Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The fourth horrible anniversary

It's now four years since I lost my beloved Nigel. This year, that means it’s also 48 months, and, because of Leap Year, it’s been 1461 days, or 208 weeks + 5 days. That list may seem like I’m aware of how many hours it’s been, or how many minutes (some 35,000 hours and more than 2.1 million minutes, for the record). The reality is much simpler and much more complicated than that. Here at the four year mark, I’m trying to work out what this means now.

In some ways, today was the easiest Horrible Anniversary so far. When I posted the graphic up top to my personal Facebook this morning, I said in a comment:
This year I’ve been particularly reflective in the lead-up to the Horrible Anniversary—the nickname I gave the first one. I haven’t been sad or morose or anything—there’s been no wailing and gnashing of teeth, nor rending of garments—only calm. I’ll do a blog post about the day later, and I’ll post a link in the comments to this post when I do, but I decided yesterday that I’ll spend the day doing some routine chores around the house, things that relate to my current (and future) life—though I’ll be thinking of Nigel, of course. Anyone who knew him in life knows that he’d endorse this plan—though no doubt with a crack like, “it’s about time you finally did that chore”.
Yesterday, I got out the line-trimmer and did all the edges in the back, intending to do the front afterward. I didn’t. So I did the front this morning, followed by mowing out front and part of the back yard. I recharged the battery, then finished mowing the back. This work was was overdue (due to bad weather; this was what the “it’s about time you finally did that chore” line was referring to). It was also incredibly difficult work. There was one more thing I wanted to do today, but I used up all my energy reserves with the mowing and line-trimming.

I’ve said before that Nigel was opposed to me mowing the lawns at our last house—and today I’ll admit I thought he may have been right. However, it was precisely because this is something I never did while Nigel was alive that made me pick it: It’s a bigger symbol of how much my life has changed than any other routine chore I do.

I’ve been avoiding spending any money I don’t have to, so I didn’t want to do anything like last year, when I bought a couple cushions for my sofa, and yet I wanted to continue what I started last year. As I said at the time:
Up until now, this anniversary has been about being sad about losing Nigel and our life together, and it will come around every year, no matter what, and I’ll experience it every year. I realised today that I can choose a more positive path forward. It’s true that my life is on this changed story arc because of what happened three years ago today, but I feel that taking this as a day to focus on the life I’m building is the best possible way to take what’s an unhappy day and make it into a positive one.

What I do doesn’t have to be anything big or expensive (those cushions definitely weren’t) or over-complicated, just something, anything, focusing on the life I’m now building. I have plenty of good days with great, happy memories to celebrate Nigel and the life we had together, but from now on, this one day can be about building my new life, rather than why I’m doing that. Maybe Nigel whispered this idea into my ear, too.
All of which is why I chose routine chores today, ones that are directly related to the life I have now. I knew that I do a lot of thinking while I do that yard work, and since I knew I’d be thinking about Nigel anyway, I may as well get something productive done, too. It worked well, and I even closed all three rings on my watch.

But that gets at something bigger that’s going on, and I don’t know how I feel about it. Starting last year, I wanted to start moving to acknowledging what happened on September 20, 2019, and why I call it The Horrible Anniversary, without making it only about that. I want to focus on all the good Nigel and I had, and how even now he continues to influence my life and me for the better, and not just focus on what happened to him on this date. This is why I haven’t treated this date like anniversaries I celebrate by including a list of links to previous years’ posts.

I also knew I wanted to to focus on Nigel himself on what’s a positive day—his birthday—and not use this date for that and the inevitable sadness that it’s wrapped up in. I feel Nigel deserves to be thought of for the good and wonderful, and NOT for how his life ended, and that it ended far too soon. I also think I deserve to not be kept in the dungeon of despair that focusing too much on the sadness of this date could mean: The memories are still guaranteed to make me cry, and even sob, if I think about them too long.

I learned a long time ago that while grief journeys are unique to each survivor, most people don’t “get over” this sort of grief. Instead, we learn to coexist with it, and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.

I’ve spoken before how the time beginning around the time of the final Covid Lockdown in late 2021 and lasting until late last year/early this year was incredibly hard on me. It slowly got worse over time, and eventually there were times when I was astonished that it was possible to feel so thoroughly awful one day, only to feel even worse the next. Because of that time, I now understand what the word despair really means, and how emotional pain can be so deep and suffocating AND how it can leave the sufferer completely unaware of how bad it really is. In fact, it was only on my out of that hell that I thought to myself, “well, that was some pretty heavy shit…”

I can’t offer any sage wisdom on why it happened—although, the reason for that Lockdown and the fact it began shortly after Jake died certainly didn’t help matters. The reality, though, is that it was entirely unique to me. So, too, is what helped me get myself back out—even though at the time I wasn’t aware that that’s what it was doing. One of the main things that helped me was creating my personal organisation system: For the first time since Nigel died, I felt I got back some of the control over my own life that I lost when I lost him.

Another thing that moved me forward, though, was how I decided to handle The Horrible Anniversary last year, because of the shift in thinking it represented: Choosing to be positive—when it’s possible to do so—really can help, it turns out.

Last year, I also set out the rest of my truth about this date:
To be clear, I’ll always remember what happened on this date, and I know the anniversaries can still turn out to be emotional for me. But I’d rather remember my beloved Nigel and the wonderful life we had and the memories we made than focus on the day and moment it all ended. That’s my way. There’s one more thing: I know with absolute certainty that Nigel would be happy I’ve reached this point—and he’d then get that cheeky grin on his face and make some sort of joke at my expense. THAT’S where I want to be on this date. Today, I was.
The same was true for today, too. Today is an anniversary that I’ll always know about, obviously, but I know that I can choose how I respond to it. Being reflective, as I’ve been lately, is fine—in fact, it’s good to reflect on our lives. But I don’t want to feel sad and awful, and I know damn well that Nigel wouldn’t want that for me, either.

I was recently doing some yard work, and when I came in to rest, I heard a crash in the garage. I thought that that one of my garden implements had fallen over, but when I went and looked, they were all standing up in the laundry area where I'd left them. This week, I saw what the noise was:

That photo is of a hard plastic platter that Nigel and I bought some time after we moved back to Auckland in 2006. We also bought a matching square serving bowl, too, and both were for some sort of family party (maybe Christmas at our house in 2006). Nigel wrote his initials on the back of the platter and the bowl so we could get them back.

While I don't know why the tray picked that moment to fall on the floor and break, I discovered it in the midst of the Pride 48 weekend, and that was after my reflective Friday that marked 208 weeks. I saw it lying there, and instantly saw the symbolism: It was like the life we had together, now broken and irreparable. The difference, though, is that while I’ll throw out the broken platter, I’m taking the pieces of our shattered life and gluing all the good parts together to make something new. It’s a work in progress—and so am I.

This day now helps me to see how much progress I’ve made, and how much more work I have to do. Mostly, though, it reminds me of what a strong foundation I’m building on, thanks to Nigel and our life together, and how I don’t have to be sad. Nigel would be glad about that, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Peaceful heart and blessings.