For Julian

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I wrote this goodbye to my brother’s farmhouse, when his family moved back into town in June 2016, a few years after his death. Glad to say, his brood have all moved forward and are building strong lives – guided, I’m guessing, by a strong sense of him. Happy Christmas dear Julian! Thinking of you now.

Julian was in the sentinel trees which mark the spot of entry, where he first invited me to his country, his place, on the Old Winton Road.

He was at the corner of Jenner’s Lane where his widow Marie and I walked, before we turned towards the Baiada poultry yards and the chooks called out to us, beseeching us not to be angry with God for taking him too soon.

He is no longer lurking in the audacious ‘Hay for Sale’ sign, that sits beside long spears of grass and sight-blocking trees, ready to taunt us as we pass – too close to that dreaded and ambiguous intersection of private and public roads.  

He is no longer in the proud but dishevelled country cottage, with its path of red bricks and the heater disassembled on the living room floor. Nor is he in the garage where firewood is now being dispersed and chopped by Wayne, and where bits of old motorbike lay hidden.

Today, for a matter of only hours, he was in the mournful Leonard Cohen melodies that sang out as I criss-crossed the Oxley Highway and drove down the Wallamore Rd, taking a hodgepodge of belongings, bric-a-brac and boxes of Christmas trinkets, marked ‘green tinsel’ to his family’s new place at the northern end of town.

As his spirit dispersed this morning, it latched on for a minute to my aching belief that if only they’d moved to this trim little cottage, so close to the school where he worked, but still with echoes of the old Australia he was chasing, we would never have had to say that permanent goodbye.

And then he left.

My brother Julian now resides in his widow’s subconscious twist of the neck, in his eldest son’s shy smile, his daughter’s sassy tattoo; in his youngest son’s long foot with its bony toes. If chaos comes and mayhem rules it will no longer be his gentle, goofy, smiling sort. It will be something else, entirely new.

But I will still see him in windmills, scattered about the countryside, those lumbering ageless souls, who suck in air to make blades rotate as they pump the water below, their life-force, like my dear brother’s, drawn unseen yet purposeful across the landscape.

Have your say…for a few more weeks

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Leslie Williams

You’ve got a (small) opportunity to fill in a survey about palliative care in NSW, until December 15, this year (2017).

The NSW government has promised to spend an extra $100 million over the next four years for community-based palliative care services, on top of the money it already spends.

“We are listening carefully to the community’s views on where and how palliative care services can be improved so that we have a strong plan for the future,” said Port Macquarie MP and NSW Parliamentary Secretary for Regional and Rural Health, Leslie Williams.

Mrs Williams has promised answers from the survey and feedback from community consultation done earlier this year will inform a new palliative and end-of-life care policy in NSW.

“Getting the public’s feedback on palliative care priorities is vital if we are to produce better outcomes for everyone when the inevitable occurs. The survey will only take about 10 minutes so I strongly urge everyone to take this opportunity to have their say,” Mrs Williams said.

To add your two bob’s worth, go to www.health.nsw.gov.au/palliativecare

 

Now that the funeral is over

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Margaret Rice Good Grief and Doris Zagdanski My Grief Assist

Introducing Doris Zagdanski, who works with one of the largest funeral providers in Australia. She is also the author of many books about grief.

Doris is currently giving a lot of thought to that most difficult of times – when the funeral is over.

“After the funeral we shut the door and everyone’s life is supposed to go back to normal. But it often doesn’t. That’s when grieving people often need the most support, when the busyness of the funeral is over and they’re left on their own.

“How can we make that better? It’s a challenge for all of us.”

Doris has started a webpage called My Grief Assist.  https://www.mygriefassist.com.au/

She is also author of the book “Now that the Funeral is Over – the common sense guide for grieving people.” (First published in 1993, to be reprinted in 2018)

Doris’s other books are:

Something I’ve Never Felt Before

Stuck for Words: What to say to someone who is grieving

What’s Dead Mean? How to help children cope with death

When Pets Die: It’s alright to grieve

Teenagers and Grief.

 

When expectations differ

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Julie’s father passed away in August, 2014: “We had all gathered to be there with him when he died and we were ready to let him go.

“He’d been married to my stepmom, Monica, a beautiful Italian Catholic, for about 35 years, but we are Jewish. The Jewish tradition is that the person is wrapped in a very plain shroud, then buried in a very simple coffin, made of very plain wood, like pine. It has no adornments and there is no lead lining or anything like that. It’s something that ensures the body can easily be absorbed back into the earth.

“Just before Dad died, my sister started to talk to my stepmom about the preparations following the Jewish laws. But my stepmom had had a completely different idea about how things would be. For a start, she had expected a cremation, which we don’t do. And she wanted him dressed in his best suit and her favourite bow-tie, and she had planned a very ornate casket for him.

“When my sister pointed out what would be involved when we followed the Jewish burial laws my stepmother was so shocked that she just fainted.  In the end, we all compromised. My father was not cremated but buried in a plot near the family home in Brisbane, since for my sister who is very traditional, a cremation would have been too terrible to contemplate.

“But he was dressed in a funeral home and Monica picked out a casket, the one that she wanted, and he was buried in the bow-tie. The rabbi made no judgements about this and a Catholic priest was also involved. In the end, we honoured Monica’s wishes because she was married to my father and that’s what my father would have wanted.

“It would have helped us all if we’d talked about it beforehand. But the right decision was made at the end of the day.”

The Kiwi Coffin Club

Love the way these baby-boomers are rethinking the end, turning old ideas on their head, the way they always have – while making friends and tap-dancing.

Thanks to my dear friend, writer Katie Delaney, for sharing this.

Grief can last forever can’t it?

Facilitated a discussion tonight about grief, with the Funeral Celebrants Association of Australia.

We challenged our culture’s notions about how long you’re allowed to grieve for: “Grief can last forever can’t it?” suggested Judy.

Some shared stories about bad deaths. This included a chilling story about a death certificate being signed by someone who couldn’t look at the person they were ‘signing off’ – or the grieving step-father and his family.

But there were plenty of sunshine moments too, as the celebrants present shared stories from their personal experiences. Some were excited about the eulogies they’ve helped write. Others gave tips on the ways to find something positive to express when someone dies who is unloved.

We asked some big questions and lingered over little ones…as we enjoyed spring rolls, salt and pepper calamari and a fresh salad.

Thank you for having me folks, and for allowing me to be the touchstone for an important conversation.

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With funeral celebrants, Sharon Swinbourne, Judy Pryor and Isla Tooth

The cleaning lady’s gift

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Our cleaning lady finished up today. Completely unexpectedly, it was her presence one day a week that helped to lift me out of the doldrums when I hit a double dose of grief some years ago. Every Thursday her busy polishing and dusting was a real comfort at a time when all I could manage was to sit in a chair and lift my legs up so she could vacuum underneath them.

At first it was just her consistent presence that was so helpful. Then as time passed we started to talk, to share stories and before I knew it, she had me laughing at her hilarious take on life. I knew she wasn’t your typical cleaning lady when she asked if she could borrow my copy of Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader. From there we developed a mini-reading group, sharing thoughts on books, enjoying working out why she gave one title the thumbs up, when I gave it the thumbs down and vice-versa.

When I turned back to writing, one day I was lamenting that I couldn’t find someone to transcribe some tapes. “I can do that for you,” she said. Turned out she’d had a busy professional life as a secretary before turning to cleaning, and as well as transcribing she became a great proof-reader. 

I am so lucky to have had her in my life. Now, like Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee before her, she moves back home to brighten up a little corner of Surrey on the other side of the world. I will miss her but how lucky I was to have had her in my life: and she taught me an important lesson – when we’re grieving, the comfort and encouragement we need can come from the most unexpected quarters. The secret is to let it happen.