Archive for May, 2007


May 21, 2007

I first met Angela Brusse 19 years ago, at a Junior Young Friends (JYF) camp at the Quaker settlement in Wanganui. I was 15, and she would have been 75. She was a force to be reckoned with, or perhaps more sensibly, not to be reckoned with. My Godmother was dutch, so I knew the type – strong to the point of stubbornness, loving and compassionate in a firm, direct and uncompromising way.

Three or so years ago Angela came down to Christchurch, to move into a rest home and be near her daughter Mia. Even though she was very old, and couldn’t see very well, she came to Meeting for Worship when she could. I’d often sit and talk with her after Meeting. Twice a year, at the beginning and end of daylight savings I would be given the job of adjusting the time on her electronic ‘talking’ clock. I learned about the work she did protecting Jewish children during World War II. I learned about how she started JYFs in New Zealand. Immediately after worship finishes in Christchurch Meeting, the Elder giving the notices asks the children to report back from Children’s Meeting. Angela would often say to me “We ask the children what they have been doing, but we do not tell them what we have been doing”.

I think Angela saw children and young people as equals. As equals that she held to the same high standards and expectations of courage, forthrightness, and moral fibre that she held herself.

I’m organising JYF camp this year. As I look through the box of information from past camps, Angela’s name appears often. As the return address for the application forms for many camps, as the ‘c/o’ address on letters signed by many JYFs, sent to the Prime Minister opposing military actions and nuclear weapons. On press releases from JYFs condemning violence and the use of military force.

Angela, you taught a whole generation of us to work for peace, to stand up for what we believe in, to have the personal courage to live our convictions. I will miss you.


Love and loss, grief and guilt

May 13, 2007

A stylish bar, 1995. House music pumping, I looked across and saw my friend Tim talking to a girl wearing white leather pants and a canary yellow shirt. Her hair was blond, and fuzzily spiked in all directions, cyberpunk style. Tim came over to me “Do you know who that is? That’s Cheryl Vuillermin”. Cheryl was a bit of a celebrity in Chch at the time, a very successful young fashion designer with her own shop. She was about six years older than us, and lightyears more stylish.

Tim and I went back to her place that night (I was there for moral support and slept on the very trendy retro couch). In the morning she made us miso soup, the first time I’d ever had it. We became good friends with Cheryl and although nothing further happened with her and Tim we hung out regularly with her in styley bars and got to know some others in that scene. A couple of years later, after a trip to Paris she came back, opened a new shop, and ended up flatting with Tim for a year or two. Cheryl named her shop Lumiere, French for ‘light’.

For the next seven years I bought almost all my streetwear from Cheryl, from mid nineties rave gear, to more subdued urban pants and shirts later on. I’d go into her shop at lunchtime and chat about fashion, design, and people we knew.

Cheryl died a bit over a week ago. She was 41, and left a 16 year old and a 4 year old son. She was diagnosed with Cancer two years ago and closed her shop then. Over that time I’d had her details and had always meant to get in touch and see how she was doing. I never quite did though. And now she’s dead.

Another of my friends, Cam, who’s ex partner Bronwyn used to work in Cheryl’s shop saw her sitting in a cafe three weeks ago. He too hadn’t seen her for a couple of years. He was in a hurry though, and just smiled, waved and kept on walking, expecting he’d see her again soon. And now she’s dead.

I feel sad that Cheryl’s gone. And I feel guilty. Guilty that I didn’t get in touch. Guilty that I didn’t try to help. Guilty that I wasn’t there for her. Cheryl was so inspired, she had a creative energy that shone like a light. And she had a darkness that gave her an edge, chic and black, like drum&bass. In the end though the darkness took her.

Cancer’s hard. I always feel that there’s something more I could have done. If I’d just known what to say, or been more supportive, or helped them think more about complementary treatment options, then they wouldn’t have died. I know this isn’t true but but I still feel it nonetheless. I know I can’t save everyone, I couldn’t save Mum, or Andrew, and I didn’t save Cheryl. I know I don’t have the emotional energy to be there for everyone, but I wish I did.

Cheryl was married just a few weeks before she died. She was very much in love, and looked beautiful, radiant and full of light in her wedding dress in the picture on her funeral pamphlet. I know you died in the light Cheryl, and that even though I wasn’t there for you, there were many people who were. Many who fought with you, and held you, and loved you. Goodbye dear Cherry, I’ll remember you always.