Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The business of death

Practising for death, with kite, in the heart of the Olgas …..
or, Waiting for the Vultures!

The woman at reception is on the phone and gestures for me to take a seat. As I pass the plump couches, on the way to empty my anxious bladder, a seated, shiny bald-headed man of 40-something flashes me a wide smile. Friendly, I think, smiling back. When I return, the woman I’ve seen in the carpark has joined him. I feel self-conscious, and chilly in my should-be-wool-but-cotton attire, and very hick under my Edward Scissorhands do! Why does everybody in the city use a hair dryer? I sit down. “I was horrified, her make-up was all wrong, I barely recognised her” the woman is saying. I’m triggered. Mum used to dab at her lipstick, the embalmer had plastered it on. It wasn’t her, and it was shocking. I empathise. We’re at the home of one of Melbourne’s original independent funeral homes because at some stage in the past few months we’ve made application for employment and we’ve been invited to an ‘information session’. Later we learn we’re 3 out of 8 invitees who’ve turned up. He’s a salesman, she a legal secretary. I have little doubt that, like me, they’ve been touched by death. We talk freely about our interest in entering the industry, our hopes and dreams. I belong.

We’re led down a maze of passageways, past the auditors, and into the boardroom. The walls are a museum to its Irish Catholic founding fathers and staff, past and present. The table, larger than my bedroom. A potted history is presented and any notion we may have had about securing a role that befits the importance of our ego is quickly quashed. In no uncertain terms we’re advised that all newcomers enter the industry through the same door, FDA (Funeral Director’s Assistant). Washing and preparing the hearse, driving the hearse, sweeping floors, assisting at funerals, transferring the deceased, assisting at viewings and rosaries, handing out pamphlets. “Some who come are too precious” states our informant, “Are you all prepared to do this?”

Despite there being no current employment opportunities, I am grateful for and humbled by the experience, and say a little prayer that in the future my wish be heard. This is the landscape of service, these are the places and spaces where I know I am at my most authentic.

Friday, May 20, 2011

How to make a dog's breakfast!

This is how it was supposed to look!

I’d made it once before. Trying to emulate my favourite dessert, sago and raspberry pudding, I’d given my first attempt 7 out of 10. This time I was aiming much higher; I wanted it to look as good as the one you buy, and taste even better. I’m a confident cook, proud of my personal success rating in the kitchen, some would even say cocky! Despite my inflated view, I had to concede there was merit in reading the directions on the pack of sago. Reflecting on that evening a week later, all I remember is reading the first three lines , water, tapioca seed and sugar, and feeling a little puzzled about the ratio of water to seed, pressed on regardless. At this point in proceedings, easily distracted, I abandoned the directions.

First sin, disregard!

So I boiled the water, and threw in the tapioca seed. Gazing down into the steaming pot, wooden spoon in hand, it occurred to me, in a blink, I’d committed the second sin. The sago had instantly cooked on the outside, leaving it raw inside. It resembled a pot of clag with hundreds of half-sucked homoeopathic pilules floating in it. Idiot! The third sin was the brown sugar. Isn’t that what the recipe said? My intended virginal dessert had now taken on a muddy appearance. Fugly! Remembering I hadn’t added the expensive coconut cream paste, I ladelled it into the mix. The mixture, now hideously murky and coagulated and spewing its fury into the atmosphere like the grey heaving geysers of Rotorua, had suffered its final assault. In an attempt to resuscitate what was, in hindsight, clearly already dead, I took it off the stove, sprinkled liberal lashings of vanilla essence on its surface, put the lid on, said a prayer, and left.

A couple of hours later, bowl of lightly cooked raspberries at the ready, and half-anticipating a miracle, I peered into the pot. It was, undeniably, irredeemable! I spooned the now dumpling-like, speckled, tea-coloured sago mistake into the raspberry sauce with a curse. The dish resembled the insides of a cow!

2 out of 10!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Just Being

Through Byron Hospice, for 4 hours every second week, I sit with him in the loungeroom of the home he built for his second wife, 20 years ago. He wonders, repeatedly, how much he'll miss his wife, how she's going to manage when he’s gone.

In this funereal atmosphere, steeped in coffee-coloured light, today I carefully turned the pages of his photo albums, awakening memories long held, names long forgotten.

He is a canvas to grief, and has grown weary, like chrysanthemums left too long at the graveside of the beloved. He is open and honest, a gracious model for conscious death and dying.

Occasionally, during the interminable minutes of emptiness, a spotlight is cast sharply on my mind’s aversions. I watch with horror, disappointment and acceptance at what happens under my skin! Sitting still, doing nothing, a deep and abiding restlessness. TV blaring, irritation, boredom, a neurotic mind that screams ‘turn it off’. Silence, a desire to fill it with clever chatter. Sometimes, during his reflections on his life, I’m triggered to speak, have the final word, offer similar experience from my own life’s narrative. I turn my mind’s eye to his hand in mine.

Just being!