our rather dim view of the current occupant of the US White House. When we first got the news that Nigel didn’t have long to live, he said to me, “I just hope I live long enough to see that bastard voted out of the White House!”

Throughout our time together, even into the final weeks, Nigel and I had many long, interesting discussions on all sorts of subjects. We also educated each other about stuff. Ours was a great home for thinking and talking. I‘ll miss those daily talks with him about all sorts of things, even those that we couldn’t affect or change.

Nigel was always a huge influence on my life. He was my constant confidante and advisor on all sorts of issues, from work to health and even hobbies. It was his idea that I start blogging and podcasting, and it was his encouragement that led me to change careers, and even to follow my passion for politics by becoming involved directly in it.

But there was so much more.

Nigel also saved my life. He insisted that I see the doctor in 2016 when I wasn’t feeling well, and especially when I’d felt so unwell at our celebration of Pam’s birthday. I went to the doctor and found myself in the back of an ambulance heading to hospital where I was given a cardiac stent. I had a 90% blockage, and that day we celebrated Pam’s birthday had very nearly been my last; if Nigel hadn’t insisted I go the to the doctor, sooner rather than later I would have had a heart attack.

The day of the stent, they ended up taking me early, and my greatest fear was that I’d die during the procedure and Nigel would never get the chance to see me beforehand or to say goodbye. I was terrified while the procedure was done, but the ONLY thing I thought about was how much I loved him, and how I needed to see him. The procedure was a complete success.

In Nigel’s last days, he said to me, “I’m sorry I was so hard on you at times, but I just wanted you to be a better man. It wasn’t that you were ‘bad’, it’s just that I could see what you could become.” I know that directly because of him, I’ve become kinder, more compassionate, more tolerant, and much more positive. If I strayed too far into the negative, he’d start singing the song from the crucifixion scene in the movie, “Monty Python’s The Life of Brian”. The song’s refrain is, “Always look on the bright side of life…” I hated when he did that, mostly because he was always right.

I can’t imagine how I could ever replace his wise counsel, his sound advice, his belief in me when I had none. I never imagined it was possible to love someone so much or to be so loved by someone. I will miss him forever.

Goodbye my love, and thank you for the wonderful life we had together.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 25.