As we all scattered to our respective homes after our beautiful mother had passed, it was time to begin planning the farewell.
We are from a tiny community in Victoria, called Navarre (and yes, I still call Navarre home, so that is how I may refer to it in this post) and funerals are not just where family grieves the loss of a loved one, but it is where the community joins the family to grieve the loss of a friend and valued member of the community. So with that in mind, we knew that there would be a large number of people wanting to come and pay their respects. However, these were not normal times, things were changing fast given the world wide crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we had been restricted to a graveside service with no more than 100 people in attendance.
My sister Jan had had discussions with the undertaker, and we were all to meet in the nearby town of Stawell on the Tuesday. Gary and I would travel from our home town of Maffra, stopping off in Melbourne to pick up my other sister, Sonnie, before continuing on to Stawell for our 11 am meeting.
With restaurants, pubs, café’s etc closed for dining, and not knowing what would be open, we decided that a picnic lunch would be the safest option for lunch on the day. So with picnic on board, we left home a little after 5 am on the Tuesday morning – the trip would take 5½ – 6 hours with breaks, driver changes, etc. Finally meeting up with Jan at the nursing home where mum had resided, around 10:50 am, and then on to meet with the undertaker and finally the Anglican minister to make the final arrangements.
To be frank things were moving so fast, it was hard to know what would happen next, and even what we were allowed to do under the current restrictions. Jeff, the undertaker, guided us through what would need to happen, how things were to be set up. We had our input into a few matters, adding some personal touches. Ads were arranged for the newspapers, flowers requested and we chatted about the current situation. Finally the minister phoned to see where we were, so we then headed to the hall at the church, where a safe meeting place (that met with the social distancing regulations) was set up, and we started to make the arrangements for the order of service, with the caring guidance from Reverend Heather Scott. What a kind and gentle soul she is. Something that she said resonates… At some stage she said, “Gosh, you are so easy!”. When asked what she meant, she told us, how people argued about the readings, the hymns, all sorts of things. We all agreed on everything!
Arrangements made, we followed Jan to a nearby park (the scenic route – she got a little lost!), a beautiful setting, where we laid out a rug near a seat, so that those who wanted, could either sit on the seat or on the rug. We all put out what we had brought to share. To be frank, I cannot remember what we took, but we did enjoy the sunshine, the food and the company – I know that Jan had brought along a thermos of hot water and tea bags. The cup of tea was most welcome. Finally, just before we departed, a call from mum’s solicitor – again, an unusual comment, this time from the solicitor – something learnt from the conversation – that a teleconference proved more than adequate to ensure that everything was in order, no face-to-face meeting seemed necessary.
With good-byes said, it was time to return to our respective homes. Jan to Kerang, Sonnie to Melbourne and us to Maffra. From memory it was around 8 – 8:30 pm when we arrived home, very weary, but happy with the plans that were in place.
Then… A text from Christopher, our son, the rules had been changed… We were now limited to 10 people for the funeral, and more texts followed. With the exhaustion of the trip just completed, and normal emotions after loosing one so dear, for me, it was just bewilderment!
The following day our fears were confirmed and we had to re-think the whole funeral again. It was decided that it would be immediate family, Dave’s wife Bron had been unwell and had decided to stay at home with the children, and Christopher and Olivia, made the sad and difficult decision to leave the children with Olivia’s mother. Our numbers where acceptable.
My emotions were out of control, look at me and I would cry. I passed a friend in the supermarket, and immediately said, “Please don’t talk to me – I will cry” and hurried by.
I had taken on board to advise Heather as to who would be doing which readings etc. during the service, and had sent those details through when we arrived home. However, things had changed so had to resend the details.
There were three other things I had agreed to do, a local farmer, from whom I purchase produce for our business, also sells fresh flowers, so placed an order for a large quantity of flowers – I wanted flowers at the gate of the cemetery, and we always place flowers on the graves of all family members, since passed.
I had also agreed to write the eulogy. This task was causing me a great deal of stress and uncertainty about how to approach it, particularly as the only people to be in attendance were mum’s immediate family. Finally it came to me… I would write a letter to mum, and I would talk about all the memories that I knew those in attendance held dear. I started writing and then would walk away and try to do something else, but the computer kept calling me back. Finally, after proofing was done, it was sent off to Sonnie and Jan to see what they thought. It received the thumbs up. A copy is attached for any who would like to read it. Dear Mum
Finally, given the restrictions in force, our hometown community could no longer attend mum’s funeral, so it was quickly decided that when it was safe to do so, we would hold a memorial picnic at our family home for all to attend – family, friends, members of the community… I had originally mentioned that we could hand out bulbs for all attending the funeral to take home and plant in memory of our beautiful mum. But with the change in plans this needed to change. So after a bit of thought, I suggested to Sonnie and Jan, that I purchase and package seeds of one of mum’s favourite flowers, Sweet Peas, and attach them to a card to be distributed to all who could not attend the funeral. I needed to purchase the seeds, now that was another issue, there was panic buying happening for all seeds, and I had heard that the racks were a little bare. Fortunately I had a good supply at home that I had saved from previous plantings, andalso managed to pick up 10 packets in Sale, hopefully enough. Then I purchased some gift wrap and finally set to writing the piece to go on the accompanying card. With everything printed and packed, it was ready to finish off when we arrived at our family home with the rest of the family.
The last thing to do was to prepare food. It always seems to be about the food, doesn’t it? Jan was making a casserole, I think I made a cake, as did Sonnie and Jan, and again, we had decided to have a picnic, this time at our family home at the conclusion of the service giving us a little time together, to chat, to eat and pack for our respective return journeys home.
Thursday morning the flowers were delivered, they took my breath away – they were absolutely beautiful.
I then went around our garden and picked more, including some of those that I had taken to mum in hospital the week before.
With the car packed (and looking a little like a florist shop!), we headed off – the journey again, approximately 5 hours. About 40 minutes from our family home my phone rang, it was Heather, the minister. I was driving, so Gary answered for me. I pulled over, but she was having issues with her computer and suggested that I continue to drive, and she would call back. When she called back, reception was not so good, but we eventually found a place where we could pull over and talk while we went through the final order of service.
Safely at Navarre, the car was unloaded, beds made, Jan prepared our evening meal, and then we sat around the table making seed envelopes, packaging seeds, and assembling. Aussie was on butterfly punch, Gary was on paper trimmer, I was on envelope folding and Sonnie and Jan were on filling and final assembly. Gosh I don’t think I would have got them done without everyone kicking in to help – and we had fun – the banter, chitter-chatter, reminiscing and laughter…
Finally the morning of the funeral dawned. While we were all up relatively early, time seemed to fly. Christopher and Olivia arrived from Melbourne and Dave from Torquay. Time slipped by and we still needed to go to the cemetery to clean the graves of members of our family past, and arrange flowers for all. Olivia has never been to our cemetery, so we took the opportunity to introduce her to the various members of our family, with a little family history thrown in. Somehow, I always find this time fulfilling and peaceful.
As we were finishing, the undertaker arrived and we left to return home and change. The final three members of our party arrived from Melbourne, John, Kai and Keira – now we were all together. Dressed and ready early, we made the trip back to the cemetery, where everything was in place, including hand sanitizer!
It was a beautiful day, sunshine, warm, gentle breeze, and the cemetery was peaceful and calm.
We had requested that the men of our family, Gary, John, David, Chris, Aussie and Kai, were to carry mum to her final resting place, so the rest of us walked the short way to where our dad was waiting for mum to join him again. The men carried mum in her beautiful casket, setting the casket in place and stepping back to be with the rest of us. Olivia placed a silver-winged butterfly on the casket, and Keira poured her great nana her final whiskey and placed it alongside the butterfly.
Heather began the service, the interlude leading to the commencement was very emotional, and my emotions continued. I had agreed to do the reading and was beginning to wonder if I would be able. The hymn “Amazing Grace” was played, then Christopher and Olivia read the eulogy, Psalm 23 was played, and somehow, by then, I knew that I would be able to do the reading and stood and read John 14:1-6, Gary then read the following beautiful poem that was written by Dave for his nana.
After the Prayers of the Faithful, the final hymn “Abide by Me” and the lowering of the casket, the grandson’s step forward to ensure that their Nana received her final dram of whiskey, flowers were scattered over the casket for all who were unable to be in attendance on the day, and Mum’s favourite music was played – the music of André Rieu.
As I was seated in front of the grave during the service, I looked at the empty whiskey bottle and crystal glass, and wondered – “What will people think?” What a weird thing to think of! Then I looked up and just through the way I spied the grave of a young mother who had gone, to early, way to early, and sitting atop of her grave were champagne bottles and glasses. I sighed and new that all was good, that it was OK for mum to have her final tipple before she left us.
We gathered together, our little family group, we cried openly, we embraced, even though we should not have, we supported each other, and most importantly we gave our beautiful mother, mother-in-law, grandmother and great-grandmother a beautiful, dignified and gracious farewell.
With our gratitude passed on to the undertaker and minister, we returned home and enjoyed our picnic, we enjoyed each others’ company and chatted. Then it was time to pack and head home.
The last stop was for a final visit on the day. We gathered at the grave, now returned to normal, the stone in place and flowers atop (along with the empty whiskey bottle and crystal glass).
Just before we left, Olivia requested one final walk around our family tree, which we all did together.
Finally, it was time to leave, to return home and continue our lives, with our beautiful mum no longer a phone call away, but now watching over us from above.
My advice to anyone faced with arranging the funeral of a loved one during these troubled times. Follow the rules, but make it special, it can be such a beautiful, intimate experience, it is really so very hard to explain, but mum’s farewell left us all thinking about how special the day was and that maybe we had all learnt something from the experience.
We now look forward to having the freedom to celebrate our beautiful mum’s life, with her family, friends, and the local community – hopefully when the sweet peas are in full bloom, but really, who knows when it will be…
Until next time
Love your family and care for those around you – even if it is from a distance…
It’s now time for me to return to the garden and also get back to the kitchen – I know that mum would approve.