Grief, unemployment and remarkable hedges

“I’ll probably get emotional, just a forewarning,” Katie preempted before we started our chat. “My lockdown landmark has been the shift into the final quarter of my visa, and…I’m already going to cry,” she laughed, her eyes welling up.

Katie is in New Zealand on a two-year Working Holiday visa from Canada which is due to end in October 2020.

“I’ve been really resisting accepting this shift, not looking at it as the end of my visa but continually having hope about something happening in the next six months that means I can stay. But during lockdown I’ve just stopped resisting and started accepting that yes, there may be hope but also what I have to deal with is facts, and the fact is I’m going to run out of time.” 

She falters and her voice cracks. She’s not ready to leave. Doesn’t want to. 

“I don’t want to shift into farewell mode. But I know I have to.”

She tells me she feels out of place no matter where she is; half of her is here in New Zealand and half is back in Canada.

It’s another experience of grief for her. “I’m so fucking tired of grief. My whole time in NZ has been spent grieving.” She’s referring to the relationship she came here for that didn’t work out. “Although this is a different type. Because of COVID I don’t know when I will get to see people—my whole community here—again. The luxury of being able to come back next year might not be there anymore.”

“It’s really uncomfortable to know that because of this virus I don’t know when I will see this really big home of mine again, and leaving a big massive part of me here is like…” She searches for a metaphor, “you know when you leave a crime scene and there’s just DNA everywhere”, she says, waving her arms wildly and laughing. “Not that New Zealand’s a crime scene, but I just feel like I’ve left these massive parts of myself here, all scattered around.”

Her first year in New Zealand was a tumultuous time, leaving her feeling like she’d been shattered into pieces and she tells how, not for the first time, she’d had to piece herself back together. “But for the first time it’s been in a really resilient way that I’ve never done before, and it’s part of the reason I feel so at home in New Zealand.”

She’s sad, but not in a remorseful way. “Sad when you love something so dearly and have to say goodbye to it. I have so much love for everything here, so much gratitude for what has been. It’s the place where I’ve learnt it’s on me to make everything OK if I want it to be OK.”

“I didn’t start the lockdown this way. I came into it, guns blazing, like, let’s figure out a way to stay in New Zealand, I have a month to upskill myself, go-go-go! A constant effort to make it work here.”

Katie lost her job just before lockdown, the company she was working for unable to continue in the same capacity. I asked her if she’d have felt differently if she’d still been working.

“I don’t think I would have started the acceptance of my visa ending so soon. Losing that job was the kick in the butt for me to upskill, make myself more employable, and try and start setting myself up for the rest of my life to be able to live how I want. I think it was a really good trigger to start some action for the long game.” 

She feels hopeful. 

“I’ve made a real effort to think about what I do everyday that’s constant, to structure and regulate my day, so that at the end of it I can show what I’ve got to say for myself to be proud of,  and show how I’m moving forward.” She attributes this more to do with unemployment than lockdown though. 

“What do you think you’ll remember a year from now?” I asked. 

“That I’ve walked the streets around my neighbourhood so many fucking times and each time I saw something new.” 

“Like what?

“I saw this amazing hedge. It was about five feet deep and arched over the driveway,” she laughs and gestures an arch with her hand. “I even sent a photo to my Dad. Of this remarkable hedge, like a fucking fortress.” 

We both laugh. 

“On a serious note, I want to remember the slowing down of consumerism. I really hope we all remember how nice it is to consume slowly.” I nod my head in agreement. 

“Oh, and how for sure I wish I’d been living with a hot dude who I was in love with and we just banged all the time. Like, no doubt, no question.”

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