Friday, October 27, 2006

Alexander Duff

19 December 2005
This morning I sat and ate bacon and scrambled eggs, with tomatoes, and a coffee to wash it down. And as I ate I thought “Here is something so simple and pleasureable that he will never know.” Such is the focus of ones thoughts. How mean and shabby are our daily worries and concerns, how unmajestic are our visions and plans, how trivial the fights and squabbles we have with each other. Alec is dead before he experienced any of these things and our daily behaviour begrudges him even those. I opened the paper after spilling the coffee on it. Half hoping to see something about the event, half hoping not to. But there it was and the morbid in me forced a reading. Tellingly it was accurate and objective though the families directly involved would hardly think so. Another of Alec’s uncles, through his tears yesterday exclaimed that this was something that happened to someone else, something you read about in the papers, but not about yourself. So true. Indeed many had heard the news on Melbourne radio yesterday morning, had seen the TV news clips and thought about how torrid somebody’s Christmas had just become. Then they discovered they knew the parents and the horror of it was doubly hammered home.

As I travelled to the airport to travel to Melbourne on Sunday morning I watched numerous children heading to holidays, scampering about. I tried to guess their ages. How close to 2 years old were any of them? It was a good exercise – I normally see little aircraft travellers and hope they are seated nowhere near me. This morning a young blond headed fellow sitting in a high-chair, about 2 or so I fancied, looked up from swishing his hands through his milk and Nutrigrain and gave me a smile. No hesitation, just a direct smile. I winked and went back to the paper, resisting the urge to ask his parents how old he was.

The 24 hours after the event is such a swirl, and I am only in the outer rings of the vortex. But even in this madness there is a remarkable streak of sanity, stability and purpose that grabs your attention. Is it family that have been through it before? Or the knowledge that there are so many others praying about the event? There are numerous folk doing just that. It is of course our sovereign master who keeps his hand on the wheel of the universe least any of us get tossed off. Thank goodness for that.

The week has been such a slow week. It is now Thursday. My failed muse were directed to contribute weak efforts to supporting the need to get some constructive press out about Alec. Once complete they fled and I felt little inspiration to complete this log at the end of each day, rather preferring to ease into clean crisp sheets and be wrapped up by the night and the hum of airconditioning. And on to the next day.

Slow but somehow all the more complete for that. We started the week with wrenching sobs and a pouring out of grief that proved how cathartic it had been as we got on with the week and the dreadful administration of burying a body. But a body can only be released after we have accepted the soul has been swept up and embraced by its creator. Grieving is in part a process of moving what we know in our heads to a place where it sits in our hearts. Taking that deep breath instead of a gasp, a straightening of the lips rather than the expulsion of a groan as we realise that though we miss him the situation is not catastrophic, that the end is not as it seems, that there is indeed life after death. And a slow realisation that the slow twisting knot (sorry about the cliché) in your stomach is less a grieving for the person we have lost so much as a consciousness of the opportunities we daily miss in our treatment of others. A daily death of relationships and opportunities to reach out and love others.

For an undemonstrative family this has been a telling few days. We have had rubbed of on us something of the Middle Eastern, something of the southern European. Who would have guessed at the amount of hugging between the men that happened this week when you saw us arrive in Australia nearly thirty years ago. How much better off we are for it. Confessing our love for each other, embracing at the drop of a hat, for no other reason except that we felt like we needed it, or someone around us needed it.

The touching and caring and sobbing in the first day tempered to a different level of emotion in next few days. We found ourselves simply sitting around and talking. Or playing. Or walking. Or cooking. Eating. Catching the eye of someone and smiling because you genuinely wanted to, not because you were lost for words. There was a serenity in all this which was refreshing and from which cup you dared not lift your head. I tried a few times, resorting to work issues, reviewing contracts and so on. It was motions only and as soon as the task was complete back to the simple communion of teasing nieces, making cups of tea, listing to idle chat, contributing some of your own.

Such marked our days until the 23rd. Today we all buried Alec. I was to say that Rebecca and Scott did so. True enough. But the sum of the week surely has been that we all - both families – came together to support and encourage in such a way that the whole family laid him in the ground then went home to continue applying balm to each other. Grandfathers as pallbearers. An uncle from each side of the family as well. Young. Older. And very young in that little box. A pure representation of all that has been welded together this week. And which has been fusing over the years, despite pressures and torque. Or probably because of it I fancy.

It was a clear and warm to very warm day. Something around thirty degrees I guess. A better day than the one following his death – which was a grey day and sporadically wet. It was a beautiful day to be buried. On a low ridge in Lilydale. Under some young gums. Dandedongs a sprawling blue grey in the distance. The caw caw caoooarghh of a crow in the background. The cortege dragged slowly through city traffic to the cemetery. There was something obscene about the normalcy that we drove through. Every one else was having a normal day. Swinging into the cul de sac we all sat for a moment in the relative cool of the air-conditioning before slowly climbing out and milling around. The undertakers busied themselves with flowers, taking them from the car and placing them beside the graveside. Then when we were all braced, physically and mentally, we fell in behind Alec who was being carried by four dark suits – grandfathers and uncles – in an unwilling and solemn march up to the hole in the ground that was an inevitable destination but to which no one wished to go. The day was still and hot and the suits cooked on us. And flies arrived in swarms and busied themselves.

The graveside message was appropriate. We heard the assurance of eternal life and the comfort of knowing Alec was elsewhere. Lowering the casket is always the moment of truth. The test of ones ability to know and feel that assurance despite what is happening in front of you. The pallbearers gripped each other as they lowered Alec into the ground – it was a tough job. Heads bowed, their tears dripped from their noses and flies were grateful. I watched Bec and Scott closely. Mother moved in and stood close as the casket was lowered. They were both doing it hard, and so too Scott but they all remained composed. Then we selected flowers from one of the bouquets and threw them into the ground. Who knows what that means but it was done as a family and that can’t be a bad thing.

That evening I sat in the airline lounge and thought to write notes but had no heart to do so. A handful of people appeared to be on business but most were on holidays. There seemed little to get enthused about. Even my fellow traveller needed a good make over and scrub – perhaps it is just that everything seems grey despite the sun. She certainly needed to lose weight and to find a good hairdresser. I was in no mood to make small talk and I think she sensed that – perhaps the glare I shot at a couple of chaps bumbling their baggage as I walked up the aisle had been seen by her.

The following day was the toughest. I went to work but was no use to anyone. I suspect after a week of work around Alec it was not until I was at home or in the normal routine that the emotional drag was felt. Everything seemed to be without purpose, although a lengthy chat with one of the staff about what God might have in mind with this death was worth being there. A knot in the stomach all day, a feeling of being raw and ragged. That most of the afternoon was taken off by everyone, in anticipation of the holiday, and I being left alone in the office, was a good thing.

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