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Monday, September 17, 2012

Merry Meet and Merry Part ...

Andrew's Commemoration

People who have been reading my poetry blogs and/or the 'Shifting Fog' blog (see sidebar) will know that my darling husband Andrew passed away on September 3rd after 18 days in hospital and 11 in Heritage Lodge nursing home. In both places he was beautifully looked after. Basically his body just broke down, quite rapidly, and it's a blessing that he is now free of its restrictions. His last days were comfortable, peaceful, without pain, and full of love.  This is what I posted about it in various places online:

My beautiful man passed away today about 3.40 in the afternoon. The nursing home phoned me just after breakfast so I went straight there and our dear friend Maureen joined me there, and we sat with him all day. The nursing home fed us, and we reminisced about him and his life, and talked to him too, and held his hands, knowing he could feel and hear us although he was unable to respond. He was very peaceful and comfortable all day, and went quickly and easily. He did wonderful things in his life, and was a treasured friend and mentor to many. I have been very blessed to have 20 years with this incredibly loving man.

He and I weren't into funerals. We have been to a few, because that is how things are usually done in our culture, but we agreed that we didn't want that for ourselves or each other (being anti-gloom, and considering a body to be just an empty shell). His body was cremated at the funeral home. The ashes have been shipped to his children in Victoria, who will hold a memorial for his many friends living there who wish to pay their last respects.  

Here in the Mt Warning Caldera, in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, where we have lived for most of our marriage, we had a gathering of his closest local friends, by invitation. Here are the details —

The invitation said: 

Dear Friends

We are not holding a funeral as such for Andrew. His body will be cremated privately and the ashes shipped to his oldest son in Victoria. His children will arrange a memorial service for his family and his many friends down there. 

You, his dear friends and soul family in the Caldera, are invited to a commemoration at noon on Sunday September 9 at Kouranga Hermitage, North Tumbulgum (the home of our friends Maureen and Alan). It will be a simple gathering of friends, to celebrate Andrew's life and acknowledge his place in ours. Please dress pretty, bring a small plate to share, some wine or whatever else you would like to drink, and a flower for the altar.

Love, Rosemary

My niece Ellie came up from Victoria for a few days to be with me. She drove me to Kouranga on the day. We arrived ahead of time to finalise the preparations, and later she helped organise the food that people brought.

Alan and Maureen, with other old friends Nik and Julie, had already prepared the space, putting chairs, benches and cushions in the temple and flowers on and around the low altar. We used the candles that were there, and these three photos — this one taken on our wedding day in 1993: 

















this one in the winter of 2005:





















and this on 26th August 2012, 8 days before he died:

















Alan blew them up and printed them on photographic paper; Maureen found frames for them and Julie did the framing.

I put a plaque from our friend Gail on the altar. It said, 'Live Simply, Laugh Often, Love Deeply', which she felt summed up Andrew. I placed Andrew's magickal tools on the altar too, in the appropriate places according to Pagan practice. Twenty-five people came, despite short notice. As they entered the temple (shoeless) they each placed a flower of their own on the altar. 


I didn't speak from notes, but from the heart, thanking everyone for coming, and saying something like: 

'Andrew identified as Pagan. He understood, as I'm sure we all do, that religious distinctions are artificial and man-made. When we updated his facebook status recently, for 'religion' he chose to say only, 'I believe in God'. However, in the way he expressed his spirituality, he was Pagan — albeit one who loved Jesus, whom he regarded as an Ascended Master and his own Patron Deity. His magickal tools are on the altar: his pentacle, which probably very few people knew that he always wore, as he kept it tucked under his shirt; his wand, his dagger and his chalice.' [I said 'dagger' rather than 'athame'  as some people present might not have been familiar with the latter term.]

'We're going to start by playing the Circle Casting song by Wendy Rule, one of Andrew's favourite singers and an out-of-the-closet witch, whom we were lucky enough to see in concert twice at the Castle in Uki. In fact several people here were with us on those occasions. This is from a recording called Live at the Castle.'  

Maureen operated the CD player with a remote switch and we listened to Wendy's beautiful, soaring voice singing:

The East the air the sword the mind
The gate that leaves the night behind

The North the sun the flame the fire
The gateway to our souls' desire

The West the womb the water's flow
The gateway to the world below

The South the star the silent Earth
The gateway to our souls' rebirth

The circle is cast and outside of time
The circle is cast and outside of space

The circle is cast and outside of time
The circle is cast and outside of space

and saying: 

'Welcome and Blessed Be'.

I said (something like): 

'We're here to celebrate Andrew's life. 

Many people seem to expect me to be devastated by grief. I'm actually not. It's when I think of how difficult life had become for him that I get upset, but I also have moments of great joy that he's now free of all those restrictions.' 

I shared a beautiful email received that morning from my stepson Adam, which read in part:

'Never was Dad happier when he was with you for these last 20 or so years.  The way he looked at you, even in his last few days, was a look of indescribable love.  I have never seen another man look at a woman the way he looked at you.  I can only hope that one day I am blessed with meeting someone I feel that deeply for.  You were his world, his inspiration, his reason for waking up each day and doing things he only ever dreamed of doing - writing a book, studying screen-writing, being part of other people's lives in a meaningful way, exploring new ideas, and searching for an inner truth.  When he left us, I truly believe he was finally at peace with himself, his life and the world.  You were the reason, his reason.  

Dad also left me with a gift, a message.  One that I will carry with me always; love is all you need.'

I said that indeed, by the time Andrew and I had completed our time together in this lifetime, I felt utterly loved and appreciated, as I know he did too. Even on his last night at home, before he landed in hospital, he gave me Reiki because I had come down with a nasty virus. I always told him he had 'the best Reiki hands in the business' and I reiterated it then, because they still were.

I told of that last day at his bedside. When I first went into his room, I said in his ear, 'I'm not only your wife, I'm also your Reiki Master, and you have my permission to leave when you choose. That's the greatest healing for you now, to make that choice.' Later on I said, 'Don't stick around on my account.' I also had the Reiki II channels open between us the whole time, allowing for telepathic communication. 

About 3.30 I said to Maureen, 'I haven't given the cats their lunch' and then, realising my neck was hurting from all that stooping over the bed, 'I need to take my arthritis medication. I might just dash home. It's only five minutes away.' But I was torn. To Andrew I said  telepathically, 'I want to be here when you go. Please don't leave while I'm away attending to those things,' meaning, 'Please wait until I come back.' Maureen was just about to phone her husband to come and drive me, and I was reaching for my handbag, when she suddenly said to me, 'Look!' I did, and saw Andrew's eyes, which had been shut all day, wide open. Even more dramatic, I realised there was complete silence; his breathing had stopped. It had been loud and laboured all day — what nurses call chain stoking and the rest of us refer to as the death rattle. After some minutes of silence he gave a big gasp, and after a few more minutes another, then that was it. We buzzed for the nurses, who confirmed it. Afterwards Maureen and I exclaimed that he was considerate to the last. I needed to get home, so he chose not to linger any longer. (Of course it was then some time before I could get away — but that's all right.)

I spoke about things Andrew had done in his life before coming to this part of the world. People here knew him as an author of children's stories, and as a gifted Reiki Master working in the markets (combining it with Indian Head Massage) and supporting me ably in teaching Reiki. Many didn't know that in Melbourne he had been a film editor for ABC-TV and for Crawford Productions, his greatest claim to fame being his work on the very popular police series, Homicide. And they didn't know that he was the moving force behind bringing to Australia an accelerated learning program for teenagers, called Discovery. They didn't know that he'd been an investigative journalist, and that because of that he was hired to front an organisation called Watchdog which investigated the then draconian powers of the Australian Securities Commission which victimised many innocent people, and that he ended up giving evidence before a Senate enquiry which led to urgent reforms.

For this part of my talk, I used as a prompt a list of his life highlights which he made for his 80th birthday party, at the request of Dinah, who was the MC on that happy occasion. You can read the list at this link. I also spoke of the genesis of his book, Jorell, which you can read about here.

Maureen read an email message from our old friend Marg Watson in Sydney, who was unable to attend the event:

Dearest Rosemary

My thoughts have been with you all week since Andrew’s passing and of course, remembering Andrew as I have known him the past 12 years since we first met.  I am so glad that John and I had our visit with you and Andrew in June when he was still at home.

Even though I could see his health deterioration since my last visit  in December, there was still much of the real Andrew present. His laugher, his entrepreneurial streak and his humour still shone through.

My memories of  Andrew are and will be enduring. His wonderful clear blue eyes which so easily filled with tears of compassion for others, his rich, deep-throated laughter, his ability with the written and spoken word and his deep feelings for others and most of all, his constant and enduring love for Rosemary.

Andrew, along with Rosemary, made every event important and meaningful. I remember the times they attended Kouranga, dressed in their best colourful outfits and Andrew usually in his suit to mark any and every occasion. 

Rosemary without Andrew will be like bread without butter. Yet we know that Andrew will be available to Rosemary whenever she whispers his name in the loneliest darkness of nights, when the memories and tears visit her as well as the times when peace and tranquillity will settle on Rosemary for the love shared and memories made with Andrew.  He will live on in your heart and soul Rosemary and will walk and be with you every step you take in your new life without him.    

Be at peace Andrew and Rosemary, know that the love of your friends encircles you with support, kindness and presence.

Much love, Marg and John 

Some other people spoke about Andrew, while the rest listened with smiles or even laughter. Kay spoke of him 'rediscovering' her in recent times and rekindling their friendship. (What she didn't say was that when he was so ill that I couldn't leave him alone even for a few minutes, she would come and sit with him every Wednesday afternoon after work, so that I could go out for a short walk. Some other days I had in-home respite carers, and could fit in a walk while out, but for minimum fitness I needed the extra time Kay provided. It was during those times that they talked and renewed the long friendship. His in-home carers, too, always mentioned how interesting he was to converse with.)

Del reminisced about a series of singing workshops where we met many years ago. (A number of lasting friendships originated there.) The teacher had some innovative methods to get us to free our voices. Del particularly recalled an occasion when we became 'goddesses' and stripped off to sit in the creek and sing from 'the fishhook in our crotch'. She decided to keep her cottontails on, and Andrew his Y-fronts. She was affectionately amused that he, the only male, was willing to participate as a goddess.

Dinah said Andrew had given her a message to bring some rosemary to put on the altar, which she did. She also said he wanted us to name a flower after him, as there was no Andrew flower, and to make up a song for him. We didn't take up these suggestions, but it occurs to me now that because Maureen had put so many azaleas on and around the altar, in future I will always associate azaleas with Andrew. (Which is doubly appropriate as we had a huge azalea bush growing in the first home we shared, in Brighton, Melbourne. Andrew transplanted it from somewhere else, I nurtured it successfully, and we saw it as something of a symbol of our relationship.)

I remarked that Andrew was evidently enjoying his new freedom. Already a number of people had reported seeing visions of him, receiving communications from him, or feeling his presence. I told them that, when I'd shared this with one friend, he said doubtfully, 'But I don't think he's trapped on this plane,' and I said, 'No, I think he's flying free. But as a psychic medium, I believe he can be in many places simultaneously. I know the dead are only a thought away.'

I was sure that, as soon as he died, he rushed home to see our cats. They were vaguely pissed off all the time he was in the hospital and the nursing home before he died, but when Maureen and Alan brought me home that night, they were frisky, playful and happy!

Feeling a little daring, but trusting those present, I then shared that, during his final illness, when I wasn't visiting him I had distracted myself in various ways, including catching up with Season 4 of True Blood, an outrageously gory and sexy vampire series which I absolutely adore. The day after Andrew died, I watched the final episode, in which one character is killed. His lover, a psychic medium, is visited by the spirit of the dead man and bemoans the fact that the guy was killed. The spirit says, 'Dude, I'm dead. You're a medium. You'll never be alone.' I reminded myself, 'I'm a medium!'

When everyone who wished to had spoken, we played Wendy Rule's song to open the circle, in which she again evokes the elements, repeating each time, 'Hail and Farewell and Blessed Be'. It finishes, 'Merry meet and merry part, and merry meet again.'

Then we went out to a deck with tables set up, to enjoy the food and drink that everyone had brought. Maureen had baked a cake and Julie had iced it with the word ANDREW and the red outline of a heart. We all sang 'Happy Birthday' and shouted 'Hip, hip, hooray!' and I cut the cake. So if we didn't make up a song for Andrew, at least we sang to him. (It was a bonus that we happened to be celebrating Andrew's rebirth on Eddie's actual birthday, so we sort of nodded at him as well while singing, and Maureen snuck his name in too.)

Alan had provided a book for people to write in, and many lovely things were written. There is still room left in the book, so I am going to add tributes which have come in on facebook or by email. One person who attended was our three-year-old god-daughter Flo. Her father wrote in the book: 'I asked Flo what could we say to Andrew, she said "Goodbye". '

It was a joyful celebration, as intended — and some people did get a little weepy at times. Maureen choked back some tears while reading Marg's email; and as we left the temple, I saw others who looked emotionally affected. Young Cosmo, who came into our lives when he was 14 and is now 21, regarded Andrew as a surrogate grandfather. He had never been to such an occasion before and was taken by surprise to find himself in tears as we went to eat. He kept apologising for it. Marian and I hugged him and told him it was natural. 

A couple of invitees begged off on the grounds that they always weep buckets at funerals. I did try to tell them it wasn't a funeral like that, but I didn't push the point. I didn't want anyone to feel uncomfortable. Another dear friend who lives some distance away got a flat battery and didn't make it. It was probably just as well, as she had been ill and the long drive would have been taxing for her.

If we'd had a more conventional observance, I expect other people who knew Andrew would have wanted to attend. He touched many lives over the years, and I learned afterwards that people had been asking, 'When is the funeral? When is the service?' ("What funeral?' said Maureen to one person who asked, which caused some temporary confusion until she explained that we weren't doing that.) But I wouldn't even have known what paper to put a notice in: we have so many local papers here! And we definitely didn't want a conventional observance, with everyone looking serious, and that awful business of the coffin sliding behind a curtain and down a ramp to be burned. 

People have said since that it was a beautiful and profound occasion. One person who was there likened it to a wake. It was certainly closer to that than a funeral, but not as boozy and boisterous as I imagine wakes to be. It was, to me, a softly Pagan ritual celebrating my beloved's life and his current transformation.

Andrew and I had a long association with local Hare Krishna devotees, as when we first came to the Caldera the devotees had been praying for a resident Reiki Master and I turned up. For the first few years here, most of my Reiki students were devotees. I was in Coles the other day and one of my old students rushed up, saying, 'Hello, dear lady,' and gave me a hug. I thought he must have heard about Andrew's death, but he hadn't. When I told him, he and his wife said they would hold a private fire ceremony for Andrew after they had worked out the most auspicious date.

So, with the memorial in Melbourne, that will be three wonderful send-offs, a magick number!




3 comments:

  1. That 2005 photo of him. What a dignified man! That's not something you can say too often these days. I like the way that you are grieving witho9ut being grief-stricken, too. Vale Andrew.

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  2. It sounds like a wonderful celebration of his life. I was so sorry to hear your news and I'm so pleased now to hear of you coping so admirably. Wishing you all the strength and courage in the coming months. x

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