It’s taken me a long time to get around to this one – some people will have already read this description, but not here. This is a description of my sister’s funeral in April this year. She died unexpectedly and we all miss her so very much. She was our firecracker.
I wrote it less than a fortnight after she died, so it is a bit disjointed and infused with grief. Which affects one’s grammar.
I had never been to my sister’s town. She lived in Karratha, in NW WA, and I had never been able to afford to go there. In fact, a dear friend even paid for my airfares to go to the funeral.
It was very, very strange going to my sister’s house in her car and her not being there to meet us.
Some of her friends had made up beds for us (it was kind of like a dorm..!)
My nephews were wonderful and lovely, they have grown up into really fantastic (and terrifyingly well-paid) young men. Her ex-husband had very kindly come over and removed the mattress that she died on…that hadn’t occured to me to be an issue, but my other older sister was really upset about the possibility of everything still being the way it was.
Thinking about it later I realised it was a lot less confronting seeing a semi-dismantled room that no longer looked as though she had just walked out of it.
My sisters, mother, nieces and sister-in-law sorted out her clothes, shoes, jewellery and cosmetics and pretty much divided them up amongst ourselves, which was strange and sad, dismantling her life like that. But it was very good to be with my family.
ALSO my oldest nephew really wanted us to do it, he wanted all her things to be used and accepted, not thrown away. (Karratha is not noted for its expanse of op-shops or recycling facilities either.) And so we were actually making it easier for him as executor not to have to sort it all out himself. We all now have at least one pair of Birkenstocks (even Craig) as my sis was rather…a collector. And me and Craig and my sister G wore them to her funeral.
After doing some sorting out, while my wonderful niece-in-law went to the hospital to dress and make Elanor up, which I have to say was one of the kindest and most brave and generous things she could have done for her mother-in-law and for us, we went to the viewing. I kept expecting her chest to rise and fall; or her eye to crack open and her to say, ‘Why are you all staring at me?”
My father read the instructions to the newly-deceased soul from the Tibetan Book of the Dead as my sis was a practising Buddhist and preferred the Tibetan brand. (She shook the Dalai Lama’s hand once)
We all cried, and said goodbye, and listened to Dad, and cried some more. My middle nephew’s girlfriend had very sensibly armed herself with boxes of tissues and she handed them round at regular intervals.
I had to lay a hand on her arm to really believe it. And I still don’t.
It was hot and dry there, and there were frangipanis everywhere and lots of red earth. Everyone turns their air-con to freezing and then use blankets.
The next day we did some more sorting and then dressed for the funeral.
We all wore hot-weather clothes. A lot of the attendees wore bright pink in her memory – Elanor had been dressed in her favourite bright pink tie-dye singlet to show her tattoos (There were a lot of tattooists at the funeral!) and some of her favourite jewellery. She requested burial rather than cremation, on the grounds that she didn’t spend all that money on tatts just to have them burnt.
The service was very nice. We all walked in to the graveyard (which had four other ‘residents’ at that stage) behind the rather beaten-up grey station-wagon-type hearse.
There is no caretaker for the graveyard, and no organisation, which is something Elanor was campaigning to fix up – she was a member of the tourist board and the Chamber of Commerce. It is really a ‘frontier’ town, but expanding rapidly. From the air it looks like a couple of Canberra suburbs unaccountably washed up from the sea on the West Coast, surrounded by vastness and red earth and salt pans.
So her sons and her boyfriend chose a site under a beautiful tree, dug a grave, and then planted a garden next to it, with frangipanis, windchimes, succulents, a garden seat and two statues of the Buddha.
We were followed in to the site by the largely-Maori motorbike club (Bikers United Against Child Abuse or BUACA) of which my white, non-riding sister was a member. (Seriously. I cannot imagine anything more bizarre, but it is so typical) My husband now has her Harley Davidson vest, which her partner wore to the funeral, but asked one of us to take afterwards.
After them came hundreds of people on foot.
My nephews and my ex-brother in law and El’s partner organised a marquee for us soft Easterners and also esky after esky of cold bottled water for everyone. (You can’t really drink the tap water for long in Karratha – it is so mineralised and full of industrial waste and salt that it gives you kidney stones)
The funeral was ‘celebranted’ by one of Elanor’s colleagues, whom she had helped to achieve her celebrancy. Elanor is her first funeral service.
Her sons spoke, and then my father told us some things about my sister’s beliefs. My mother spoke about Elanor’s life and cried at one point, but continued to speak. She told us all that Elanor was born on the last ‘Cracker Night’ in Sydney. Very appropriate. People said later that they were amazed at how calm Mum and Dad were. It was all on the outside.
I sang, (through my AWFUL cold) and apparently sounded good – I sang a voyaging song in Irish, from a cd that Elanor taped for my when I was in my mid-teens. My niece sang ‘Fire and Rain’ and everyone pretty well lost it during the ‘But I always thought I’d see you again’ refrain.
Elanor’s sons and partner, and two of my brothers were pallbearers, and we scattered frangipani petals and Sturt desert peas over her pink coffin.
Afterwards people talked, and cried, and then left for the wake. Those of us left cleared up all the half-drunk water-bottles and poured them over her newly-planted garden.
During the wake we spoke to her friends and colleagues. I was hugged a lot as I suppose I was a very obvious target – especially with my currently-peroxided hair I look a LOT like Elanor did.
We watched a slide-show of photos of Elanor from all throughout her life.
And then, which was a little strange and heartwrenching but also beautiful, we watched a video of her in cable car in Spain with two of my brothers and my sister-in-law K. K now has Elanor’s scarf that she was wearing in Spain, and will treasure it and take it travelling with her too. They became very good friends while they were travelling together.
It was so strange hearing Elanor laugh again. They were seriously just crapping on about all kinds of things – politics, people, fart-jokes…all broadcast to 2 or 3 hundred people in a mining town on the other side of Australia.
That night E’s youngest son shouted us ALL pizza and icecream. (Yes, $45 worth of icecream from a servo – four tubs. Very generous.) and we sorted, and sorted, and sorted some more. And then the next day we flew home again. One of the enduring memories of the flight was when we came into Sydney the plane was turning and I watched the wing go up…and up…and up…and then there was the full moon next to the point of the wing, above the dark expanse of the sea.
(I love flying I have discovered…I love take-offs, and the wheel bumping on landing, I love turbulence, and watching the ailerons and flaps do their work, I love seeing the wings vibrate and flex…I wanna be a pilot when I grow up! Oddly enough it seems to be one of the very few things I am NOT afraid of.)
I am wearing two of Elanor’s rings and two bracelets (one of which I had to firmly ask Craig to give back to me, although it actually looked amazingly good on his hairy masculine weld-splatter-scarred arm) and also a pair of her Heidi Klum sneakers – I don’t want to take off her jewellery as it is a tangible link with her. I can’t believe so much brightness and courage has gone.
(One thing that Elanor used to say to her friends… “I won’t be here forever, but my hips will. They’re titanium.”)
So was her spirit.