was Tuesday, March 9, 2010.
The day I buried my husband.
It’s taken me a long time to write these words. But I’m so fearful of forgetting even a millisecond, that I feel that I must write them…..
The day after Greg died, his brother came down to help me. Much as GC and I have clashed in the past (and no doubt will again), he was a rock.
He collected Greg’s possessions from the morgue.
He helped me make decisions on the funeral arrangements.
He drove Greg’s car home from work.
He talked to the people I couldn’t talk to: the investigating officer; the coroner’s office; the driver of the truck; the family of Greg’s workmate who was also killed in the accident.
His wife busily scanned photos and slides in amongst recording her own version of a song for the funeral.
But there were some things that *I* wanted to do…
I met with our beautiful minister at the church who talked, counselled and helped me to organise the funeral service. He made sure that the minister who married us and the minister who Christened our children could also take part in the service.
I wrote the eulogy and made sure that the focus was on his life as a loving husband, doting father, loyal friend over and above his hobbies or what other people saw as being important in is life. I found out that I really was the only person who really knew all facets of Greg. I knew that the machinery and the adventurous were just aspects of a person whose soul was full of love, and who’s brain was full of ideas.
I took the photos to a friend who organised them into a slide show the way *I* wanted it – less pictures of cars, bikes and tractors (which his family wanted more of) and more of who he really was – a decent human being who loved deeply and lived fully.
A “Daddy with whiskers”.
I chose the clothes he would be buried in. NO – he was not going to be buried in thongs and a flanno. Some family members wanted him dressed in daggy clothes so he was “comfortable”. I wanted to know that he was dressed in something I’d remember with love and pride.
Even so, the funeral home decided that they could not make his body viewable, so I’ll never really know if they did manage to dress him at all…..
On the day of the funeral, I dressed a sparkly shirt with a butterfly on it. I’d bought it just weeks previously – I had planned on wearing it to my 40th birthday bash that had been organised for the end of the month.
I checked and rechecked the eulogy. I made sure that my darling brother would be able to read it easily. My brother is a fantastic public speaker, but I knew that he would struggle to deliver the words and sometimes just being able to read the words can make the difference.
I readied the children. I packed the tissues.
My brother drove us to the church a half hour before the service was scheduled to begin so that I could spend some time with Greg alone… but when we arrived, the car park was packed. Thankfully, the marvelous funeral directors had the common sense to reserve several parks for us and to stop anyone from entering the church.
Within minutes, people began flooding into the church. Some spoke to me before the service. I don’t recall who they were.
The kids and I sat down near the foot of the coffin, right in front of the pulpit.
I remember that almost all of Greg’s family were late – they were placing the photo and hat I’d asked them to bring (they were staying at our house, I was staying with my parents) all over his coffin within minutes of the service beginning. The garden flowers I’d asked them to bring were handed to me just as the minister began the service.
I remember my darling cousin sitting behind me and fanning my back – she was worried that I would faint.
I remember feeling so proud of Greg whilst my brother read the eulogy.
I know I couldn’t sing any hymns. Singing hurts too much even still.
I remember rising with the children as the slide-show began to the sound of John Williamson’s “Flowers on the Water”. I did not look around at the congregation. I knew I’d howl. Someone told me later that they estimated that 500 people were wedged inside the church.
Then as the music changed to Kate Miller-Heidke’s “Last Day on Earth” , so too, the photos changed from Greg the son, brother, farmer, adventurer, to Greg the husband and father …… but the sound guy turned the music down and the minister (the one who Christened the children) got up to do a bible reading and I almost had a fit signalling him to sit back down – the slides had not yet shown the depth of love Greg and I shared nor his rapture at being a father….
Thankfully my deranged flapping caught his attention and he waited while the slides played out and I calmed down – lost in the memories of moments in our life together.
I don’t remember much else from the service aside from the fact that the ministers were all beautiful.
Then it was time for “the boys” to carry Greg out to the waiting hearse. The children and I trudged on behind the coffin, not raising my eyes from the floor, lest the quiet tears become gasping sobs. ….. and as the boys were loading the coffin into the hearse, and I was offering up a quiet prayer I felt a tap on my shoulder and my sister-in-law saying “Amanda – I just want you to meet XXXXX”.
I clearly remember looking at them and saying “Give me a moment please. We’ll be back to meet you after the committal”.
The kids and I piled into my brother’s car and we pulled into line behind the hearse. The three ministers walked in front of the hearse down the drive and out to the road.
It was at this point that I felt Greg’s love surround me. I can only describe it as a psychic hug. My scalp and ears were tingling and I felt full of love.
It was only a short drive to the cemetary, and there were only about eight cars in the funeral cortege … and yet a thoughtless woman cut in between the hearse and our car whilst we were travelling down a backstreet on the 1 km journey to the cemetary. God bless the hearse driver – he came to a full stop in the middle of the road and the woman was forced to drive around him.
We wound our way around to lawn 11 and down the rocky, grassy slope into the afternoon sun. Four chairs were placed by the graveside – I had to shoo away a niece and nephew so we could sit down. My best friend held an umbrella over us to shield us from the hot afternoon sun.
The coffin was placed on the supports. The minister performed the committal and the coffin was lowered. I remember throwing some ashes onto the coffin. I don’t understand burial services – I’m more familiar with cremations, yet Greg had always said he wanted to be buried….
One of Greg’s sisters had brought some proteas with her to put in the grave with the coffin. The kids and I threw one in each … and then all the family and pall bearers also threw one in … and I was sat there, hearing the thud of each one hit the lid of the coffin. If I wasn’t already crying, I’d laugh at the ridiculousness of it.
I remember one of Greg’s brother-in-laws taking photos of the kids throwing in extra flowers. I thought I’d either scream or laugh hysterically. But thank goodness they began to squabble over the flowers as it made it really easy for me to pull the pin on the ‘farce of the flowers’ and head back to the church hall for the wake.
I walked back to the hall with my brother. Outside the hall, I saw a young man I’d studied with – online – when we both did our Dip Eds lest year. I was blown away that he came. Within a few weeks of starting the course, I’d quickly worked out that he was one of the other ‘brains’ in the operation and we e-mailed and facebooked our way through first semester, finally meeting midway through the second semester. By this time, we knew each other quite well via the e-mails and online project collaboration. Ironically, at the graduation ceremony last year, he was the only other person I felt I *knew* and we were seated together…. and there he was, standing outside my husband’s wake and it blew me away that this 20-something bloke had taken the time to come along.
I never made it inside the hall. People kept wanting me to come inside, to feed me, but I knew as soon as I ate, I’d vomit.
So I stayed outside in the cool breeze, talking to lots of people, only glimpsing other people who I hadn’t seen in years and desperately wanted to speak to … but who melted away before I could find them.
Mum held the fort inside. She played hostess when I could not. My Mum is one of the main blessings in my life. She is awesome and the best Mum a girl could ever have.
Finally the mourners had almost all left and we were able to leave. Mum’s lovely church friends washing up the cups and plates and putting away the enormous tea pots. Clearing away the remains of the last “party” Greg would ever have in his honour.
We arrived back at Mum’s house, exhausted, but feeling that we’d sent Greg off with as much style and grace as we could muster.
The kids were exhausted and my brother helped me carry them into bed.
I lay in bed that night, clutching his pillow and shivering in the 30-degree heat. The feeling of pure love filled me once more as my scalp tingled and my ears buzzed. I prayed for calmness and I received it.
I fell into a deep sleep.