Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Unsettlement again

One thing I’ve learned over the past few years is that change can be massively unsettling, turning everything we know, or think we know, completely upside down, and then sometimes it’ll be tossed into the air, then swung it round before It’s slammed back into the ground again. I’ve just experienced that. Again.

Yesterday, as my dinner was cooking away, I found out that a friend of mine, Andy Cawston, died suddenly the night before from cardiac arrest. I’d logged into Facebook for a few minutes to see what people had been up to, and saw a friend had posted about it.

The news hit me very hard, not the least because it was so unexpected. In fact, my first thought was that my friend had made a mistake, something that was obviously an absurd thing to think—and I knew that.

I closed Facebook to re-focus. After my dinner, I started to put together my thoughts, and then I shared that on Facebook, as other friends were already doing. But what I shared on Facebook was only part of what was going through my mind. This post is based on what I shared last night, but filling out the story.

One never wants to put oneself at the centre of the story about the loss of someone else, though the loss of a parent or spouse kind of insists on it. When a friend dies, it’s our shared story that’s ours to share—and even then we focus our tale on the one we’ve lost.

However, much of my reaction to the news was based on my own reality, which is precisely why Andy was such a good friend: He understood where I was coming from and the challenges I was facing. But it never occurred to me to tell him how much I appreciated his support—and especially his understanding. He would’ve understood that, too.

Andy was a force of nature, curious about nearly everything, willing to talk about, or debate, nearly anything. We originally met through Facebook, and over the years our debates were sometimes intense, but we never took any of that personally—we could disagree without being disagreeable (as we defined that). We also agreed plenty of times, too, of course, and we also learned from each other, something that’s always a wonderful thing when it happens.

The day Nigel died, Andy rang me through Facebook to express his condolences, yes, but also to offer his support. He reached me shortly after I’d arrived back home after going to the funeral directors to make the arrangements for Nigel. I knew that Andy had always been quite open about talking about his health challenges, mental health in particular, so from the very beginning of my grief journey I saw him as a kind of mentor.

A few weeks later, Andy and his wife (who he called “The Missus” online, allowing him to preserve her privacy) were in Auckland for a bit, and he arranged to get together with his friends in West Auckland. Andy invited me to join them, even though he knew it might be difficult for me to do that so soon after my loss—at the time we’d never met in real life, and I didn’t know most of his friends. I did go, though, social anxiety raging, because I didn’t know if I’d get another chance and I didn’t want to miss it. In the end, it turned out to be a great time.

Andy offered to meet-up online to talk, if I ever needed a sympathetic ear, but I never did. Even so, he’d check in from time to time to make sure I was okay. That meant a lot.

I never got the chance to visit him, once again because of my own struggles, something that, among other things, left me reluctant to travel. In fact, that’s still true. But I knew Andy was there, and I could call on him if I needed to. Now, his memory will be the help.

Our Facebook debates were legendary, and from the outside they sometimes probably seemed bitter. There were certainly times that we felt exasperated at each other, but—magically, maybe—we still respected each other because we both knew that we arrived at our positions only after careful thought. There were times that one or the other of us changed our position after one of our discussions, which doesn’t happen all that often in my experience. Even when that didn’t happen, those debates helped us sharpen our arguments to make stronger points in other discussions, which was useful. Mostly, they were just a bit of fun.

Things changed after Nigel died, because I did. I couldn’t engage in the sort of discussions Andy and I used to have, partly because I had little or no patience for political topics. Andy and I still traded comments and Facebook “reactions”, but I found it difficult to engage with others in the way I had been doing, and that made me feel bad. Still, I know that if I’d said anything about that to Andy, he of all people would’ve understood—and he’d probably have had suggestions for dealing with it.

None of us knows for certain when time will run out for ourselves or others in our lives, and so, none of us does a perfect job using the time we have available. Sometimes, though, despite everything, we get lucky. I feel very lucky to have had Andy as a friend, and I feel we enriched each other’s time on this planet. His work is done, but I hope to carry our shared lessons forward.

Farewell, Andy. Thanks for everything, especially for just being there. I know there are lots of people who who will miss you, and that’s an awesome legacy.

Andy sometimes commented on posts on this blog, often as “Da Chieftain”, a reference to his nickname from New Zealand’s now defunct Guardian Angels chapter that he’d been part of.


Roger Owen Green said...

My condolences to you.

As you've shared extensively, grief isn't linear.

Be well, Arthur.

Arthur Schenck said...

Thanks. It's not only not linear, it's also not predictable—as I keep learning.