Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Solo survivor

I spent two and a half decades as half of a couple, and we faced everything together—the good, the bad, and also just the boringly ordinary. Facing a major international crisis like Covid-19 is something none of us could have anticipated, not really, and facing it alone is nothing I could ever have imagined. This whole thing has given me yet another reminder that this grieving process is far from over. In fact, in some ways it’s just beginning, but in a very good way.

The government announced we’d be going under lockdown three days after our house in Auckland changed owners. Three days after that, we were under lockdown. So much happened so quickly that it’s kind of hard to keep track of time—and we’re all finding that to be true. For me, though, the increased Covid-19 response happened hard on the heels of the very traumatic two weeks before that.

In early February I said about moving to Hamilton that “for the first time, I truly had time to properly grieve.” That was true, but only just: I still had our last house together keeping me tied to everything that happened there, especially losing Nigel. That weight was taken off of me just before New Zealand went under lockdown.

This state of affairs presented an entirely unexpected situation for me, added on top of everything else I’d been dealing with. As I said last week at this time,
There’s a personal irony in this situation: I moved from Auckland to Hamilton so that I wouldn’t have to be alone all the time, and now I will be anyway. Someone’s “got a sick sense of humour”, as the Depeche Mode song put it.
I haven’t seen anyone in the family—or anyone I know—for a week and a half. I also haven’t seen my mother-in-law in two and a half weeks. Sure, I talk to all those people on the phone, but I did that in Auckland, too. The difference is that I can’t go see them, or vice versa, or even talk to the neighbour over the fence. I don’t know anyone in the area where I now live, and seldom even see anyone. When I joke that I’m in “solitary confinement”, all of that’s what I’m referring to.

And yet, I’m not alone: I have my furbabies. I can talk to them as much as I want to, and I do, and they don’t seem to mind at all. In fact, they’re what’s getting me through this weird time. I don’t know how—or if—I’d cope if I was literally all alone, not this close to everything else I’ve been through.

If Nigel was still with me and this happened, I may not have seen much of him. He had an important senior role with Auckland Council, and they would have needed him to work. He would have done so from home, as he often had, but because he was also an emergency (civil defence) controller, he’d have been called upon to help with Auckland’s response to the pandemic. Part of him would’ve loved that—the excitement, the seriousness of the situation, making a difference, all of that. But it would also have exhausted him, and, no doubt, other people in Council would have frustrated him. He’d have had trouble turning off and relaxing and resting. I’d have helped by making no demands on him and ensuring he was fed and given cups of tea, all so he could concentrate on his important work.

If that was the reality I was in, there would be large stretches of time when he’d be gone doing Council work, and I would have been home alone. But, as had always been the case, I’d have known he was coming back home. We would be facing everything together, just as we’d always done.

But that’s not the reality I’m in. Nigel’s gone, and I’m facing this all alone (with the furbabies). However, this has led me to see that things have changed since the first few weeks and months after Nigel died.

At the beginning of this journey, a lot of my grief was centred on, “WTF do I do NOW?”, about facing the world alone, dealing with absolutely everything in my life all alone, and finding some sort of purpose in that life alone. However, after the house sold and the lockdown began, I realised there’d been a subtle shift: I still can’t answer that question, and I don’t know when, or even if, I’ll ever be able to. But now, for the first time, really, I’m working through my loss, feeling the searing pain of no longer having Nigel in my life, and not even thinking about what may be ahead. This lockdown, by forcing me to be alone, has given me the chance to really face being alone. Through that, I have a chance of finding some peace with this reality I’m now in; I’ll worry about “WTF do I do NOW?” later (I can’t do much about that at the moment, anyway).

So, as we remain in lockdown, I find things to do, when I feel like it, I cry heartily, when I feel like it, I sit around watching TV, when I feel like it—in short, I’m feeling it, this new life, for the first time since this journey began. This solo time is the most significant thing yet to help me toward finding peace. That’s been a very good thing; there had to be one good thing about it.

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