Monday is far from my favourite day, and in recent times I seem to have taken to sleeping in on a Monday. The joy of being on contract I suppose. I think I deserve it as well, having spent lots of time over recent weekends “doing my bit” at Tawharanui. This morning was no exception; I completely slept through No 1 son leaving for the morning shift. It is his last 6 days of employment in the plastic factory. He has braved it out for nearly a year, and is heading back to the melon fields of Queensland for the summer, bless him. I almost slept through he-who-must-be-obeyed leaving for his early morning swim, but noticed the pat on the rump that passes these days for “gotta go, I love you, have a wonderful day” as the song goes. Slight confusion on my part when he returned – forgot the laptop. Then and only then could I decide to nod off for another hour or so, as it happens.
Consequently, things were a bit rushed when I finally did get up. The weather is warming up and I have yet to catch up with that in the wardrobe department. I forewent the standard jeans and pulled on trousers instead, and an orange duster coat over an orange top. Standard purple boots – I find myself with a large blood blister on the sole of one foot from wearing my old boots on Friday, so going for comfort here, vaguely aware that the woolly socks will be too hot later on. Too late for jewellery – and out the door.
I always ALWAYS start the day with a cup of tea, regardless of where I am or what time it is, and so the day settled into a more normal sort of pattern. Lots to do, a proposal, the tantalising lure of a trip to China if the proposal is successful. Having been a bit poorly for a couple of weeks, it seemed like time to get back to swimming at lunchtime. Without any excuses to save me, I delayed long enough to allow my office companion to get lunch in, then set off for the pool.
Across the traffic lights I see a familiar face waving to me. I wait on my side, and there is one of our oldest friends and her daughter. “Are you going to the funeral?” she asks me. I look blank. “Who has died?”
Turns out to be a mutual acquaintance, age 56, of throat cancer. In a mere three months from woe to go, or more precisely woe to gone. The deceased is a fairly distant part of my family – his father was raised by his Uncle and Aunt, and the Aunt was my great-Aunt. I had known of them all my life, and when I shifted to Auckland his Mother and Father were very kind to me. I can’t really say I knew the deceased but I am very fond of his Mother, who must now be in her 80’s.
The church is next door to the office I work in, so I joined the funeral party and retrace my steps. Suddenly I wish I had not worn orange, I stand out among the mourners like a beacon of stupidity. Who wears bright orange with purple boots to a funeral? Not me, under normal circumstances.
I see the Mother and make my way to pay my respects. She looks los,t frankly. How is one supposed to behave at the funeral of your child? We hug, and she graciously says “I’m so pleased you came. I’ve been meaning to ring you for ages.” “Oh, I know,” I say, because I think the same thing. I have a wooden pencil case made by her deceased husband when he was at school. It sits there, waiting for me to return it to her so one of her children or one of their children, can have it. “I’ll come and see you next week,” I say, and leave her to greet the hundreds that have come to pay their last respects.
People say lovely things. Stories of school-boy antics. Somehow it is not so funny talking about smoking at school when he has died because of it. Not nicely, but quickly, and finally it seems having a heart attack in the garden at home.
I cannot but think of my son, about to head to the melon fields. To a world of young men in a work camp – he is getting his old caravan back – the one with the formica table with fish on it. To a world of working hard and playing hard, and I imagine smoking and drinking. I think about how I have pleaded with him to stop smoking now, before he cannot stop. Of hearing him coughing the morning after the night before, knowing that he has been smoking. I wonder whether it will kill him and whether one day I will read out the ‘prayers of the faithful’ in a voice that breaks the hearts of everyone listening to a mother farewelling her son.
Church funerals are probably the last remaining ceremony where a community gathers together and follows an ancient ritual that is somehow comforting. Where people come because it is the right thing to do. Not necessarily because of the deceased, but because of the people left behind. Because one day it might be our turn, and when it is we will appreciate the time and effort people make to pay their last respect.
When my boy gets on that plane in a week or two I will hug him whether he likes it or not, and tell him I love him, because you just never really know what next Monday will bring.