Report on Zosi

Jane, I thought I’d let you know how Zosi is getting on. Actually, he’s sitting partly on me just now. We have reached an arrangement where he fits under my arm so that I can type on the laptop, sitting on the sofa. I don’t know what you would have thought about all this latop-tapping, Jane but you can be assured that Zosi is maintaining a fitting level of disapproval.

You always said that Zosi was too stupid to tell one human from the other, or even recognise his own name. I fear you were right. That would explain his behaviour in the days after you died as I am afraid I did not notice him pining. Rather strangely, I have never seen him more settled. You also said that Zosi liked parties. He seemed to really like it that there were so many people here. He was quiet and relaxed. Always around but never demanding. I had to carry him to his bowl at meal times.

Once things quietened down, he returned somewhat to his old habits. He moans at mealtimes and moans for attention, unless the fire is on or it’s sunny. But his coat is glossy, he is a healthy weight and his eliminations are appropriate.

You can be assured that I am looking after him. He has his heating pad every night and I have learned to clean his litter tray. Oh, I put that in the shower, your shower, these days because we use the upstairs one and it contains all the cat litter that he scuffs out. I took him to the vet and they said stop the anti-inflammatory drops (cos they aggravate his kidneys) and put him on mussel pills. He likes those and doesn’t seem to have any arthritis.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I know that you loved Zosi a great deal and that his well-being was always important to you. I know you’re dead, Jane and that you can’t really hear this. I’m doing it for me so I can feel my love for you and feel myself twist up, tears dripping out.

There’s more tho. One day Simon was here with Pagan. It was cold outside so we decided to test your assertion that Zosi would never tolerate a dog. We let Pagan in and she settled down near the fire. Zosi was pretty watchful, initially but he remained relaxed. Over the evening, he installed himself on people’s laps from where he could keep an occasional eye on her. He didn’t show any signs of aggression or even fear. After a while, Pagan and Zosi were moving around each other about the house as if they’d always shared it.

A week or so after that, we had another animal visitor, a newborn lamb brought by Ali and Britta. It was quite the most gorgeous thing and I think Zosi thought so too.

Merchant and Ivory

One night sitting around talking about movies, I dared to say to Jane: “You never want to see anything I want to see. We always end up getting Merchant and Ivory”. I know that’s what I said because Jane immediately wrote it down.

Then, referring to her records, she calmly compiled this list of the movies that we’d watched most recently:

Okie Noodling
Laurel Canyon
Ruby & Quentin
Nosferatu (FW Murnau)
Nosferatu (Hertzog/Kinsky)
The Business of Strangers
Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Steve Zissou and the Life Aquatic
Before Sunrise
After (sic) Sunset
Yolngu Boy
Annie Hall
All Quiet on the Western Front
Bad Santa

That must’ve been before we watched Cocteau’s “La Belle et la Bete”. Guess I should have kept my mouth shut.

Actually, I felt pretty damn smug that I had a partner who wanted to watch German Expressionist movies with me.

Love Poem

Old Rex reminded me of a poem that I wrote. Jane and I had arranged to meet for coffee to celebrate International Poetry Day (I think it was March 21). Somehow Jane persuaded me that I had to compose a poem in time for our meeting. So I scratched something onto an office slip before I dashed out the door. I’m sure Jane didn’t write one but, in my excitement that I actually had, I overlooked that.

A couple of months later, when I re-used the poem as the inscription on a wedding card for some friends, Jane took offence and gave me back the original slip. She considered that I had spoiled the gift. I’d rather thought that it was my poem to do what I liked with. We never really resolved that but I did end up with the original that I managed to sift from a pile of household chaff this morning, so here it is.


     Reaching, I gently touch your heart
     Across unfathomable space and time
     And you touch mine

How to Hug

Hugging is a conversation, a dance.

When you hug someone, you are relating with them. Notice how they are as your bodies touch. Let the ‘themness’ of them affect you. Move towards them gently. Keep your knees slightly bent so that you can hug without pulling the other person towards you. Shoulders are the first place to touch someone. Slightly low and to the back. It’s the first socially acceptable place to touch someone after a handshake and usually feels fine. Start with one.

Notice immediately how your hug is being received and adjust accordingly. If the other person seems relaxed, you can assume that the way they hug you is more or less the way they would like you to hug them. If they seem uncomfortable about hugging, go for something conservative. If they are closer or more clasping than you want, make eye contact with them. If you are positive to each other, let your embrace smoothly expand.

What to Say and Do with Someone who has Lost a Loved One

In “hints for funerals” from my experience of being pretty near to the centre of one …

There is nothing you can do or say that can make it any better or worse. That’s a good thing to remember. Just showing up sends the message, or sending a card or flowers or phoning. You can’t get it wrong, ok?

What I do suggest, when you make your move, is notice the grieving person, tune in with them, feel what you feel yourself, and respond, the best you can.

My experience of being in the intense first stage of the grieving process is that I felt extremely vulnerable. For the first few days, I could barely eat anything. Bananas and soup were ok. I wanted to be able to focus totally on myself and retreat under a blanket if I wanted to. There was actually quite a lot to do with visits to the morgue, greeting people, funeral arrangements etc.

I valued being able to take the time to be with how I was feeling. I valued breaks from it, too but only if I chose them. I didn’t much want to be drawn into someone else’s questions or story, unless I initiated it. Selfish, I know but I’m ok with it for that moment (there’s more about this, tho).

Of course, most people don’t know what to do or say because there isn’t anything to do or say that really makes a difference. And I knew that. It really is ok, however you are. That’s what it’s like at those times.

I think if it was me, I’d be touching, gently and listeningly. Arranging a soft blanket, maybe. But that’s another post, too.

Two things that people said really hit the spot, tho. The first was Lloyd (happy 50th, Lloyd!). When we first talked on the phone, he said “you poor bastard”. When you said that, Lloyd, I knew that you had some idea that what I was feeling felt really really bad and that that was because I had lost something that really really mattered. Thanks.

The other one was Ron Palmer, the Funeral Director (recommended, by the way). The first moment he met me, he figured out how I was and said gently “it knocks you about”. Go, the blokes.

A Farewell

A poem by ARD (Rex) Fairburn shared with me by Walter:


What is there left to be said?
There is nothing we can say,
nothing at all to be done
to undo the time of day;
no words to make the sun
roll east, or raise the dead.

I loved you as I love life:
the hand I stretched out to you
returning like Noah’s dove
brought a new earth to view,
till I was quick with love;
but Time sharpens his knife,

Time smiles and whets his knife,
and something has got to come out
quickly, and be buried deep,
not spoken or thought about
or remembered even in sleep.
You must live, get on with your life.

Still in the Relationship

Jane, it’s been eight weeks since you died. Here I am addressing you as if you hadn’t at all. I’m sorry if you find this a little weird (I know you won’t) but I don’t know what else to do. You see, I am still in this relationship with you, even though for practical purposes, you no longer exist. I have no choice but to continue to relate to you as if you do.

I’ve been looking at these photos of you at the A & P show last year. And as I do, I know that you are the one for me. Maybe someone thinks I should be getting over you. From time to time, I do. I could be getting on with my life and work. I could be exploring a new relationship. How would I put it. Well, unfortunately I’m actually in a relationship already. But don’t worry, she’s dead.

Jane, there is so much that I still have to say to you and to do with you. Even just ordinary stuff, like hanging around home on weekends, going for a bike ride in the park (I think Elsie’s bike might have worked out pretty well for you, btw), stopping for a drink somewhere on the way home. Just passing the time together, with each other. Knowing that, whatever happened on a shapeless weekend day, we’d be together and at any moment could stop and simply delight in that. Going to the supermarket together. Using the stuff from the supermarket to make a nice little occasion meal together, even on the most ordinary day.

Talking about what’s happening in the world. The election. Online. I’ve been listening to interesting podcasts from blogher today. The naked blogging one is on what I am doing now. I discovered it’s called “identity blogging”. But you were strangely not that into women’s things. Or nakedness, in this sense of it. Perhaps it’s just me.

But that’s just it. We didn’t match each other. We were so different but we were equals. I’ve rolled this over and over. There were plenty of minor imbalances between us – and kind of border skirmishes where each of us resorted to tactics that did not involve our whole selves. But I think on the whole, I met my peer in you, Jane. And that mattered as we engaged each other constantly in our growing edges, stretching sometimes reluctantly and often with delight. I was settled in for the long term with you, Jane but not for a moment imagining how that would be. Knowing that we were just starting out on our learning paths together.

Some of my friends know that I had the odd concern about our relationship. We both knew that some of the hard moments were quite hard. I imagine though that your concerns were about like mine – there, and pronounced at times, but minor in the face of the nice times that we kept having.

I looked at your glass bowl on the shelf this evening, Jane. It’ s nice. It’s not a bowl tho, to me, it’s something that was liked and bought and placed by you – like so many other things in this house. Like the whole of this house, that I wake up and go to sleep in. Where I read the books that you read. Tread the steps around that you trod. Perform the routines of mine that intersected with yours and now those that don’t get performed by you. I put the bedroom and bathroom linen in the boxes that you labelled so clearly. But I can’t fit it in. It’s probably because I don’t iron it. Maybe I could iron it. Maybe if I did, it would not feel like a stupid wrong thing to have to be doing. Almost as if I shouldn’t have to be doing it – I do everything else around here, don’t I? No matter, how I did it tho, I wouldn’t do it the way you do, the way you did, Jane, you beautiful but dead Darling Jane.

I listened to an interview with Mirabai Starr yesterday. She translated “Dark Night of the Soul” by St. John of the Cross and then, while grieving the loss of her daughter, Teresa of Avila’s “The Interior Castle”. The dark night of the soul is characterised by an emptiness within the self, she says. Not one of desolation and loss, tho it is born out of yearning, but an emptiness, filled somehow upon reaching its terrible depth by an unexpected union with divinity. She says that minor upsets like deaths and relationship break-ups aren’t the real thing. I agree with her. Though I feel moments of emptiness and loss alright, they are usually filled up quickly by you Jane, what remains of you in my life, anyway. When the pain of that becomes too much, I choose distraction. I am still clinging to denial. Unsettlingly, I think I still have the real emptiness to come.

My Dream of Jane

This morning I dreamed Jane. I had been dozing, sleeping not very well. In my dream, Jane and Tyl were with me. They were goofing about in an alley. Jane was swinging a bottle from her fingers and then threw it along the alley. She hurt her finger. Then she was standing up looking at her hand held in front of her. I went up to her to comfort her.

As she looked at her fingers, Jane said, “They look like my fingers”. I think I just knew that the rest of the sentence was “even though they aren’t really”. I think the pain in her fingers was gone by that stage, replaced by something bigger. I wrapped my arms around her and held her and she nestled into me. Jane felt and was just how she was. Vividly real, present, alive in my dream.

Then my damned radio alarm turned on Morning Report.

Why It Hurts when a Loved One Dies

I know it seems obvious but I have been piecing together a new thought about this.

One of my Psychodrama buddies recently said to me the J L Moreno (founder of Psychodrama) once said that you are not dead until everyone in your social atom is dead. Now, before I give my version, an explanation. The social atom is the group of people with whom you have a relationship of some significance, with respect to some criterion or other. So you can have a work social atom, a sport or art social atom and a primary social atom.

Actually, I think it’s more accurate to say that you aren’t dead until everyone of whose social atom you are a part is dead. This is because we don’t live solely inside our bodies, we live outside them, too. We are social beings. We are defined by, we come into existence through our relationships. It is the modelling, doubling (Moreno-speak), mirroring (more what it sounds like) and role reversal (us with others and they with us) that we experience that enable us to develop a personality. That’s what I think, anyway. ‘Socially constructed’ is the contemporary parlance for this, I believe.

OK, so, even if you don’t know everybody who knows you, your existence is defined, at least to some small extent by the way that they perceive you. Therefore, in some small way, you live on while they do. Really famous people continue to ‘live’ among us in some way for many generations or longer.

What this doesn’t explain is why it hurts so much when a loved one dies. In fact, it rather suggests that it would hurt less because the person lives on in our hearts and memories. Actually, that is true for me. There is a great deal that Jane has given me that I hold dearly inside me and do not have to let go.

The rub is that, as well as the other person living in us, we live just a little in them. When a loved one dies, then they take with them some of ourselves. We experience a small death of ourselves.

I know that I invested a lot of myself in my relationship with Jane. That relationship still exists. Jane is still in my social atom. My experience of that reminds me of what I’ve heard of phantom limb syndrome. I keep on relating to Jane as if she were here. My own imagined sense of Jane even relates back to me. At the same time, it is also increasingly noticeable to me that no ‘real’ Jane is relating back to me; that much of what I have invested, the me that I have invested in Jane, is gone.

A few days ago, I was talking about the persistence of the relationship with Walter. He said to me that I continue to learn from the relationship. That makes sense to me, but I think it is for another post.

The Pit and the Process

OK so I see a pattern.

22 August, a Monday, was three days into my last week with no kids, just four weeks after Jane died. I had had some bright moments, been swept along in the pace of work and home life. Enjoyed being at home, setting things straight slowly, still after the Big Week. Then the vacuum of having no kids gaped and the grief rushed in. By day, I couldn’t escape it, as I sat and ached or wept at my desk. In the evenings, it washed over me, doubled up. Cruelly, the fragments of acceptance that I had gained came as shocks. It wasn’t just the idea of Jane actually being dead but some appalling knowledge of it. I spent some time with my friends, Psychodrama people. It didn’t “help”. My heart, my bones, my skin crawled for my lover.

Then Sarah arrived. By the time she left, she changed her name to Rogan, so she’s Rogan now. From the airport, we went to collect Jane’s ashes. After determining the details of how they came to be in the container they gave us, we picked them up. Heavy. About the mass of incombustibles, calcium and minerals I suppose, that you would expect of a human body. But not of something called “ash”. They should warn you about that.

We’d had to cancel the appointment with Jane’s GP who was going to interpret the Coroner’s report for us. In fact it still hasn’t arrived after nearly seven weeks.

Rogan and I had a weekend Jane-fest. We listened to the message about the award for Exceptional Adult Educator and I was pleased to hear that Rogan would be able to make it. We shared stories about Jane, about our lives without her. We looked at photos and read some of Jane’s diaries. We took all Jane’s clothes out of her wardrobe, her drawers, a basket on the floor, and one by one packed them to go to Wellington. All her shoes. We didn’t open the box of summer clothes that Jane would have been opening about now, to replace with winter ones. Some things we held up and looked at. We saw Jane inside them and loved her. Some pieces I held to my face and breathed in through.

We had some social visits, with Anja and Kate and Walter. The kids were around and had various of their friends visiting. It was gregarious. I like that. We had some fun. But most of the time, the aching nut inside me pulsed out through my body, and sometimes filled it up.

I got a bit sick of hurting so much. I wanted it to stop. I wanted it to not be happening. Jane to be not dead. Pinch or something. A bit angry.

So on the Monday night, I got a bit pissed and we watched Team America. Not doing any movie reviews just for now except “watch it”. Somehow, that all did the trick. Rogan went off to Bannockburn and the kids and I settled into a regular week. I’d found my favourite photo of Jane but I decided to take it off the desktop of my computer. At work, I didn’t just feel alright, I felt really good. Awake, alive, noticing people, in the moment. Enjoying myself. Getting some work done and done well. On the odd moments when I remembered about Jane, it was with a different kind of shock – oh yeah, I remember about her and ooh, how can I be feeling this good when she has just died? Ha ha.

Come the next weekend with no kids, well that’s kind of nice. Lots of time and all mine to decide what I do with. Mowed the lawn and cut a swathe through an overgrown “to do” list. But then the weekdays roll in. Or rather, a thin strip rolls through the middle of them saying “you better shake yer money-maker” but geeezers into what? The vacuum of my business, mostly neglected for the last month (two, taking in the US trip) and paradoxically not on its back. Nah, hyperbole. I’ve done the biz angst. It’s low key and doesn’t make much money but it doesn’t die either. Still, it does take me to be functional.

And actually, Rogan came back and we went to the opening of Adult Learning Week. It’s a global phenomenon, it turns out. Various luminaries were there. Jane had been on the organising committee so I sat, manuhiri scanning the tangata whenua for Heni. Kaore. But Mairehe was there and we sobbed together in the hongi. And Heather Clark, who had worked on this all with Jane, was, too.

Jane had organised Playback Theatre to be there, most of whom I know quite well. You know Jane wasn’t that automatically receptive to my proclivities. Her review of Playback from May 2004 was “The performers were amateur, but very skilled and dedicated.” But she still engaged them for the occasion. And they were skilled and dedicated.

Before too long, I realised that it wasn’t just Jane being into adult learning, it was me, too. Jennifer Leahy recounted some of the history of ACE (Adult and Community Education) and how it was once called National Association of Community Education (NACEd pronounced “knackered”). I was a member of it in those days. When I was working for the Salvation Army Employment Programme, actually at about the same time as Jane worked for the SAEP in Dunedin. We celebrated together, present and remembered, those magical moments of ako, learning and teaching. And then they presented Jane, posthumously (how Can That Be?) the award.

Rogan and I stepped up to receive it in Jane’s stead and then went home to reflect. The next morning she dashed off to daily Wellington life leaving me to my Chch one. I went to a play with Ron. It was pretty good. I received a beautiful email from Helen Mitchell (can I put that here, Helen?). It cracked me open. The days unfolded like stepping stones each placed only just in time, even though I had my diary out for the next two months.

So there’s the pattern, for these two weeks, anyway. Nearly seven weeks in now. I don’t mind it, you know, having the slumps. Because I’ve figured out a thing or two about how this all works.

Eliz K-R calls it “DABDA” (Julia taught me that):

    • Denial


    • Anger


    • Bargaining


    • Depression


    • Acceptance


I wrote about denial. Kicked in straight away and thank God for it. Manifests as disbelief quite often, and then pretty much as forgetting. Valuable protection. If you experienced the loss unattenuated and without relief, it would break any human being, no matter how well-held, I’m sure of it.

As it was, I don’t know how anyone could stand the feelings that I felt in those first days, without the nest of loving arms that held me. I can easily imagine why people anaesthetise and even harm themselves in response to that level of pain. And here’s where I kind of get off E K-R. In two ways. Firstly, I can’t find something in her classification to match that pain. Closest might be “depression” but I haven’t really depressed much. When I feel that pain, I feel it. It fills my whole body and soul. There’s no fun in it. It feels like sinking to the bottom of a cold, dark and wet pit that doesn’t feel like it has a bottom. It’s quite scary, that. I’ve had it before when I didn’t know where the bottom was.

But this time I do. Thank God. It still feels as though I will never come out of the pit, but I do know where the bottom is. I do feel thankful for this. I can sit in the pool at the bottom, feel around the walls a little, feel their steepness and slipperiness, feel the impossibility of climbing out and know that this is the bottom.

Cher Williscroft once recommended “get to know the song that is playing at the bottom of the pit”. Kate Tapley says “the work is done in the pit”. And these both make sense to me. You know, it doesn’t feel like anything good is happening when you’re down there. It feels terrible. Like the nastiest experience you can have. And it does somehow dupe you into thinking you will never get out. After a while, tho somehow you have done enough and something new emerges. Feeling better. And it can feel quite good, even a short time after being in the pit. If Kate is right, tho this is the integration phase or even better, simply getting the fruits of spending that time in the pit. A seasonal kind of cycle. That nastiness, is somehow necessary.

Which is why I don’t avoid it. I’ve spent enough of my life dragging around old hurts that I haven’t had the holding to be able to feel. Bless you, my loving Family and Friends and blog-readers that you hold me this time (and that you held me last time, when I felt much of that old unfelt hurt) while I feel what is in me right now. And I appreciate what I have done and been to have created you in our relationships.

At the ACE night, Alison and I talked about our shared experience some of this.

OK, back to E K-R. Could we call that Pit of Misery “Despair”? At least it begins with “D”. You know Despair has something of giving up that is usually characterised as a bad thing. Giving up. I think it’s kind of necessary. Practising for acceptance. A precondition for that “third thing” that Kate mentioned. But what about straight “sadness”?

So there’s the first thing. I really don’t go with the “Depression”. And the second is, that even tho I’ve felt bursts of anger – and had moments of guilt that I can reasonably identify as Bargaining, the cycle has been pretty simple for me, in my words:

    • Denial


    • Misery


    • Acceptance


Perhaps I have Anger and Bargaining coming? I know E K-R says that everyone experiences this differently – and her framework has been helpful to me (I googled it about two days in).

What this is is what I have learned about me in this particular experience.