How much is me?

Walking through the markets yesterday morning, I spotted some beautiful waratahs at a flower stall. Up until a few years ago they were a protected species – possibly still are – and weren’t readily available. So seeing them at market stalls for a reasonable price is a whole new experience.

The point for me, though, was when I was walking away with my waratahs and began thinking, “When did I become a guy who appreciates beautiful flowers?” (In fact, I stood for a while pondering whether or not to buy some stunning dusky-pink roses; I decided against them but I have to say, without good reason).

So as I cradled my purchase in my arms and wandered amongst the hand-crafted breads, fresh produce, coffee, home-made cakes, and meat from almost any creature you could think of – including alpaca – I thought back to how I was, in what seemed like my two-dimensional-days before I met Ngaire. I found it hard to remember.

You see, I always had an appreciation for beauty, but she had a passion for it. I think I could safely say that, thanks to that passion, I now love good art, architecture, design, and the stunning extravagance of nature in sky, landscape, plants, creatures and all their individual elements: clouds, mountains, leaves, feathers….  and flowers. She was also my muse, the one who was my great encourager, inspiration and sounding-board for all of my creative pursuits.

I don’t know that anything of me had as much influence on her, perhaps some. I think degree of influence relates to mutual love, respect, and familiarity – even admiration. I remember, as a small boy watching my father, that I thought to myself, “I really like the jaunty way he moves when he’s walking.” So I began to emulate him. The older I get, the more I remind myself of him. Likewise, I see in my boys some of my own characteristics – and sometimes they annoy me.

The next question that follows is, “How much of who I am, is me?” Now obviously, I am entirely me; but we are all, to an incredible extent, an agglomeration of the influences of our friends, teachers, parents, partners; even our children can have a profound influence on the shape of who we are. This doesn’t even account for the trauma that so many suffer which also goes into the mix.

But when so much of who I am has been shaped by her in an almost-ongoing symbiosis for so many years, how do I find the me who functions and has sole thoughts and individual purpose without her? This may seem unnecessarily existential but bear with me.

It occurred to me in my pondering, that so many of my choices in the past were fashioned out of a desire to bring her joy, please her, or engage her more. Now, without that impetus, I cling to tenuous frameworks like going to work, cooking dinner or doing the washing; even looking after my boys is fading as they are now all older and making their own way, as it should be. Suddenly, irrevocably, it is no longer Matt and Ngaire – the unit. It is just Matt. And, as I said in a recent poem, “[The grace and love of her] presence, [was] an anchor-point for my soul, now adrift.”

You see, while I wondered at the mystery, I think that deep down I had an idea that this whole “the two shall become one” thing, was just a metaphor. It is clear to me now that it is not. In fact, to add to it, I would say that it seems to me there is an ongoing imperative when two spirits are united – that they will continue becoming one while they live.

It is as though the house that was Ngaire and Matt has been half-demolished, and I stand in my half, amongst rubble and torn plaster looking into the void. Within the half that remains there is strong evidence of her everywhere, for the house was as much hers as mine. So, almost feeling like a squatter now that she is gone, I contemplate the rebuild. In being exposed to the elements so, the stuff of life becomes more tedious and difficult. But, I have many who love and support me to help with that “project”.

However, in the midst of this, I think of those who are refugees or destitute on our own streets who have suffered unbearable loss through persecution, war or personal trauma – whole families in many cases – and it can be seen on their faces: a tragic empty pain that only love and time may help to heal. It angers and saddens me that many in our society have forsaken compassion and mercy for the “first world values” of hedonism, selfishness and misguided self-protection. But I digress.

For me, of course, there is truth in the line, “’Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all”. It comes from a very long poem of Tennyson’s, written over a period of many years, after the death of a close friend, and is to be ventured into at your peril, for it delves into the dark places of the soul. Having said that, one of the central themes in the poem is the ongoing search for hope after loss:


O living will that shalt endure

When all that seems shall suffer shock,

Rise in the spiritual rock,

Flow thro’ our deeds and make them pure


That we may lift from out of dust

A voice as unto him that hears,

A cry above the conquer’d years

To one that with us works, and trust,


With faith that comes of self-control,

The truths that never can be proved

Until we close with all we loved,

And all we flow from, soul in soul.


– Stanza 131, In Memoriam – Alfred, Lord Tennyson


This is a worthy journey.

I think, therefore I blog

Dear Reader,

I crave your indulgence. It has occurred to me over the last year or so, that a blog could be many things:

a) An opportunity to flaunt one’s ideas or opinions,

b) A conversation,

c) A place to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve,

d) A place to purge oneself (but why in public?),

e) A forum to share things that may interest others.

The list could go on, but the truth is that I have been feeling a little self-conscious at times, that the depth at which I have “bared my soul” in recent posts, could be considered self-indulgent, too private, or even egomaniacal. Maybe it is all three to some degree, but something compels me. To me, that something is twofold:

Firstly, I have always written poetry. It is a – possibly the – way in which I process my life. It enables me to examine, evaluate and allot a place in my consciousness to the events, people, emotions and circumstances that are part of my life.

To write poetry requires me to dig deep, as it were, to lift up  the said event, person, etc, and look at its roots, how it works in my life – how it affects me.

In recent weeks there have been times when to dig so deep was very painful and difficult, so I journalled instead. At times, even this was a challenge; obviously, because of Ngaire’s death, much of my writing of late has been touching the profoundly emotional. If there are those who have found this difficult, I apologise. The great thing about a blog is that you don’t have to read it. This brings me to my second point:

I do believe that, in my compulsion to write, there is an element that relates to filling a need in others. As a poet, it has always been my desire to help people see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Interestingly, I think that was also one of Ngaire’s great strengths in her art. But beyond that too, is the narrative of the journey of Ngaire’s last months and the time since, where I have touched things that I haven’t read in other places, possibly because of our society’s unwillingness to go there: the western social paradigm that if we avoid death, it will avoid us.

I have had a great deal of feedback from people who have been deeply moved, touched and helped greatly by the things that they have read in this blog. Some are friends of mine and Ngaire’s; some, I have never met or heard from before. Because of this, I keep blogging. Slowly, more people are subscribing, which of course, flatters the ego, but more than that, I think that people are being helped. I hope so.

A footnote on this subject: WordPress, who publish this blog, also give a lot of statistics and allow comments, as does Facebook. One of the things that I have noticed amongst all who have commented or “liked” any given blog, is that the vast majority are female – a ratio of about 10: 1, in fact. This gives me pause.

It could mean a lot of things. Maybe men don’t read blogs or use social networks as much as women. That’s probably true, however, not in that ratio. I suspect that it relates more to the innate “maleness” that says we blokes need to keep it together: we have jobs to do, support to give, problems to solve, buildings to build, holes to dig; and to dare to go deeper and engage in the things that may expose us and make us vulnerable is too dangerous.

I understand that; I get it. But, along the path I have also learnt that unless we become vulnerable, we will never know the true strength that lies within us. But that’s for another time…..



Condolence – noun – an expression of sympathy with a person who is suffering sorrow, misfortune or grief.

It’s a strange word and one that you don’t usually hear at any other time. That’s one of the things that I love about English; you can have a hundred words that are nuances of basically the same thing, but, usually, if you really need it, there is also a word that means exactly what you’re looking for.

“My sincere condolences….”

It sounds so formal and unnatural, probably because everything about death and loss is so foreign to how our lives are structured. I have had many different expressions of sympathy from many people over recent weeks. All have been appreciated. It’s interesting, though, that the ones that “touch” deepest are the simple ones. A mate said to me the other night, “I really have no idea how you must be feeling. I cannot comprehend it, but I am so sorry.” Oddly enough, that meant so much more to me than someone who may be offering comfort from a philosophical/ideological/spiritual viewpoint. Not that those aren’t appreciated, it’s just that, before Ngaire died, I had my own viewpoint, which would, in many ways, have looked or sounded just like many of the expressions that I have received. But really, my mate was right.

Along this road, I have experienced a lot of death. The ones that touched deepest were, of course, those closest: my mother, father, and before Ngaire, my brother’s death was the most devastating. However, though Ngaire’s passing was a possibility that was never far from my thoughts over much of the last few years, there is no comparison with anything that I have experienced before.

“….and the two shall become one flesh.”

There’s the difference; the other losses were just that: tragic losses. But this is like a disembowelment of the soul, the sundering of a union formed at the deepest level of being, so there are not many words that can come close to easing that. I also feel ashamed that I have been oblivious to the pain that those friends and loved ones who have lost partners must have endured. Then again, how could I possibly have known?

I am honoured that people have bravely ventured into that territory with us, though. Some have written letters, cards, sent emails, flowers, boxes of fruit, delivered meals, invited us for meals – so many expressions of love, for which I am immeasurably grateful and which have been a balm. In fact, without them, this journey would be bleak and dark indeed. Thank you.

As time draws the slow separation which gradually begins to make the loss manageable, the staggering and daunting realisation is that there is no going back; everything is new, and life – lives – must be rebuilt. I left a friend’s place last night, after dinner and, as I went over the evening’s conversation, began to fashion in my mind how I would tell Ngaire about it when she came home……but that will have to wait.

Here’s a poem about another aspect of life now:

The Estate

  Apparently now you have an estate,

Or so some letters are addressed.

They want to tidy things up

While I want to keep things going.

But when I read your name on other dispatches

From The Chamber Orchestra, the Art Gallery

Or even the bank, it tells me that you are

Still here, still interested and full of life.

The Art Store, the Fabric Store tell me

That you are still creating, flowing in love

Living in all that meant so much to you

And others, not silenced

But juvenescent, absorbing journals

And how-to mags, always thinking

How to bless, honour, bring joy

Through word, gift or effort.

Those who received show where

Your true estate lies; those whose

Lives were changed, enlightened,

Warmed are those who, part of the larger

Domain of grace and light, walk now on land

Reclaimed, with hearts imbued

With hope and worth, who feel the loss,

Not as that to be tidied, but as a precious seed.