Thursday, May 17, 2012

The long goodbye

We had a series of farewells for my dad, many of them during his final hours. On the day he died, we mournfully watched him being slotted into the undertaker's purpose built van.  Dad would have admired its simple, clever functionality.  That farewell was a hard one.

After that, as those of you have been there know, you have to organise a major event, a funeral, when you least feel like doing it.  And because the family is all gathered, there is friction, all heightened by profound grief.

We had another deeply sad farewell after the funeral, as dad made his final trip back along the Great Ocean Road in a silver Mercedes.  Ironically, as these things happen, the weather was gloriously warm and blue.  We didn't need the room we'd organised at the local pub for his wake.  We were all out in the sun, admiring what was one of the best views in Victoria, that is, before some jerk erected a couple of god-awful shanty looking two-storeyed shacks in the middle of it.

It was a good wake and we rocked the house back at mum's later that evening, listening to dad's favourite Miles Davis tracks.

But wait, there's more. 

Next day, we had a private cremation to attend.  Another farewell, and Reggie and I did not want to go, having said our goodbyes.  Neither did our husbands, nor our girls, all of whom had been closely involved for the last 30 or so hours of my dad's life.  We were at breaking point but we didn't want to let mum down.

We were all a bit at each others' throats that morning.  Jane was organising herself and her boys for her trip back to NT.  Reggie and I, were seedy, having drunk too much for the previous seven days.  We all had a long drive to Melbourne ahead of us.

The plan was to go in convoy to the crematorium.  I asked for the address about three times in that melee around the kitchen bench.  Somehow, I couldn't get a response.  Mum knew where it was and we were to follow her.  My final question as I was walking out to the car: 'What's the fucking address?'  My daughter told me in no uncertain terms to calm down.  We'd manage.

I wasn't so sure as mum - why wasn't Jane driving?? - zoomed up the driveway, leaving us to eat her dust.  She skidded around the corner and out of sight.

Al set off, driving me and Didi.  He was very calm.  Niece, Moss, drove Reggie and her dad and followed behind us.  Yes, we'd manage.  Didi had the Google map thing happening on her mobile and directed us left at the roundabout.  However, Moss had her right indicator on, so Al, assuming they knew where they were going, turned right, pulled over, nearly got swiped by a passing car, then followed on.

The cremation service was scheduled for noon.  It was about twenty to.

Along the Surfcoast Highway, Al quietly mentioned a sign he'd seen indicating a turnoff to the crematorium in 200 metres.  'No,' I said, 'follow Moss, she knows where she's going.'  Well, her dad's nick-name is Mr Maps.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

11.55.  Call came through from Jane, waiting at the crematorium with mum.  'How long are you guys going to be?'

'It would help if we knew where we were going!'  All she could offer was that it was near a Lutheran College.  Great help.

By this time, we were well into Geelong and had pulled over to do a reccy.  I gave my iPhone to Moss; think her battery was low.  Who knows?  Meanwhile, Didi, the publicist, was doing her telephone voice with some woman from the funeral directors who told her to ring the Geelong cemetery trust or somesuch.

I'd got the Melways (street directory) out, and located the crematorium.  Surprise, surprise.  It was way back where Al had seen the sign and blithely driven past it under instruction from me.  He was flashing his lights at Moss.  Didi got Reggie on the phone.  World War 3 was happening simultaneously in both cars.  Moss couldn't turn around, and she was on the way back to Melbourne, falsely believing that Mr Maps had got a handle on where they were going. I was screaming and crying.  I had the Melways open on a double page spread and was holding it up at the windscreen in the vain hope that Moss would see it in her rearview mirror, understand my cryptic message, drop a u-ey and follow us back where we came from.

At that stage, had she had one, Didi would have strangled me from behind with a piano wire.  We headed back down the road and at about 12.45, following the really conspicuous sign on the highway, made a left for the crematorium.

I sat in the car for a further five minutes.  I feared I may do physical harm to whomsoever made any remark about being late for dad's cremation.  Reggie and co arrived about twenty minutes later.  She was feeling exactly the same as I was, given she had to dry-reach into the grass after she got out of her car.

Props have to go to the best, most professional funeral director.  From the word go he totally 'got' our collective sense of comedy.  Whilst paying all due respects to my bereft mum, and us, he engaged with all our black humour.  As he waited there, rocking on the balls of his feet outside the crematorium, his hair blowing back in the icy wind, I noticed that his surname was the same as that of one of the wealthiest families in the country.

'Any relation?'  I asked.
'Do you think I'd be doing this if I was?'  he said.

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