Archive for the ‘death’ Category

Last words

November 11, 2007

At JYF camp Pearl told me that the last words that her Grandmother could say (due to a stroke) were “I love you” and “thank you”.

I think that if you could only say two things, those are a pretty good choice.


Wellspring of laughter

August 31, 2007

Avon’s baby was born at home, in the beautiful Kahuterawa valley. In Christchurch the first blossoms are on the trees, pink and tentative against the last grasp of winter. Around the seat where my mother’s ashes were scattered, yellow fingers of daffodil shoot from their green stems, ready to unfurl as the weather warms.

In the mountains the ice thaws and cold water babbles over the river stones, soft and gurgling like a baby’s laughter.

July gripped my heart with the rough wound of loss. I ran in the dark, arms needled with the shooting pangs of fear. Yet here, the city’s getting smaller behind the boat, and as the sea expands the hold of winter on the land lifts in me.

Night never lasts. Fast and free life springs quietly awake in the light.

Today I held the baby of my first love, warm in the sun on this island in the sea. And she, small and new and clean, smiled up at me.

Oceans of tears

August 14, 2007

Mothers shouldn’t die. At least they shouldn’t die young. They shouldn’t die before they get to see their grandchildren, or their children’s weddings.

But sometimes they do.

There’s something about your mother dying. The person who gave you life, now gone. It’s like a schism with the world, a cutting off from the source. And that, itself, is worth oceans of tears. Tears for the conversations you might have had if they were still around. Tears for the joy they would have had spending time with their grandchildren. Tears for the loss of the love they would have kept on giving. Oceans and oceans of tears.

Those tears are for a reason though. They show the love that was there. They are a way of physically and emotionally letting go. I still don’t really understand grief, but I do know it’s something you have to do. Something you have to open yourself to. And that hurts. But in the opening there’s a kind of acceptance. An ability to feel joy at what that person’s life meant to you. A sense of pride when you see their love, their giving, still acting in the world, through the people they influenced, the things they said and did.

Death is just a part of the great mystery. But it still hurts.


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.

Heaven scent

December 19, 2006

It seems kind of fashionable in Quaker circles to be a bit ‘bah-humbug’ about Christmas. This seems mostly to be a reaction against the increasingly material, commercialised nature of Christmas, against the dislocation of Christmas from its traditional and spiritual roots.

A number of conversations and posts have got me thinking about what Christmas means to me. Apart from family, there are two things that are ‘must haves’ for me at Christmas time. They are a proper Christmas tree, and Christmas Lilies. The reason is the scent. Smelling the pine needles takes me straight back to the wonder and magic of Christmas as a child. There was one year when I was about eight and we had a Christmas in Keri keri. Grandad got a branch of a macrocarpa tree to serve as a Christmas tree. It was just all wrong for me even when covered in decorations. It looked OK, but it didn’t smell right.

Christmas lilies were Mum’s favourite. If you’re lucky they bloom just a week before Christmas and last for a few days afterwards. The scent of them brings an image of Mum right to the front of my mind, and more importantly the feelings I associate with memories of her come flooding back. It’s nearly eight years since she died but the feelings triggered by the scent of the lilies are just as strong.

Christmas was important to Mum. She’d start make the Christmas cakes several months before, poke them with knitting needles every few days, and pore brandy into the holes. It was important to her to have the whole extended family together so Christmases were often large affairs. She was always very thoughtful when it came to presents, choosing things that really connected with people.

We never wrote letters to Santa when we were kids. When we were a little older we did all write lists for each other to show the kinds of presents we wanted. We didn’t always get things from the lists for each other, often it acted as a kind of inspiration, or a challenge to get them something they’d love, but that wasn’t on the list.

I made a kind of Christmas list this year, none of the things on it were material, they were intangible ‘life’ things I wanted for some of the people I love. They aren’t things I can give as a ‘present’ to those people, it’s not in my power, but maybe by being ‘present’ with those people over the coming year I can help them a little to come to those things themselves.

One of the best pieces of advice I heard this year, was “the greatest gift you can give anyone is the gift of your full attention”. So to me, being present with people is what Christmas is about. I can’t be present with Mum anymore, but the lilies get me close, and that helps me to be more fully with the people that are here.

Pillar of light

May 14, 2006

On Tuesday morning a dear Friend in our Meeting died.  I got a call early in the morning to tell me the news, and burst into tears.  I was surprised by the intensity of my reaction.  I had become quite friendly with Richard over the last two years.  His ministry I always enjoyed, and I loved the dry sense of humor he used when requesting helpers for the tea roster.  We’d had some interesting chats about things biblical of which his knowledge was vast.  He was in his early 80s though, and it was his time to go.  Why then was I so affected?  Over the last few days I’ve been trying to make sense of this.  Some of it is perhaps a similarity to Mum’s death.  Richard had a deep compassion for people, very similar to Judith.  He approached death with a pragmatism, with no outward signs of fear or the need for pity or sympathy.  He was lively and active until right near the end, then went quickly, just like Mum did.

From his hospital bed Richard volunteered to help redraft the guidelines for financial assistance, which had become a somewhat contentious issue in the Meeting.  He had just recently been told that he hadn’t long to live, yet he still was committed to the needs of others.  I think it was this that hit me the most, rather than any similarities with Mum.  Richard always sat across from where I normally sit at Meeting.  When he stood to give ministry I always felt a sense of anticipation, what he said almost always spoke to me in some way.  He was tall and lean, white a shock of white hair.  I see him now as such a pillar of the Meeting, a voice of reason and compassion.  I guess I expected him to always be there.  And now he is gone, and I am sad. 

I don’t know how we will fill the gap that Richard left.  I don’t know who will work quietly behind the scenes with compassion and love, keeping us all together.  I don’t know who will now speak about the bible with such a deep spirit, and I don’t know who will recite poetry by heart.  I don’t know who will gently and dryly jibe us about the tea roster.

When a big tree falls in the forest, it leaves way for more light for the saplings below.  I hope the light that Richard has shared with us, the love he has given us will help us fill this gap.

Dying to sing

May 7, 2006

A Friend in our Meeting has been told he has only a few months to live. He's in his 70s and it's not too much of a surprise. The depth of ministry and emotion in Meeting today wasn't really a surprise either. He has always been a voice of reason and compassion, deeply knowedgeable about the bible and spiritual writings, and a wonderful sense of humour too. Just before receiving the prognosishe volunteered from his hospital bed to be part of a working group to deal with a very contentious issue in the Meeting. He feels like one of the pillars of our Meeting to me and it is sad that it's time for him to go.

His approach to life, and people's reaction to him are reminding me a lot of my mother. Living with Cancer was something she did for 9 years. She was never dying from it, she chose to live. And when it came time to die she did that properly too. She did it with a full sense of awareness, and compassion for those around her.

In Meeting today, right near the end a man spoke and sang 'Te Aroha'. Many people joined in. It is so rare to have song in our Meeting, but it felt totally appropriate, a celebration of the love for others that embues our dying Friend's life.

It made me think of a passage from The Prophet that I read at Mum's funeral:

"For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is 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."

I know it is time for our Friend to go, I am sad, but I hope and believe that he will sing and dance, in whatever comes next…