For many people around the world the current COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront challenges in a range of life areas. For me, the life challenge that I am managing is the death of my wife during the pandemic. Even though she did not die of, nor even with COVID-19, the pandemic has impacted everything around her death, and therefore how I can manage this life challenge.

One of the things I have chosen to do, in order to manage this life challenge in a way that is most positive and helpful for me is to share the journey. As an autistic adult, I am not always comfortable sharing my journey. However, in losing my wife, I lost not just my partner in life and business, but also my best friend and my interpreter for the wider world, my sounding board and the person who pushed me and inspired me to life a live of compassion and kindness even when challenged. Jane, often known as Dr Jane, or Dr Nugent, was a GP with the biggest heart, a beautiful smile and the most compassionate and kindest person I had ever met. She was determined to make the world a better place, and to help everyone and every dog that she possibly could. Her death impacted so many, and the outpouring of aroha (love) and grief was overwhelming, but also comforting. I chose to take comfort in that shared loss and shared grief. I accepted all offers of help (even when emotionally unable to answer the phone, I would text or msg people and was so grateful for all the practical support and meals that appeared).

The other important thing I chose to do, was to celebrate Jane’s life and the time that we had been together (14 years) rather than focusing on what I lost, I want to try and focus on what I have gained over this time. Which is a lot, in no particular order; a son, a whanau, extended family, new friends, a sense of place and purpose that I could see was hugely valued which further increased confidence and competence, a PhD journey that was less difficult than many people’s, a sense of family and home that did not encompass loneliness.

Obviously, (or maybe not), this life challenge is hard to manage. I have discovered that grief can be so intense that it manifests as physical pain, and nausea. I have discovered that quiet moments of connection to my love for Jane and her wairua (spirit) can briefly heal my heart and warm my soul. I have discovered that many many people really to want to connect, to provide support and kindness. I have discovered that sayings that I have used to manage life challenges over the years do indeed have a purpose and a place, though they are not necessarily 100% applicable.

For example, I deeply believe and have been saying for the last 20 years; ‘everything changes, nothing is permanent’ and ‘there is no point in getting upset or distressed about things that you can’t do anything about.’

For the COVID-19, stay at home/lockdown, these two worked beautifully to manage the challenge of shifting from lots of travel and work interactions to being home 24/7 and only zoom and Jane for company. Jane worked more in the period from the start of the pandemic than I was comfortable with, but it made her really happy. She could provide health services to people who were scared and needed them, in ways that brought them both physical and emotional relief and comfort and educated them at the same time. This was her career high point, where she was living her core values.

But for her death, these sayings were less helpful. She died instantly and painlessly, the everything changed and I was shown very clearly that nothing is permanent. But it was jarring and heartbreaking, even though there was nothing I could do to bring her back, and I did try, I tried very hard but to no avail.

In the end what helps manage this life challenge of heartbreak, is what has always helped me manage life. I help others. I keep moving forward one step at a time, with the same life purpose and values; to help alleviate suffering and to act with kindness and compassion. I am learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, to realise it is ok to be sad, because that sad will not be forever, because nothing is permanent and everything changes.

Arohanui Jane – kia kaha to everyone.