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…