Out of all the milestones a person takes, I think it's their funeral that speaks larger than life and yet no one really prepares for them.
My ex-brother-in-Law, David, did make a request prior to his passing. We'd all just returned from Hawaii. He was too ill to travel back and when he finally did, it was to make arrangements for his funeral. A few days before he passed, he asked that we play Israel Kamakawi singing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow'. Maybe that's why we don't like to hear people's plans because even now, to this day, I cannot listen to that song without thinking of him and the raw emotions I felt that day. He took, what was a strange song to me and stamped his name one it, leaving an indelible mark that truly lives on.
My Uncle's funeral could not have been more different. Firstly, he would never have known half the people that turned up, least of all me. It was on a Marae with extended family attending, and that, in itself, brought up the turmoil of my cultural ignorance and renown family history that everyone had spent decades trying to conceal. With plastic faces and false smiles of recognition, we carried him to his rest place; a small mountain top, overlooking our family Marae, the place where we all allegedly sprang from. It was all news to me - the history of our beginning - the Kumara fields, dirt tracks, and the soiled river that paddled our goods to the local market. It was hard to imagine some long lost relative even wanted to live in such a remote place but no more than them thinking, one of 'their own,' in generations to come, would stand like some mumbling buffoon, completely ignorant to the heart-wrenching calls of an old woman's waiata.
My Grandfather's funeral, again, was very different. The two sides of the church had calved up people into those that knew him and those that really knew him - friends and work colleagues, mates. They were the ones courageous enough to stand before the gathering and speak. None of my family moved - too engrossed in their own perpetual family dramas to relent and speak from the heart. I sat next to my tormented mother, nudged her ribs, egging her to get up and speak. When she did, I wished she hadn't. "I wished you'd told me you loved me," she said. The silence that followed was suffocating. Truth not only hurts, it smothers, I guess.
Today's funeral was not a relatives but a close friend's grandmother. Like most families, there were 'dynamics' and as a stranger looking in, I was left guessing who was who and who did what. Ironically, I sat alongside the daughter - my friend's mother - and once again, I felt that similar resentment of unresolved pain. It seeped through her every unsettled shuffle and relentless sighs. One by one, I watched as those who were not blood stood to stake their claim: "We all called her Nana"...."She was my mum." Only one, a small child, was genuine in her grief. It touched me like a bolt of lightening and I found myself holding back tears - not for the loss of a woman I'd never met but for the sorry this little girl felt. The others, I felt, were giving out subliminal side remarks, digs at those who sat before them, some aimed directly at the women alongside me. She responded with a not-so-muffled puff of disdain.
Yes funerals. They bring out everything that's forcibly hidden. Today made me think of ways on which I want that milestone of mine remembered. Do I want a song that leaves people remembering me? Who do I want to stand up and claim me? Moreover, who would I turn in my grave if they turned up? What sorts of things do I want my friends to remember me by? Who will sit, stifled, silenced in anger? Who will be the ones brave enough to speak? Am I going to go back to the kumara patch, to the dirty river and waiatas? Or shall I just slip out to sea? Funerals... they really are a person's last stand.