Category: Funeral Readings

When tomorrow comes…

By , April 19, 2011 12:35 pm

Tomorrow I am going to help my old school friend bury her husband.

After decades of pain and depression, he finally ended it all with a brand new white rope.

She found him.

She has asked me to bring my video camera to record the Service, as she explains: “Patty, I always remember you saying, that you might not want to view the images now, or even next week, but one day you will come to a place in your life where it might be good to view the funeral, and the DVD will be there, quietly waiting for you.”

So, tomorrow, I will help my old school friend bury her husband, who loved her, but depression and constant chronic pain won out.

Rest in Peace.

~~~

Today I am going to help my old school friend bury her husband. I’ll be the oldest friendship there to support her, and although her nursing friends and old bridesmaids will be there, although her small family consisting of her only brother and his wife and kids will be there, I will be the one with the oldest memories of her; memories of a single girl, a carefree, happy redheaded blue-eyed school girl, in the school hallway bent over laughing at my jokes.

We both travelled to Cooktown together in our senior year, keeping a watchful eye on the young boys as we were plunged into a series of small train tunnels, pitch black and groping hands, to emerge in the blinking daylight, slightly dishevelled with smug teenagers sitting opposite us, looking like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth. It was a game and we played along, much fun.

Over the years we kept in loose touch. If I was staying in the Hunter Valley helping my old wine-maker friend Jim Roberts pick his grapes, I would stay with her and her husband.

Her husband was a soft, gentle man, a large man, a lumbering giant heaving an unworkable broken body around the best he could. In those days he drove a taxi, and could get around a little bit, but the passing years were unkind to him, and gradually depression began to taint his world and the shutters closed in.
~~~
Today my husband was showering early, and I heard him yelp from where I was in the kitchen. I called out: Are you alright? Darl? Are you ok? And with his silence my footsteps quickened to reach him.
He stood there, water droplets from the shower covering the paddocks of his back and shoulders. On Sunday he had spent most of the day changing over 45 fluorescent light tubes at his work, and one of the tubes had cut his finger deeply. It was this sore finger that had banged against the towel rail, and it had silenced him with sudden pain.

I gently took the white towel and slowly, tenderly, wiped his back, his legs, his chest. “There you go, the rest is up to you” I said, and left him to finish the job.

Some days marriage is like that, you have to be there and step forward.
~~~
“When you first told me what you did, I couldn’t understand it, I thought ‘A funeral photographer? What the hell?’ but now I totally get it.” We speak softly, the phone nuzzles into my neck, and I close my eyes and imagine we are once again sitting in the spa we shared only weeks ago. “I want you to photograph him, and film the funeral, in fact I want to take the DVD over to Ireland and share it with his old friend. She can’t make it over for the funeral. I’ll take it to her.”

Already in her mind, she is moving forward, seeing a fresh day, a new start, a different tomorrow.

A fortnight ago we stayed at O’Reilly’s in the Gold Coast hinterland, the four of us women coming together in solidarity of having some time to ourselves. I spoke to her about everything but her husband. She needed the break, and I made it clear that the topic was always there if she needed to, wanted to speak about him; I was all ears and arms; to wrap around her. We watched an opera DVD, Cecilia Botoli. Eventually, she leaps to her feet, and begins to move to the music.

This is the first time I ever lined-danced to opera she says. I try to keep up with her steps, but it’s not for me, the set routine and boredom of repeating movements. I lash out and wobble my bits in joy, dancing for a moment in the rainforest. We laugh and giggle, like the old schoolgirls we still are.

Neither of us then imagined that we would be arranging his funeral. My friend is my old schoolgirl mate, childless, now widowed. She’ll rise above this, and move forward, and I’ll be there to help if I am needed.

If I knew then what I know now…funeral client says thanks

By , November 15, 2010 9:45 am

I had a phone call late on Sunday afternoon.  I nearly didn’t take the call, as I was half asleep and the mobile was upstairs, but I bounded up to grab it before the caller hung up.  It was from Susan, the daughter of my late dad’s old regimental army buddy Dennis.  I photographed his funeral for her 18 months ago, creating a DVD to watch if and when she felt up to it, and also creating a photographic book for her family to keep.

At the time of Dennis’ funeral, Susan was a little distant; (perfectly understandable, funerals are very stressful) and although she wrote me a lovely note at the time, I felt that she didn’t have any intention of looking at the book, or the DVD.  That’s ok, we all come to things at different times.  She may have never wanted to look at either, but if she changes her mind, it’s always there for her, quietly waiting.  I am archiving her family history.

Anyway, she told me that “the whole idea of you photographing my father’s funeral didn’t sit well with her at the time, but now that 18 months have passed, she now looks at the album each week.” 

I love to look at the album, thankyou so much Patty.

“If I knew then what I know now, it would be so different” and then she went to apologise to me for being a bit stand offish to me at the time.  I’m a little used to this, I know I am the devil’s advocate sometimes, as I am sure some members of the families think “why would we want images of this?  Why do we want to remember a most painful day of our life? Why take photos at a funeral?”

Obviously I am at a certain funeral because other members of the family do want me there, and so I try to become invisible, not intrude on their grief, not to cry myself (but some days I do wipe a soft tear away, I am human too) and I always have to capture all the special moments of each Service.  The heads bowed in respect, the Poppy Tributes, the signing of the Condolences Book and so on. 

A long life well lived is a sad funeral, but not necessarily a tragic one. The family usually gather and regroup, and honour their darling beloved one, and share his wonderful life.  I love funerals like this, and I love to learn new things about someone I though I knew…for example Dennis was a great dancer, and loved to have friends around each weekend, pushing the lounge room furniture to one side, covering the floor with pops, and spending a few dreamy hours waltzing their wives around, arm in arm.  Such a beautiful memory.

Anyway, Susan tells me on my phone that she “loves to look at the album” and appreciated my taking photos of ‘the old RSL men, and the reunion buddies”.  I am so thrilled with her call I can only smile and thank her.

She tells me she hesitated in ringing me, but thought that she should, as she and her whole family just love the album so much, and really value it now.  From what I gather, they haven’t yet watched the DVD, but that’s ok, each to their own, and in time, who knows?  It’s there for them, when they are ready. 

I hang up and feel validated, and valued.  Thanks Susan for your call, it made my day.  I am so happy and pleased my work gives you and your family pleasure and memories.

~~~

I wrote about meeting Dennis here: Meeting Dennis

Remembrance Day 2010

By , November 14, 2010 5:31 pm

I woke with such a lightness I needed the weight of Remembrance Day to ground me. Spring in Brisbane, with the sobbing clouds of night rain and a refreshed morning, fills my driveway with heavy Jacaranda blossoms. My car has been to a wedding overnight without me. I don’t bother to wipe the flowers away; there are too many of them and anyway, I love the effect of driving down Latrobe Terrace with traces of purple flying off my car like warp speed particles. It adds to the character of the suburb.

In today’s paper I can see there are a few Services I can go to. I am spoilt for choice, yet strangely I am compelled to visit Ashgrove. The last time I was there was for Carols by Candlelight 22 years ago, even though I drive past the central island park each day. A renewed Ashgrove Traders group and a spanking new Memorial within the park have motivated the locals to hold a Service, and so I drive there to be early for the 10.45am start.

The garden beds are full of blue lobelia and the colour is electric against the green of the grass. A woman walks towards me holding poppies for sale, she has one each side bent with wire around her glasses. She looks quite eccentric. I withhold my mirth and gratefully accept 2 flowers in exchange for a fiver.

And then the Service commences. Blimey! I am never late but it looks like I skidded here and only just caught the beginning. We gallop through the agenda, the MC is a local teacher from the Catholic Girls School nearby. He is reading a piece written by an ex-digger who is too unwell to be here in person, and he holds the paper up close to his eyes, squinting in the morning sun. We politely listen and mentally smooth his ragged speech into a sense of cohesion.

I take photos on my Blackberry, and send them to my mother’s email address. There’s an old man sitting, leaning on his cane, listening with effort to the thin voice of the announcer. To his right, stands the solid cenotaph, built stone by stone. I quietly take his photo. He stands shakily when the Ode is being read, and we all mouth Lest We Forget. Men replace their hats. Young girls dab their eyes.

We are then told that the minutes silence is to be held ‘as close as possible to eleven o’clock’ so we have a small interval. We’ve peaked very early. There is 20 minutes to fill. The small crowd filters over to read the new display of New Guinea information and photographs. It seems the 61st Battalion were very active after the war ‘cleaning up the Japs’ and black and white images of sweating bare-chested men and bogged army trucks stare back at me.

A motorcycle policeman gently purrs past us, glancing in on the crowd. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Photographs of men in kilts (a Macdonald never yields!) are grouped together as part of an Ashgrove chapter of army men. A large group of small kids run barefooted beside them as they march through the main street, bagpipes blaring. You can imagine the noise and excitement! Some of the children look as young as four, only one wears a hat, and he looks a proper dandy. It’s not a kid’s hat, it’s a prissy one. I wonder who he grew up to be?

Soon it’s time to rejoin the Remembrance Service, before we forget why we are there. Whilst we look at our watches waiting for the next 3 minutes to pass, I take the newly arrived Westpac Bank managers photograph, with his young teller. We recognized each other when she tried to register my new credit card a few weeks ago. We exchange chitchat and soon the Poppy Lady is making a bee line to him.

I gently tease, saying it was so good to see the big banks putting their hand in their pocket, but he isn’t amused, and I regret my tackless jibe. He hands her a $20 note and assures her to keep the change. Her job is done! I offer to take their photograph on his mobile phone, and they both beam with poppies and civic duty smiles.

At 11am we re-commence the Service with the Last Post, except the sound doesn’t work from the IPod to the speaker. I am delighted at the use of new technology, it would be even better if it worked, but for now we have the Last Post and the one minutes silence all in one. Reveille.

Whilst we were looking and remembering and dreaming in the photographic display, an old soldier named Bob shuffled in and sat on the park bench, resplendent in army greens, tropical style. He even has a khaki pith helmet on, although I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anyone wearing a camouflaged pith helmet in WWII, but that’s just me.

At the end of the Service I place one of my poppies onto the cenotaph, leaving the other tucked firmly behind my right ear.


More photographs. A twenty-five pounder gun sits on the corner of the park, jutting it’s historic strength to the passing traffic. Look at me! I am powerful! It is the gun my father used in the war, and I have a large soft spot for it.

I shake a couple of the old men’s fat hands, and say a grateful Thank You.

I wait patiently to speak to Old Bill, but he is holding court with a young woman, pointing to each medal on his chest. “This is my fathers, this one is for General Service in World War II”, and he proceeds through each unpolished, chinking medallion.

As I drive past later, I can see he hasn’t moved from his bench.

There are still a core group of six people listening to him and giving him the attention he came for, lovely. That will make his day, the dress up was worth it. I touch the red poppy behind my ear, and press my foot to the accelerator.

Time to live the rest of the day.

In Flanders Fields

By , November 11, 2010 10:10 am

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

For The Fallen

By , November 11, 2010 10:06 am

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
~~~

Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), the poet and art critic, was born in Lancaster in 1869. He worked at the British Museum before going to war, having studied at Trinity College, Oxford where he won the Newdigate poetry prize. Whilst on the staff of the British Museum he developed an expertise in Chinese and Japanese art.

Aside from his best known poem For The Fallen (1914), most notably the fourth stanza which adorns numerous war memorials, Binyon published work on Botticelli and Blake among others. He returned to the British Museum following the war. His Collected Poems was published in 1931
~~~

I love this poem, I think my favorite lines would be:
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

Makes me weep each time.

Meet Brisbane’s youngest Mortician

By , June 24, 2010 7:57 am

There are some jobs that many of us just couldn’t do – being a mortician is probably one of them. But what make a young person want to work with bodies?

Sarah used to work in cosmetics, but now she’s a mortician.

This is an interview by Madonna King, on 612 ABC Brisbane Radio.

Note that Sarah loves her job, and the passion and love that families show towards their Loved Ones at a funeral.

I totally understand, funerals are a beautiful expression of human empathy and compassion. Listen here: Brisbane’s youngest Mortician

On Death

By , February 20, 2010 8:00 am

A good friend of mine sent me this when my dad passed away, I have loved it ever since, and shared it many times, with others. It gives me great joy, and peace.

And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Full poem here:

On Death

Then Almitra spoke, saying, We would ask now of death.

And he said:

You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heath of life? The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light. If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. For life and death are one, even as the river and sea are one.

In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond; and like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring. Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.

Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honor. Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king? Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

The Prophet
Kahlil Gibran

Attitude toward Death

By , February 20, 2010 7:56 am

WOW! This must have been written for me, so glad I have found it.
Live your life that the fear of death
can never enter your heart.
Trouble no one about his religion.
Respect others in their views
and demand that they respect yours.
Love your life, perfect your life,
beautify all things in your life.
Seek to make your life long
and of service to your people.
Prepare a noble death song for the day
when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting
or passing a friend, or even a stranger, if in a lonely place.
Show respect to all people, but grovel to none.
When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light,
for your life, for your strength.
Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living.
If you see no reason to give thanks,
the fault lies in yourself.
Touch not the poisonous firewater that makes wise ones turn to fools
and robs the spirit of its vision.
When your time comes to die, be not like those
whose hearts are filled with fear of death,
so that when their time comes they weep and pray
for a little more time to live their lives over again
in a different way.
Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.

A Parable of Immortality

By , February 20, 2010 7:53 am

I first heard this at a funeral last year, for a fisherman and sailor, I love it, and I hope you do too…..

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze
and starts for the blue ocean.

She is an object of beauty and strength,
and I stand and watch until at last she hangs
like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says,
” There she goes! ”

Gone where?

Gone from my sight . . . that is all.

She is just as large in mast and hull and spar
as she was when she left my side
and just as able to bear her load of living freight
to the place of destination.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment
when someone at my side says,
” There she goes! ”
there are other eyes watching her coming . . .
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout . . .

” Here she comes! ”

Henry Van Dyke

A Child of Mine – Edgar Guest

By , February 20, 2010 7:47 am

I will lend you, for a little time,
A child of mine, He said.
For you to love the while he lives,
And mourn for when he’s dead.
It may be six or seven years,
Or twenty-two or three.
But will you, till I call him back,
Take care of him for Me?
He’ll bring his charms to gladden you,
And should his stay be brief.
You’ll have his lovely memories,
As solace for your grief.
I cannot promise he will stay,
Since all from earth return.
But there are lessons taught down there,
I want this child to learn.
I’ve looked the wide world over,
In search for teachers true.
And from the throngs that crowd life’s lanes,
I have selected you.
Now will you give him all your love,
Nor think the labour vain.
Nor hate me when I come
To take him home again?
I fancied that I heard them say,
‘Dear Lord, Thy will be done!’
For all the joys Thy child shall bring,
The risk of grief we’ll run.
We’ll shelter him with tenderness,
We’ll love him while we may,
And for the happiness we’ve known,
Forever grateful stay.
But should the angels call for him,
Much sooner than we’ve planned.
We’ll brave the bitter grief that comes,
And try to understand.

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