Last weekend, we went to Christchurch. The last time I was there, was almost 6 years ago, and the city has been rocked with earthquakes since. I also had my own car and a GPS this time, so I was able to hone in on places I visited 30+ years ago. The one thing I loved about Christchurch is it’s ability to stand tall. Even though the streets looked like a war zone of witch’s hats and crumbling bitumen, somehow a community is still working, still going to school, still shopping and still enjoying their town… and it is still a very pretty town in places.
Our first stop for the morning was the Christchurch CBD. We parked in a metered parking area with no meter, just outside a make-shift retail sector created completely out of shipping containers. It… looked… awesome!
This weekend, we went to New Zealand to say our final farewell to my one and only blood aunt who died after a short illness aged 65. Really really young…
I started to get to know her properly in the last ten years when she stayed over at my home a few times for other family occasions. We had little chats about life, family and our outlooks on life, and in many ways we were very similar, which surprised me in one way yet was comforting in another, as for many years I couldn’t understand the upbringing I had had, with the lack of extended family around us and the ‘practical attitude’ of life that was instilled into me, when I was always yearning for family to show that they cared and had compassion, and somehow, through this aunt, I found it was possible.
The day itself overwhelmed me in many ways… and I will say ‘overwhelmed’ overwhelmingly too much, but it was just that… overwhelming. My boys and I arrived at my cousins house around 10.30am on the day of the funeral. My cousin’s daughter gave me a running hug, so excited to see me, and I was so overwhelmed by it, as I’d never had someone welcome me with so much gusto, being so pleased to see me. It instantly brought me to tears. We went inside to see my cousin and she asked us if we wanted to see her mum/my aunt, as she was lying in her coffin on her bed. We went into the room and she was lying there, so peaceful, yet you could see the life was taken out of her. It was strange, yet hard to see at the same time, because she always had so much love to give. She was in an eco-friendly coffin, designed to write messages on it from the grieving. So the boys and I wrote our little messages with brightly coloured pens, gem stickers and drawings.
We then helped blow up some helium balloons, so that they could be released as a final tribute. My boys had fun blowing and tying up the balloons, but also sucking on the helium. My other cousin, the son of my aunt turned up with his two boys and his wife, and my boys and their boys were instantly friends.
The funeral was at 2pm… We arrived at around 1.40pm, and the car park was already full with t parking attendants directing the traffic. There would have been at least 400 people there. I got to see my uncle, who 18 months ago I got to see for the first time in about 28 years, and see his wife and their boys (who are my age and older) who I hadn’t seen since I was nine. Again, it was all overwhelming for me being in the same space as my distant family, but have so much heartfelt love for each other. My uncle gave me plenty of hugs, hugs that were warm and tender, something I had never felt from my own father. It boggles me that they can be related. The funeral itself was lovely, and full of tears, especially when my aunt’s best friend of 60 years talked, and my cousin’s daughter talked. At the end, my cousin asked me to step in to be a pallbearer… There I was standing there with my aunt’s brother, her son-in-law, her daughter, her son, her nephew and her niece… me, carrying her out of the chapel. We placed her in the car, grabbed the balloons and handed them out to all the family members and released them as the car drove off. My cousin’s husband is Maori, and his Maori friends stood in a line in the driveway as a mark of respect to say goodbye. It was almost too perfect… it was the perfect send off for my beautiful aunt.
They say some people know when it’s time to leave this world, and my aunt had it in her heart that she wanted to go. The stories I heard about her last weeks, seemed like she did everything she ever wanted, including seeing her children and grandchildren in the right places in their lives. There was only one thing she wanted to do, that she didn’t get round to doing… one final trip to Australia, a trip where she could be herself and do what she wanted without being a burden on family. She wanted to leave, and we must all respect her wish, even though we will miss her terribly and always love her.
Goodbye lovely lady…