Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I went to a funeral yesterday. This post is about my reflections on the funeral and about my friend SM.

For my job I work with people who have an Acquired Brain Injury. I do support work. I help people to  achieve as close to an ordinary life as possible after a devastating injury caused by a transport accident. I work with a number of adults each week. One of the people I work with is SM, and he died on the 8th April, last Friday, in the morning at 8.55 am. I painted this portrait of him in August 2009.

I write about SM in my other blog, I have reflected on his situation for the purposes of my homework and assessments for the course I am doing. I am not telling you his name on purpose, and on my other blog I don't use his correct name either. I have worked with him for 2 years, we went out mostly. We have been to the zoo, imax theatre, many beaches, a farm, wildlife sanctuary, the movies (lots of them), shopping, live theatre shows, the library, art galleries, appointments, and on the Friday before he died, we walked the recently completed labyrinth at a local gallery (has significant outdoor sculpture).

That's the background. He wasn't always the easiest person to work with. He didn't say much, didn't eat or drink (he was peg fed), he hated watching me eat or drink (because he loved food). He was often grumpy or downright angry, and even more often he was anxious. But he smiled every time I pointed the camera at him though, he loved having his picture taken. He liked having nice hair, I was planning to take him for a haircut last Friday but all shifts were cancelled because he was sick in hospital. Instead he took his long swept back fringe to the grave.

It was an open casket funeral, and because his family are from India, it was entirely different (culturally) to any funeral I have previously attended. They are christians, so Bible passages were read, songs sung. There was a song sung in Tamil (his first language) which tells of God's comfort being so complete that He is like a mother. The singing was unaccompanied, the singers simply singing, no trills or frills or even eye contact with the mourners. They were simply singing their heart to the Lord. SM lay in his casket in front of the lectern, uncovered, eyes closed and dressed in a very smart blue suit with a fresh white shirt and silk tie. His mother was crying that she wanted to see him like this on his wedding day, looking handsome. He was very handsome. All the mourners were touching him and crying over him and kissing him, his mother was whispering in his ear in a language I don't know, she was devastated, they had to lead her away from him so they could close his casket. She was sobbing, along with many of the men, loudly.

There were about four young children there. One little girl (his niece) who is about three kept asking why he was sleeping and why he was so cold, why didn't he talk. She kissed him and said goodbye. Then asked to say goodbye again. They expressed their grief so openly, unashamedly. It was so sad, and very beautiful too. The funeral was all about how he has run his race and he has gone to the Lord with all his requirements fulfilled, he can now rest peacefully. As he was the eldest son of the family, his parents were recognised for bearing the loss of their first fruit, the position of eldest son is very important in his culture.

I really wanted to take his picture lying in his casket, but I didn't have the courage to ask. He looked very peaceful and lovely, which is unlike his usual look. I don't want anyone to think I am strange, so I didn't ask. He was so still and straight, an unusual posture for me to see, but for the family he was handsome and smart.

I just keep looking at this photo because of his eye. It's almost the last picture I took of him. In life he was confronting to look at, usually dribbling, one side of his body relaxed and unresponsive and one side constantly in motion, tense and  experiencing tremors and rigors. He was often muttering strange things, or calling out "please help me" or "I am the King". In this picture (which I have seriously cropped for effect) he is drooling and his head is at an unnatural angle (exactly how he liked it), and the seatbelt was obscuring his face. I didn't even ask him to smile because I was taking the photo for documentation reasons (we had been having a discussion about the safety of the fittings in his car and wheelchair).

He was buried, after a few graveside words we were invited to sprinkle dirt over his casket. The casket was very deep in the ground. I am sure it must be a family plot where others can use the same resting place. Similar to the one we will share with Thomas. It's kind of strange to know your post life address. The family left the graveside and people just dispersed. There was no gathering afterward, people just left to continue their grief privately.

I went home and had a crappy day. Nothing could cheer me up, I tried chocolate, shopping, movies, walks, a workout, shower, comfortable clothes. I was just sad and p'd off with the world. I feel better today, I have processed. I suppose I had to write this, have my own little send off for you Mr Marini.


Friday, April 8, 2011

I took the plunge today

Today when I was asked the ages of my children, I took the plunge.

I took a breath and said "well", then I said "I have two that are older" (it makes them sound geriatric). "They are 27 and 24 years old". "Oh" said the asker. "Then" said I, "I have a teenager who is 15. And I have another child who unfortunately died"

I messed that up didn't I! He unfortunately died.

The asker didn't say anything about me looking too young to have children in their mid twenties. That is usually the next thing that is said. Instead she went for the I'm sorry response. Her unexpected response blew me off my train of thought because it's not what people normally say. Unless they are a bereaved parent too. I looked at her sideways and said "thank you".

I told her that his death was fairly recent so then she wanted to know how old he was and when he died, so I explained his story, adding the details of the extra chromosome, and about his birth defects, and his struggle to live, and the complications of an extended stay in a germ laden environment, and how that complicated things further. She seemed sympathetic, and commented that it sounded like he really fought to stay.  She also said that it must have been so very hard on our whole family.

I took another plunge and asked her if she had also lost a child and she said "yes". She told me about her son who was diagnosed with a fatal condition at 20 weeks, she said that she delivered him at 22 weeks, and that he was stillborn. I asked more about him and asked his name, because I now know that everyone has a name for their child. People who haven't been there will probably ask "did you name him?" It made me want to cry when she said his name, who knows how often she would get to say his name. I told her Thomas' name too.

I told her about the support that I get from all over the world in blogland. She told me that her mother in law was the person she talked to most (her mil had experienced significant grief and knew the value of an open chat)

Sometimes when you take the plunge it pays off, in that you don't go crashing straight the bottom. Even when you fill your pockets with rocks of statements like "Unfortunately he died"

Goodnight Thomas, if you see Ryan anywhere up there, tell him that I met his mum, and we talked about you both.