It has been a heck of a time these last 5 months. The 6th of December was a day to celebrate as it was my 23rd wedding anniversary the next day my dad died and the world changed – as it does from time to time – forever. The happy family Christmas planned changed to a larger family gathering, a gathering that became about mourning amongst the slim glimpses of Christmas cheer. Christmas is about a time of family gathering, extended family gathering and so mine became that but an extended family full of grief and sadness and a little bit of politics. I had to work through this also – I went away on a press junket to talk to a very nice bunch of journos about the treasures of the New England region in NSW. It was a very surreal four days – everything was normal and yet everything was different. It was good and bad to be away, it was good and bad to be working, it was good and bad to not be grieving it was good and bad to be out of touch, to not be me, to pretend to be the me I was but not anymore.
Dad’s funeral was delayed so that family could fly in from America, fly in with their grief and their needs. I don’t like the way grief brings people together – I would rather joy bring people together. Joy is about sharing and giving it is selfless. Grief on the other hand is a very selfish thing,- it is an expression of one’s pain, loss, fears, guilt and like death it takes from the world. It sucks the oxygen from the room and immediately leaves everyone in that room struggling for breath, for meaning, for life. Sadly there is no avoiding it.
I have MC’d many events for all sorts of organizations and charities and enjoy it but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be the MC at a funeral let alone my dad’s funeral. Dad once told me quite seriously that he was going to become a funeral celebrant – he was always thinking about doing different things, weird things, cool things – like travelling around Australia taking pictures of churches but a funeral celebrant!? Being around that grief all the time can’t be good for you – I don’t know how funeral directors do this. The people that did dads funeral were terrific but I really don’t know how they can walk in to a houseful of sheer raw grief time and time again. They ask personal questions and show you colour brochures of coffins….it is way to strange for me, way to strange to sit there as they offer you the price list, take you through various designs, discuss flower arrangements, discuss the ins and outs of the actual running order. And all the time everyone else in the room sit in their own little pool of dark grief trying desperately not to drown in the pain of loss, trying desperately to reach out to comfort those around them, to pretend that none of this is in fact happening, trying desperately to make sense of what is happening right now in front of them and should the coffin be lined with fluffy soft silk when in fact the body – which was once so indelibly owned by my father – really won’t notice. Chuck him in nude, in a plain pine box you’re going to burn it anyway Dad won’t care because he is no longer there.
No I could never be a funeral celebrant but I did get a chance to find out what it would be like as I was asked if I would be the person to conduct my Dads funeral. It is the second hardest thing I have ever done in my life – the first was taking my Mother home to bury her son, our brother and to speak at his funeral. It was a desperately sad day made worse by the fact that the celebrant, priest, person, man who muddled through the well worn, tried and true phrasing that has always worked in the past clearly had no idea who my brother was – but truth be told nor did my dear brother. It was made worse by the motley crew of people let out early from their therapy sessions so they could turn up, made worse by the noisy absence of people from his life, his past and the fact that his future was now a wooden box about to slide into the crematorium – a desperately sad day is an understatement. I remember seeing Dad standing off on his own after the –well what you would call a service – wrapped in his grief and his guilt leaning on his cane not really knowing what to do, where to go, what to say. He like the rest of the sad and sorry lot standing around doing the only thing we could and that was to strive to take in a breath in the hope that quite possibly we would then be able to move on.
My father’s funeral was the second hardest thing I have ever done in my life but unlike our brothers it turned out to be a celebration, a positive affirmation of who he was and who we are. I conducted it. I still remember and will never forget walking up to the dais dreading what I had to do, dreading opening my mouth in front of the 350 or so people there and telling them my father was dead. Dreading that I would allow my pain to spill out in front of them – which it did, in front of my daughters, my family, in front of my friends and in front of strangers. We even had TV and news papers there. I don’t like shared grief but in this moment I found that it was okay because rather than suck the oxygen from the room somehow there was air to breath and room for tears.
Christmas has been and gone New Year too, so too family that came to stay, came to say goodbye. Reflections and ripples in the fabric of life have had time to settle in to the new order of things but I haven’t. I haven’t really settled yet, I don’t want a new order, I am not sure what I should do with it or how I should be with it – what if I forget my Dad? I know I won’t, I have never forgotten my brother but you know what I mean right. What if I get so comfortable in this new order that…..and I recognize that is guilt talking. I don’t feel I have had the time I need to process all that went on since Dec 7. With all that went on, the people, the grief, the needs, the funeral, my role as son and father and then being busy with work I am not yet at ease with this new order.
I miss my Dad – and yet there is a part of me that is surprised to hear that. There was a lot to like about him and sadly there was equally as much to not like but the core truth is I loved him, my wife and daughters loved him. He was a tough, irritating, pain in the arse at times but he also brought light and joy to the world, to my life and to my family’s life.
The thing about death is its finality. It was my birthday a while back and my wife was walking up the driveway after checking the letter box letters in her hand and I asked – birthday card from Dad?
So today is Easter Friday and I am thinking about death and how I deal with it – I am sure Dad would like to turn up on Sunday with his trade mark glint in his eye and tell me – I told you son I could do anything – I am sure he won’t. Where ever he is I trust he has found the peace he undoubtedly deserved to find in his later years of life but didn’t. And I will take the good and the bad – scrub them clean, give them another name and continue on – it’s a new day and a new playing field – no more grief just clean fresh air.