Anniversaries

There is the supposition that we (read “I”) have in life, that if things have taken a bad turn, they will gradually improve. That has been my expectation, though those of you who have been reading this blog over the last six months or more would know that there have been plenty of hiatuses along the way.

I have spoken to lots of Ngaire’s friends who are still struggling – finding themselves in tears at the strangest times and for unexpected reasons. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. Yesterday I had a break around lunchtime and thought that I would grab a few things for Christmas, for the younger kids in our extended family. After taking twenty minutes to find a parking spot at the mall, I began the procession of arcades and moving footways as a great sadness enveloped me. I used to do this very thing with Ngaire. She loved it – lived for it – buying exactly the right thing for each person. Cheap junk was never good enough. She always valued each little life and it would be evident in the gifts that she chose.

By the time I got to the shop, the world around me was blurry from welling tears and it was an effort to stop my bottom lip from quivering. I took a decision to can that idea and go to the department store to buy something for me. I needed a new shirt for work, so thought I’d take the opportunity as a diversion. After looking at a couple of shirts that I liked, I gradually became inundated, like water rising around my feet, and I felt hopelessly insecure that she might not like my choice (even though she would always say that she didn’t care, as long as I liked it). I stood in the men’s department, looking around, but seeing nothing. I turned and made my way back to the car.

These reminders don’t come at an intellectual level; they are visceral. They penetrate unobserved and bring all those hidden emotions to life, along with all their connections: joy, pleasure, love, sadness, loss, hope. Ah…hope. That’s a tough one, but I’ll come back to it later.

Since Ngaire died, we have had a few milestones: Our son Remy’s birthday, Fathers’ Day, then, more recently, our wedding anniversary and, just this week, my birthday. A friend told me that the hardest part of grieving takes a year, because all of those milestones have to be encountered for the first time without her. So far, our wedding anniversary was the hardest and that was unexpected; we didn’t normally give a lot of attention to anniversaries unless they were of a significant number. All through the day when I wasn’t concentrating on work or something else, my mind drifted to that beautiful, young girl making vows and giving her life and love to me. I had numerous “moments”.

It occurs to me that, regardless of our philosophical or religious viewpoint, all of our celebrations pivot around a core element of hope. In a birthday, we celebrate a person’s life and hope for the year ahead; at Christmas we allow ourselves to unearth in our hearts the mysterious hope that Peace on Earth might one day be. What is the phrase “Happy New Year” all about, if not loaded with hope? Every celebration seems to be at once a reflection on the past with hope for the future.

Surely this is why they are so difficult in the grieving process. In death, the past is all there is. Hope has been disappointed – catastrophically – and needs to be refashioned so as not to include the one towards whom so much of your hope was directed.

I am apprehensive at the thought of New Year’s celebrations. It will be an embarkation on a year in which Ngaire will have never existed on this Earth, and I’m not quite sure how that will go. Yet, in the refashioning, love has a way of making itself central. For my birthday, I received a note from my youngest son, Eddy. While acknowledging how tough this year has been and how incredulous he still is that Ngaire has gone, in his pain he fashioned hope for us both. I know that all of my boys are gradually doing that, it’s just that Eddy was the first one to put it so beautifully and powerfully: love, encouragement, loyalty and hope. It touched something very deep in me that was neither grief nor loss, and fanned the weak ember of hope within.

I feel like I’m a bit of an expert on hope. It has been one of the hallmarks of our life together. Ngaire and I were separated and divorced after only five years of marriage. We lost everything. She was living alone with Jordan, and I was just alone. People would ask us individually, if there was any hope of us getting back together. The answer was always an emphatic “no”. After four years apart, there was a roadblock in the way, which may as well have had a sign that read, “No Future Without Forgiveness” (to quote Desmond Tutu).

One night after long, lonely separate journeys, Forgiveness arrested us. There were many tears over the course of that night and, though neither of us was looking for it, hope was reborn in our hearts.

I struggle when I hear of people who make decisions not to forgive. Perhaps they think that forgiveness is another word for excusing someone’s actions; it isn’t. It is simply saying that, “I will no longer hold this against you. For in exercising this power over you, I am also accepting all the corruption and bitterness that will flow from it to distort my own life.” I don’t think I have ever met a person who has held on to not forgiving, and been happy.

Ngaire and I remarried in March 1991. It was one of the greatest celebrations ever. I still have people say to me that it was the most joyful and memorable wedding that they have ever been to. It was all about hope.

Now, when these anniversaries (yes, we celebrated both), birthdays and festivals come and go, the rawness of Ngaire not being here for them makes a stark contrast with the hope that was the “fragrance” of our marriage. As I said, with her gone, there is only the past now. But there is love in abundance in my boys, dear friends and family; and from that, as I felt so strongly from Eddy‘s note, hope will be reborn.

What would she think?

Sometimes it seems that I’m trundling along the railroad of life when a friend, up ahead, pulls a lever that shunts me off onto another line. The other day I had lunch with one such, whom I hadn’t seen since before Ngaire went. He started by saying, “I guess you must be over people asking how you are….”
There is a kind of celebrity attached to being the “other half” of one who was so well and widely loved. It is not the kind of fame that one seeks. But I do appreciate when people ask how I am; mostly I answer with, ”OK”, and then search the eyes to see if this is someone who is able and willing to listen to something deeper.
In a similar way, whenever I start to write, I second-guess myself. Wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve is a saying that, in our society, carries a weight of impotence. You hear it often, usually used in a derogatory way about someone sharing his or her feelings or life issues. Most often, in the political arena, it is used to denote – ever so carefully – a sign of weakness, or of someone not being adequate for the task (but, the qualification is that they’re a nice person). If he is a man, then he is certainly not acting like a man. A man does not express his true feelings; we are taught to cover them up.
I don’t doubt that most of the women who are reading this whole-heartedly approve of a man making himself vulnerable in this way, but I suspect that a lot of the guys might feel pretty uncomfortable. If that’s the case, then I’m sorry guys; I have discovered on this path, that the only way to effectively love and be loved, is to make oneself vulnerable.
So, what is vulnerability? I’ve been tossing this around for a while. Put simply, it is openness, being willing to be known for who you are, warts and all. Within a community – a group of friends, club or church – vulnerability can be our gift to one another. In many respects, it is the only way we can connect with another person, soul-to-soul. When we protect ourselves and don’t allow others in, we are often betraying the fact that we are hiding our shame or sense of inadequacy that if others saw what was within, we would in some way be diminished, humiliated or not accepted. I suspect that machismo mostly hides frightened little boys.
A couple of weekends ago, my dear friend, Mick, talked to a group of us on this very subject:
“Let’s open ourselves up to the gift of vulnerability; start with one or two. Begin to open up; build trust; let down your defences; take some risks….”
Our vulnerability connects with others in a way that no teaching or opinion can because it connects with another’s heart. This is how we read stories and watch movies. Usually the storylines we love the most revolve around the characters that we can most relate to – connect with. Every superhero has a flaw. Why? Not for the sake of the story, but so that the audience can relate to their humanity; otherwise we wouldn’t care about them.
This has been the failing of a number of “competition-type” lifestyle shows. It’s not the format that people care about so much, but the characters. The successful ones don’t build their audience around the competition itself, but around the characters involved, their personalities, feelings and vulnerabilities. Once you can relate to a character, you’re hooked on the show, because you care about what happens to them. Conversely, if the characters are nasty or “stand-offish”, we quickly lose interest and don’t care about what happens, ratings drop and the show is pulled off air, if we’re lucky!
Vulnerability – openness – is also the way that you give others an opportunity to connect with you and give them the chance to be open with you. Your vulnerability creates a “safe place” for others to be open themselves.
So, why go there? Why does it matter? What is so good about being vulnerable with one another?
The way I see it working is, as a two-way street, but usually that will mean someone has to take the first step. Remember that your openness creates a safe place for others to be open themselves, and being vulnerable is the first step towards emotional healing. I am convinced that we wouldn’t, as a society, spend a fraction of what we do on psychologists and counsellors if we practised openness in our close relationships. It is also the entry point for going deeper into life and love; the more open we are prepared to be, the deeper we can go; and there is treasure to be found in the depths.
Are there dangers in practising openness? Sure. Others can perceive it as weakness or that you are “using” openness as a means of getting sympathy or attention – which you may well be. You also make yourself vulnerable to being hurt emotionally, should others take offence at or criticise you.
That’s why it’s important, like my friend Mick said, to start small, just one or two close friends whom you already trust. Open the conversation; start talking about the beauty and depth to be found in openness and vulnerability. Gossip is the enemy of trusting relationships, so be a safe place for your friend and ask them to be that for you. Most close friendships are already at that place, so explore the path together. Open yourself up to the gift of vulnerability.
To some extent, I didn’t mean for this blog to be about this subject, as you can probably tell from the title, so let me be open with you.
I was driving to work the other day, listening to some old music from my youth that pushed all the right “feel-good” buttons (Chicago – Saturday in the Park, for those who need to know). I had the windows down and was singing along, actually feeling a real sense of joy. But even as I contemplated that, my thoughts turned to Ngaire; would she be hurt that I was having a “happy” moment; what would she think?
I began to feel a little guilty, almost ashamed that I could allow myself this indulgence. But, we had walked the deep roads together, and I knew that she had no doubt of my love for her, and I certainly had no doubt of her love for me. Our mutual happiness was one of her greatest desires. So I turned up the music and sang along.

Pictures

I was having coffee with some friends, when one said to me, “I like the beard; you should keep it.”

I hadn’t consciously been working on a beard. When I got home, I went to check it out. As I stood before the bathroom mirror, I realised that I hadn’t spent any time looking at my face recently, almost as if I had some kind of hesitance in engaging the eyes, for fear of what I might see there. I had become a little unkempt, though not too bad – kind of like a front lawn that had grown a little too long and with edges in need of a trim. Normally, I would keep things under control, but I had clearly been preoccupied with something. I say “something” because it’s not what you might think.

While my loss of Ngaire does account for a huge part of my thought life in a day, I am still living life: going to work, cooking meals, washing clothes, seeing friends, laughing and making small talk. What the unkempt man in the mirror underlined was that normal had, in many instances, become something that I had to make a conscious decision to engage, e.g. “I think I’ll make dinner now”, or “maybe I should have a shower before I go to work.”  It is almost as if the chip that looks after routine has a malfunction and that part of my brain is floating in cyberspace somewhere – preoccupied with floating! Maybe that’s why the unexpected has such a sudden impact on me emotionally.

I’ve talked about this before; it’s common to all who grieve and understood by most. We hold it together most of the time as we continue the job of rebuilding and working with the new shape of our lives. Then something appears – usually entering through our senses, catching us unawares – that folds space and time so that we are instantly transported back by a smell, a picture, or a sound. There have been many such moments over the last four months but the other day, one in particular showed me another aspect of this journey.

Most of us have a presence on Facebook; for those who don’t, I hope you will bear with me. Ngaire still has a presence there and I see no reason why that should ever change. I had actually made a decision not to visit her Facebook pages yet, in the same way that I have decided not to sort through her clothes, personal items, etc. It’s too confronting, too painful still; but I know that the time will come.

Remy, my precious twenty year-old son, who is living overseas, did go to her Facebook pages, to look through the pictures that she had put up there, many of which were tagged with my name. When Remy “liked” them, or made a comment about them, I was notified on my phone, and unwittingly drawn into reading her comments about pictures of me and of our family.

Ngaire nearly always had something good or encouraging to say about everyone she knew. That was one of the things that she did well, but when I read the comments of love and adoration that she had for me in these pictures, I was undone. In instance after instance, I had reinforced to me the one central, glorious, beautiful thing that was gone from my life – her love for me.

As stupid as it sounds, I hadn’t fully realised that it’s not just her presence, her touch, conversation, smile, laughter, or any number of things that relate to her being present that I miss the most; but the love that captivated me, helped sustain me and made me feel that I could do almost anything, was gone – relegated to the past – and the loss is palpable.

I know that there are those who will say that her love lives on in me and the boys and in the hearts of those whom she loved; I understand that sentiment and it is true to a point, but the active adoration with which she endowed me, that was central to the peace of my heart and my home and helped shore up my character, is no longer a vibrant life-force in my world – in my boys’ world. This is loss and, as I ponder, it is also key to understanding the rebuilding. Now that I see the keystone is gone, again I sit pondering the precarious nature of this house in which I dwell.

If only we realised how central love is; it is the stuff of life. Without it, we merely go through the motions. It is that which holds life together, makes the weak strong and the poor, rich.

I am deeply grateful for the love of my boys, my friends and my family. Without that, I can’t think of one reason why a person would want to keep on living. With it, I have the mortar to rebuild.

Rehearsal

Ngaire’s battle with lung disease stretched out over a period of more than twenty years – over one third of her life; and I had the privilege of walking with her through it all. For the first seven there was hope that it may resolve itself, but thirteen years ago, the diagnosis turned sinister – to pulmonary fibrosis – which is always terminal.

Over those years, my role was to love, support, care for, encourage and enable her to walk the path towards wholeness. We looked for healing, from the supernatural to the intensely natural: prayer, whole foods, herbal remedies, naturopathy and everything in-between. Because the prognosis was terminal – usually, at best three to four years – perhaps, in retrospect, there was a measure of healing in some of those. After one visit to Bethel Church in California in 2005, where Ngaire was prayed for, she was completely symptom-free for eighteen months. Two subsequent visits, however, yielded no such fruit physically. All of that is to help paint the picture that this was a long journey, full in many varied and challenging ways.

One of the things that we learnt early on in the process was that the medical profession wasn’t very good at giving you bad news. In many ways, they were often quite brutal and many times we found ourselves clawing our way out of a pit of despair (I should say, however, that Ngaire’s doctor for the last three years was an exception to this experience; we found him hopeful and supportive, even when things went sour).

I found myself needing to be Mr Positive because of this, always pointing the way to the positive aspects, always trying to provide her with an anchor point for hope. The reason for this is the real help that hope provides, emotionally, psychologically and physically. The alternative – despair – soon carves a slippery slope to destruction in the often desperate heart of one with a terminal sentence. Even in her last thirty-six hours, Ngaire hoped and believed that after her sedation and intubation, she would wake with new lungs from a transplant. I am relieved that that was in her heart rather than hopelessness and despair.

Of course, my own personal journey was different. I purposed to maintain her hope, but would, myself, at times, visit dark places, writing of hopelessness and the feeling that my days were a rehearsal for what life would be like without her. This would happen particularly when she was convalescing elsewhere or on one of her several hospital visits. Without her presence in the house, the whispers would often be that my actions of preparing meals, doing washing and ironing, making lunches, organising cleaning rosters amongst the boys, were all practice for the future when she would no longer be with us.

I couldn’t talk to her about this, which is more difficult than I can tell. In almost everything, Ngaire and I would seek each other’s opinions, thoughts and feelings. I think the word that I used in an earlier blog was symbiotic. Since we remarried in 1991(for those of you who don’t know, we were separated and divorced for five years – that’s another blog), our marriage was totally different. We had almost a singularity in our approaches to things. We would use ineffectual words like “team” and “agreement” but it was much more. I cannot tell how many hundreds of times I would pick up the phone to call her and she would be calling me, and vice versa; we would often be jointly thinking of the same things or people and begin to speak about them together at the same time.

Much of this kind of thing is not uncommon in close marriages, but we had fought some hard-won battles to bring us to where we were. Part of our remarriage vows said, “I give my life to you as an open book”. Now, here I was with all of these feelings of hopelessness and despair, and I was unable to tell her, because I knew that it would be destructive in her physical battle. One of us needed to be paddling the boat, and that was usually me. I have learnt that this is often what happens to a carer. I saw it in my own father as he took care of my mother through many years of Alzheimer’s. Despite my urging he found it difficult to open up about his struggles – which were deeply evident in his demeanour – and mostly kept it bottled-up, to his and our great detriment; he died shortly after mum. However, I am immeasurably grateful for those few friends in whom I could entrust the deep, dark things, who supported, prayed and help strengthen me for the road.

So where does faith sit in all of this?

Over the course of Ngaire’s illness, faith changed shape enormously. In fact, to enlarge the metaphor, it became an almost unrecognisable monster at times, as we waded through the mud of “unlearning” what faith is.

As an aside, I am bemused by atheists, some of whom are my friends, who in their own “evangelism” presume that I, or others who think similarly, have not grappled substantially with these issues of the existence of God. It is arrogance to presume this and flawed thinking to not allow another possibility. What is the difference between that and a rabidly fundamentalist Christian? I digress.

Let me tell you some of the things that I believe I have discovered about faith:

  1. It is not about me having an expected outcome.
  2. It does not dictate that I must badger God until he gives me what I want.
  3. It is not about having an expectation that everything will be peachy.
  4. God is far bigger than any box that I may create for him or indeed, any understanding to which I may come.
  5. God can do things any way he likes.
  6. Suffering is an integral part of the journey to joy.
  7. It is O.K. to doubt.
  8. Faith is purified more by unanswered prayers than answered ones.
  9. Yes, I am loved.

I was talking earlier about Ngaire’s and my closeness. I don’t want to give the impression that it was all sweetness and light. To reach the gold you have to dig the dirt; at times we could be downright abrasive with each other: I have some memorable journal entries! But, generally….mostly…..entirely…we were deeply in love.

I wrote this about eighteen months ago, after we returned from California; Ngaire had taken a downturn and was staying at our friend, Moira’s, place.

It is the Oneness

Unwell, she convalesced in another place

Alone, deep in the night,

I stirred beside her, felt her warmth

And the air move past my face from her breath,

Tenderly, we enmeshed the arms and legs

Of our souls in gentle embrace,

And communed.

From the other possibilities of mind-time,

I called myself to reason, lying suspended,

Sliding around consciousness.

That reason again challenged life

That this is a dream,

That she is not here,

That I am alone.

I turned my back and swung my feet to the floor,

Melancholy in such sudden solitude,

Until the voice of resonance

Within informed me,

It is the oneness.

Opinions are like…..

O.K., all of us get spam daily. One of the things I loathe about coming back from a day or two away is having to go through and delete a couple of hundred solicitous emails. Many of them come from an online art workshop/school/supplier from which Ngaire received hard copy and email magazines and “how-to” publications.

I have reached a point where I’m O.K. with deleting these now, although it was difficult to begin with – it was a point of contact – connection – with her. Yesterday was different.

Whereas, I normally don’t engage with these emails at all, a particularly beautiful watercolour painting of a wilted rose caught my attention. I read the accompanying article, which ultimately was selling a magazine about painting flowers in watercolours – which Ngaire could easily have written herself; she was so accomplished in watercolour and had used flowers as her subjects since before I knew her. From fields of wildflowers to individual flowers in vases, and everything in between, Ngaire was proficient and prolific.

Now, I know that I’ve written about flowers before, along with those aspects of grief which relate to discerning how much of me is me – after being united with someone for seventy percent of my life, there is a melding between two souls that makes it almost impossible to tell where I end and she begins, if you follow.

But seeing the picture of the rose prompted something a little different. You see, I had learned so much about art, observation and appreciation from Ngaire that I could honestly say that these were now my abilities. However, she was the artist. Oh, I’m not too bad at drawing, but any opinion that I had about art really had its credibility in the fact that I was married to Ngaire, and she was the authority.

It’s like the little kid in the playground, telling his friends how badly made the schoolhouse is. They all give him a hard time until his Dad picks him up, wearing a hardhat and tool belt; suddenly, the little kid has credibility (even though his opinion may have been correct anyway).

I love art – well, not all art; the pragmatist and communicator in me draws the line at some things. But what it feels like now is that the artist in me, has gone; my credibility has gone in this area and I have to come up with some personal validity. Like the radio shock-jock who finds himself unemployed, I now have to dispense with my opinions and come up with some substance.

Of course, this is not earth-shattering for most of you who read this, but I cannot express to you how vital vision, perception, observation and appreciation were in Ngaire’s world, and consequently, my world. So now, I’m just another guy with an opinion. At least, that’s what it feels like. She lived and breathed beauty and appreciation, and she was grateful for all of it, almost every day.

Image

The Journey – watercolour – Ngaire Wills

A legacy is on the chalkboard in our kitchen. One day, a little over a year ago, she wrote, “cultivate thankfullness” – replete with the usual artist’s spelling mistake – she, who had battled a debilitating and ultimately fatal condition for so long left a reminder to cultivate thankfulness.

In fact, if I could nail it down to two things, Ngaire’s benchmarks were a) to be thankful and b) to avoid comparison. The comparison thing was a real soapbox for her in recent times, because she had seen it damage others’ lives and the lives of those around them. “But, of course”, as she would say, “if you’re thankful, you won’t compare yourself to others anyway.”

So, that’s probably a good place to end. Opinions become far less vociferous when they come from a grateful heart, anyway. And I am grateful for every day that I spent with my girl.

That can be my opinion…..and my credibility.

Image

Poor Air Quality

It is mid-Spring here in Sydney. Summer is still six weeks away and yet there are over sixty bushfires burning around our state. The worst is uncontained and only an hour’s drive west. Over two hundred homes have been lost so far, fifty in my friend Shelley’s street. Her house is OK, but many of her neighbours who lost theirs, were uninsured. Their trauma and grief must be overwhelming.

I heard of one dear woman, with young children, who had recently lost her husband to cancer. Her house and all possessions were destroyed by fire. Every item, image, gift, note or piece of clothing that I still have the time to ponder, caress and treasure in my loss, has been taken from her and her children in the most terrifying of circumstances.

Where I live, the air smells of the burning; there is a heavy, smoke haze over the city, and the sun is an orange ball. Emergency reports are broadcast every half-hour on the radio – more in high-danger periods – and the weather reports end with, “The Weather Bureau warns of poor air quality; all those with asthma or lung conditions should stay indoors.”

Of course, when I first heard that, in this recent spate of fires, my immediate response, as I was driving, was to reach for the phone to warn Ngaire to keep the windows shut. Now, I expect it at the end of the news bulletin, but each time I hear it, it is like a fresh wound.

You see, that was my role: to care, look out for and protect my girl, more and more as the years rolled on. I realised that the pain in hearing this weather warning, however, was not in the reminder, but in the revelation that my ability to demonstrate my love in care and protection, which was so central for so long, has been taken from me. I weep as a write this, because this loss leaves me not only bereft of what was my most important role, but also of a place to put that which I have had prepared for so many years: my perpetual love, care, devotion, consideration and tenderness.

Like the mother whose children are gone, who lovingly prepares meals and waits, like the old man who has been suddenly retrenched after a lifetime of devotion to his job, I wait; I stare; I ponder; I search for that warm place where all this love can find its perfect resting place, but it has gone.

Obviously, the old man, if not beyond it, can be retrained, or find a new direction in retirement; the mother can receive her friends to help share her loss and her meals. But these things are all different shapes.

I am grateful for my friends and my boys, who daily help and receive help themselves, for I am far from alone in my loss. I am grateful, too, for this blog and those who, going through similar things, find comfort, solace and – dare I say – even enlightenment through it, especially those who are struggling to find the words for how they feel themselves.

As I said a couple of blogs ago, this process is all about being in and going through. Because of that understanding and the fact that I am gradually feeling stronger and healthier, I have an almost perverse gratitude for these confronting realities that, almost daily, present me with a different aspect of loss that I can then “gird up my loins” and begin to walk through. There is a strange wholeness in it and, deep within me a growing peace. I don’t expect that I will ever “get over it”, but nor do I want to.

Another poem to sign off:

Upon Retiring 

The guests have gone,

My children in bed;

The echoes of laughter

And conversation are suddenly

Stilled; their shadows,

Like those of silent undertakers,

Skulk on the periphery as,

Teeth done, ablutions done,

Pyjamas assumed,

I stand surveying the bed

That we once shared.

All is silent as I reach

For the lamp-switch, then

Pause before I flick on the radio;

In my memory, I strain to hear

The sound of your breathing,

Your voice, reach to feel your warmth,

The touch of your face, your hand,

See the grace in your eyes,

Your countenance, feel

The love in your presence,

An anchor-point for my soul

Now adrift. Like a storm-swell,

My need arcs up and towers over

The loss and vulnerability

Of my prostrate spirit

And face, misshapen in grief

And tears at your absence:

The queen, who ruled my heart,

Now lost to a kingdom

Beyond my reach as

The radio’s vacant banter

Takes your place.

P1010020

Associations

Perhaps I’ve touched on this before, but it follows on from last time. I was driving to work the other day when “Georgia” by Boz Scaggs came on the radio. Within a few bars I was a blubbering mess, not because the song held any special significance for Ngaire’s and my relationship, but because it was a song from an album that evoked the era in which we established our love for each other. In fact, the album was released that very year. They were the years of our late teens, full of passion and life, with the world and our destinies before us.

The first night that we went out together – May 3rd, 1976 – I brought her back to my parents’ place for coffee (they were overseas at the time). As we sat at the kitchen table, I recall so clearly that we both felt that a sudden shift had taken place in our reality and we were each staring into the eyes of the one we would spend the rest of our lives with. It was an amazing, profound evening.

It was also a time of powerful emotions forging the foundations of our lives together, and a time of great music. I did a bit of a web search and compiled a far-from-exhaustive list of artists from that era. When I saw the names and remembered the great music, it kind of made me understand why so many of us old-timers are a little underwhelmed at the general state of music these days. Look at these names of the ‘70’s:

Bob Marley, The Pretenders, Roxy Music, The Doobie Brothers, Boston, Neil Young, Carly Simon, John Lennon, George Harrison, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Thin Lizzy, Queen, Fleetwood Mac, Santana, Blondie, Deep Purple, Rolling Stones – in their 2nd decade, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Rod Stewart, Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, B-52’s, Abba, David Bowie, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, Wings, Michael Jackson, The Ramones, Donna Summer, James Taylor, The Knack, Jackson Browne, Billy Joel.

As I sobbed my way through the traffic, it didn’t help to drift in my mind from song to song of that era that I won’t be able to hear again without the associations of that love, passion and life that put their indelible stamp on so many great tunes that we listened to over and over. Now that she is gone, the intimacy of those associations is no longer shared; the memories that each evokes are now mine alone, and it underscores the loneliness and loss.

Of course, music has an incredible ability to evoke memories. My parents’ “song” was Moon River and even now, many years after they have gone, I find myself drifting into melancholy whenever I hear it.

Smells are the same. Ngaire had a favourite expensive Estée Lauder perfume that she wore on our first date. I bought it for her from that time on; she never ran out. Someone wore it the other day in a shop in North Sydney and I made a hasty exit, choking back an involuntary sob.

I must sound like I’m crying all the time, but it’s only these moments now, although they do have a way of hitting when I least expect it. And I’m sure that these associations will be the things that will make getting over losing Ngaire that much harder and yet, they are a tie that we alone shared and I don’t want to ever find that they become just another memory.

I bought the Santana album, Amigos right around the time that we first went out; our “song” was an instrumental, a powerful, majestic lead guitar break from the album called, Europa – Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile. Strangely fitting……