Thursday, April 28, 2011

Easter in the Barossa 2011

We wanted some family time together, so spent five glorious days in Adelaide and the beautiful Barossa. Wonderful to see the autumn leaves and changing seasons. Thanks to eveyone for making us all feel so welcome.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Today arrives. Funeral day.

They touch her head when they hug her, rubbing her short cropped hair with their stubby men’s fingers.

They hug with such intimacy and emotion that I feel like an intruder, watching. Eventually they release their hold, pull apart and look each other straight in the eye, and repeat the embrace. It’s like they want to climb into her skin, with grief and love.

Talk about a transfer of energy! So powerful to witness.

With each friend and mateship embrace, I can see Ann’s back grow straighter, as if they are feeding her with their own strength.

It’s working, Ann’s face is red-eyed and tearful, but her smile is straight and genuine, her stance strong and hopeful, her body, ready for the next assault of emotions, whatever they may be.
I know her as Ann Marie. A couple of weeks ago she called me Pat. No, I corrected her, it’s Patty, now. I like to be called just Ann, she replied. So just Ann it was.

At the funeral, meeting her friends, they call her Annie, not Ann. It’s a friendly affectionate name, borne over three decades of card-playing, late night talks on the dark verandas, line-dancing evenings, and many, shared holidays.


She smiles and grins with delight in their company. Old friendships are like our favourite jeans, we can slip them on and immediately feel at home where we belong. She belongs in these arms of company that surround her today. Thanks for being my friend Ann’s friend, your friend Annie’s mate.
Driving to the Nambour funeral, I pass country I haven’t driven through for years, not since the kids were little, and only then, some. Bli Bli castle, sitting proudly on the hill, boasting ‘Opera in the Castle” coming soon. It’s up for sale, looking for not only a buyer, but some loving.

Low lying cane fields sit in puddles of rainwater; the country had had torrential downpours here overnight, and the cane looks tired and fed up.

Mentally I run my hand over the tops of the grass as I drive past, windows up, singing.
After introducing myself to Dean, the Funeral Director, we both enter the Chapel. Ann has requested I photograph Colin, and so I shall. There is to be a viewing before the Service but I want to film him now, quietly, by myself.

Dean removes the casket lid and places it upright, standing to one side.

Hello Colin, I say softly, and wait for Dean to leave us.

He lays there, a smile on his large ruddy face. He’s holding a photograph of a card with a smiling woman on it. I wonder if this is his Irish friend. I raise my camera, and begin.

Really, he could be sleeping. I could almost shake him awake, with a cheery you-hoo!


His hands. Click.

His face. Click.

His beautiful Funeral corsage of orange flowers: happy geraniums, thoughtful, elegant white lilies, sweet, dear little orange roses, sophisticated white orchids, and simple white daisies. Click.

An orange and black Go Tigers! Flag is placed on the casket, it’s his wish.

I place my white ceramic box of his favourite yellow roses near his casket. The card reads: To my dear friend Ann’s gentle man, Rest in Peace now. Be still, my Soul, Patty.
When I arrive at Ann’s home, I am greeted by the familiar faces of her good friends from the Hunter Valley. They have been staying with her for the past few days, I am so grateful to them, and very pleased for her.

Cups of tea, buttered hot cross buns, chat and phone calls. Eventually Ann comes out of the bedroom, after speaking to his only brother, about certain funeral arrangements. Her face is red and blotchy, and she throws her arms around me and sobs: I never would have thought I’d be asking you to do this for me Patty.

We both shed tears, but quickly compose ourselves. It’s all good. We are adults now, and we can do this, one step, one tissue, one song at a time.

To be continued…

When tomorrow comes…

Tomorrow I am going to help my old school friend bury her husband.

After decades of pain and depression, he finally ended it all with a brand new white rope.

She found him.

She has asked me to bring my video camera to record the Service, as she explains: “Patty, I always remember you saying, that you might not want to view the images now, or even next week, but one day you will come to a place in your life where it might be good to view the funeral, and the DVD will be there, quietly waiting for you.”

So, tomorrow, I will help my old school friend bury her husband, who loved her, but depression and constant chronic pain won out.

Rest in Peace.


Today I am going to help my old school friend bury her husband. I’ll be the oldest friendship there to support her, and although her nursing friends and old bridesmaids will be there, although her small family consisting of her only brother and his wife and kids will be there, I will be the one with the oldest memories of her; memories of a single girl, a carefree, happy redheaded blue-eyed school girl, in the school hallway bent over laughing at my jokes.

We both travelled to Cooktown together in our senior year, keeping a watchful eye on the young boys as we were plunged into a series of small train tunnels, pitch black and groping hands, to emerge in the blinking daylight, slightly dishevelled with smug teenagers sitting opposite us, looking like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth. It was a game and we played along, much fun.

Over the years we kept in loose touch. If I was staying in the Hunter Valley helping my old wine-maker friend Jim Roberts pick his grapes, I would stay with her and her husband.

Her husband was a soft, gentle man, a large man, a lumbering giant heaving an unworkable broken body around the best he could. In those days he drove a taxi, and could get around a little bit, but the passing years were unkind to him, and gradually depression began to taint his world and the shutters closed in.
Today my husband was showering early, and I heard him yelp from where I was in the kitchen. I called out: Are you alright? Darl? Are you ok? And with his silence my footsteps quickened to reach him.
He stood there, water droplets from the shower covering the paddocks of his back and shoulders. On Sunday he had spent most of the day changing over 45 fluorescent light tubes at his work, and one of the tubes had cut his finger deeply. It was this sore finger that had banged against the towel rail, and it had silenced him with sudden pain.

I gently took the white towel and slowly, tenderly, wiped his back, his legs, his chest. “There you go, the rest is up to you” I said, and left him to finish the job.

Some days marriage is like that, you have to be there and step forward.
“When you first told me what you did, I couldn’t understand it, I thought ‘A funeral photographer? What the hell?’ but now I totally get it.” We speak softly, the phone nuzzles into my neck, and I close my eyes and imagine we are once again sitting in the spa we shared only weeks ago. “I want you to photograph him, and film the funeral, in fact I want to take the DVD over to Ireland and share it with his old friend. She can’t make it over for the funeral. I’ll take it to her.”

Already in her mind, she is moving forward, seeing a fresh day, a new start, a different tomorrow.

A fortnight ago we stayed at O’Reilly’s in the Gold Coast hinterland, the four of us women coming together in solidarity of having some time to ourselves. I spoke to her about everything but her husband. She needed the break, and I made it clear that the topic was always there if she needed to, wanted to speak about him; I was all ears and arms; to wrap around her. We watched an opera DVD, Cecilia Botoli. Eventually, she leaps to her feet, and begins to move to the music.

This is the first time I ever lined-danced to opera she says. I try to keep up with her steps, but it’s not for me, the set routine and boredom of repeating movements. I lash out and wobble my bits in joy, dancing for a moment in the rainforest. We laugh and giggle, like the old schoolgirls we still are.

Neither of us then imagined that we would be arranging his funeral. My friend is my old schoolgirl mate, childless, now widowed. She’ll rise above this, and move forward, and I’ll be there to help if I am needed.

Monday, April 11, 2011

O'Reilly's - Through Ann's Eyes

Beach Writing – Maroochydore

Observations by Patty Beecham

The tide takes its time to fill the mud holes and stingray hides of Maroochy River. As the silver coloured water eases past, unseen children scream with delight. It’s a gimmick to see the sun shine, and a day without rain – or clouds – exhilarates us all. Couples walk hand in hand, slurping milkshakes to the soft beat of their thongs slapping on the concrete walkway. A child drifts in a green kayak, intently watching the sea life below the waterline through the clear window of the hull. Dogs bark. Children question. A skateboard man rides a black, high-handlebar bike, his posture slouched into the seat and spreading.

On the flat river, someone attempts to stand on his paddle board. Behind me a middle-aged man checks his helmet; he looks like an echidna, long plastic tabs protruding skywards. This is supposed to keep away the magpies. It must be working; I can see no magpies following him.

A woman with a tattoo ‘sleeve’ walks alongside a bald man, together they are walking two white miniature poodles. One of the dogs wears pink socks, I kid you not. In front of me, a speedboat pulls up, landing with a metallic thud onto the beach, as it's anchor chain moves. Further north, past the sandbars hosting seagulls as they rest, three kayaks in a neat row make a uniformed tour of the waterways. Walking past me, couples argue whether its “July or August”.

A man in a flat-hulled punt casts a net next to the jetty pylons, hoping for baitfish or prawns. He catches neither.

A not-so-small girl of eight is wheeled by her parents, one either side, as she attempts to learn to ride her pushbike. Her father stares straight ahead. Her mother cannot take her eyes off the child. Her new pink and white bike sparkles in the sun. She wears an enormous pink sunhat with a broad brim, and an equally large pink Barbie helmet, the look is comical; making you turn your head twice to confirm what you are really seeing.

A red Virgin plane growls overhead, its passengers reluctantly leaving beautiful Queensland life behind for a week of work. A black helicopter, a yellow-winged plane, and a small grey plane take turns to clutter the sky with noise.

Two crows race the wind.

The not-so-little girl with the helicopter parents rides her bike past, the mother running beside her, breathless with excitement. She’s ready at any moment to grab the handle bars. This could end badly so I begin to watch intently, knowing I am privy to that sweet eureka day of childhood when you finally master learning to ride a bike.

Eventually she stops riding and stands beside her pink bike; and with outstretched arms she hugs the air in exhilaration. Her first ride!

Two pigeons in red socks strut towards me, turning away from me as one if I move.