Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Good riddance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extenuating blogging circumstances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering my mother’s birthday in a new life

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

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

And here we are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 30, 2019

Today I fixed a thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 27, 2019

It turned out okay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2019

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

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

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

Previous years’ broadcasts are no longer available.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas 2019

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!

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

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

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

I've just one wish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 22, 2019

2019 December Solstice

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Tales to tell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Nigel’s shadow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 13, 2019

Twelve weeks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Big news about moving forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 07, 2019


We all accumulate stuff. Obviously. It includes stuff we use, stuff we never use, and maybe stuff we hope to use again one day when we’ve lost another kilo or two (I’m looking at you, favourite shirt I haven’t worn in ages). But when someone we love dies, all that gets raised to a whole new level because what they leave behind isn’t just stuff, it’s also all we have left of our loved one, and there can be powerful emotions attached to otherwise ordinary stuff. When that loved one is a spouse, that’s ramped up again several levels.

Since Nigel died, I’ve had to deal with all sorts of stuff, from groceries to underwear, and each thing takes separate decisions, some more emotionally burdened than others. For example, in our pantry right now are some things I bought specifically for Nigel, things I may never use. I’ve done my best to get through that sort of stuff—finishing the packets of chips he opened, for example, making meals that use something I bought for him. There are other things I’ve had no choice other than to throw away, like the squeezy yoghurts he had me buy in his final week or two because they were about all he could tolerate (they’d passed their use by date). Or the jar of apple sauce I got for him, which is still in the fridge. I don’t recall ever hearing anyone talk about how there are food items left behind that have to be dealt with, but there are, and it can cause a moment’s pause. In my case, dealing with the fridge and pantry didn’t particularly bother me, except that putting the yoghurts in the bin made me think of Nigel’s last days. Not for the first time. I got through it just fine, also not for the first time.

More commonly, people talk about the ordinary stuff their loved one leaves behind—clothes, toiletries, and other everyday items. Because we were both boys, I can keep and wear some of Nigel’s clothes—and I already do that all the time. Some of his shirts I had to give away because they didn’t fit me, and there will probably be more clothes to give away, too. This hasn’t bothered me; I’d rather that the stuff be used by somebody. To Nigel, a shirt was just a shirt, anyway.

I’ve already written about how, with the family’s help, I got all Nigel’s “toys” boxed up. I didn’t find that too bad, either, even though that happened closer to Nigel’s death. But there is so much stuff still left to deal with.

By a huge margin, though, the “stuff” I find hardest to deal with are all the seemingly innumerable details I need to finalise, and the fact that NO ONE makes that easy. In fact, most of it is far, FAR more difficult than it should be.

Here’s just one example. When I wanted to change the electricity to my name, I couldn’t do that—even though everything else was the same, the address, even the bank account the direct debits would be paid from, and that I was authorised to access the account. No, I had to close the account and open a new one, then fill out a new direct debit form to have the money come from the same account it was already coming from. Same with car insurance, actually. This has been repeated over and over and over, and sometimes it gets too much for me. Just yesterday I turned over two such annoying frustrations to my solicitor to sort out—that’s part of what I’m paying them to do, after all.

Every week there’s one or more things just like these examples, some small and petty annoyances, while others are far worse (like the ones I handed over to my solicitor). I may be moving along, slowly but surely, but I still absolutely can’t handle more than very minor frustration.

There’s another aspect to all this that I keep in mind, beyond the fact that Nigel would tell me to just get rid of whatever I don’t want, and that’s that I need to sort of clear the decks in order to make it possible for me to begin forming whatever my life will become. All that stuff tethers me to the past when that should be the job of my memories and my heart. Being burdened by stuff I don’t want and can’t use keeps me mired, in a sense, and I don’t want that. Nigel wouldn’t want it for me, either.

Over the past couple months in particular, I’ve made a lot of progress in figuring stuff out, then deciding what to do with stuff, and now I’ve moved on to the process of dealing with the stuff. It’s not an easy process under the best of circumstances, this sorting through and deciding what to do with leftover stuff—over and over again. And it’s not helped by having to deal with less tangible stuff—like electricity and other companies that make me live through Nigel’s death over and over by making it so damn difficult to just get on with things.

But despite all that, and despite the fact that so much of this feels like a crushing weight on me—on top of the crushing weight of losing Nigel—I’m still moving forward at my own pace. Remember what I said? “What I can, when I can”, and also, “Maybe tomorrow”. Because in addition to all this stuff I have to deal with, looking after myself has to be my top priority, even when that interferes with my own desire and need to move things forward faster.

We all accumulate stuff. The test lies in what we do about that. I’m passing that test, one day, one packet of chips, at a time.