Thursday, November 28, 2019

How I know it gets better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Hidden wounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Black Friday here

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 25, 2019

It’s all about balance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Highs and Lows are predicted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 15, 2019

Eight weeks ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Lewis and Waitrose Christmas ad 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The good side of the ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 11, 2019

Today I’m okay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, today I’m okay.

Warehouse Christmas ads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 08, 2019

More NZ Christmas ads

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Finding good things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 04, 2019

Figuring things out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First 2019 Christmas ads

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 03, 2019

A bad/good day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Twenty-four years

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

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

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