A week ago today, I stopped in at one of my favourite North Coast locations, a small cemetery bordering the Araluen National Park, near South West Rocks. Visiting remote rural cemeteries is a hobby of mine. Whilst some may consider this a morbid practise, I find these places endlessly fascinating.
Besides the picturesque locations, the main attraction for me is the sense of solitude and tranquillity associated with headstones old and new, bearing witness to lives once lived in the district. Rather than these visits being a spiritual experience, I revel in the history and hints of personality sometimes revealed by the various plaques and engravings. Or favourite items such as fishing lines, beer cans, dolls, figurines, making bush cemo's unique.
Generally my travels are during the week and the cemeteries are deserted. However on arrival last week for my annual visit I came across an old fella exiting the joint. He was around seventy five years old carrying wilted flowers under his arm and was accompanied by a small, neatly groomed lap dog.
After exchanging greetings I asked him, ‘You got family here ?’. He smiled wanly and replied, ‘Yes, my wife’s grave is over there and my son’s next to the wall here’. His son had previously been a high-powered financial businessman in Sydney who had succumbed to leukaemia at age forty five. I asked him, ‘How long has your wife been here ?’. He took a deep breath before replying, ‘Six years ago last week. And I still haven’t got over it. She’d died of secondary cancer, brain tumours, after beating breast cancer’.
Explaining this he became emotional, not due to her passing at age sixty nine, but because the doctors failed to diagnose her tumours. Apparently this is a common development for older women surviving breast cancer. ‘By the time they found the tumours it was too late’, he said. ‘She knew something was wrong for months beforehand but the doctors just wouldn’t listen’.
Sad, but not all bad for the old fella. He still had daughters and grandchildren living nearby and otherwise lived an active life, in one of the nicest districts on the North Coast. We must of chatted for some thirty minutes before he departed and I wandered amongst the graves thinking I’d love to be buried there. Funny how one increasingly considers one’s mortality after reaching fifty. Or just pathetic, but that’s life...and death.
Later whilst lunching on the Macleay River I was listening to a world music program on ABC radio’s The Planet, when the host introduced a beautiful piece of music, with the voice of an angel. It was an Hawaiian compilation of Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World, by Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole,
Iz's versions of "What a Wonderful World" and "Over the Rainbow" have become Hawai'i's unofficial anthems...with the innocent humming and plaintive 'ukulele accompaniment, a proverbial pot of gold...
Whilst listening to this (scroll down for sample) it occurred to me that, if given the chance, I would happily choose the tune for my own funeral. Which had me recalling a mate’s bush funeral some years ago. He’d pre-arranged the service, including his own musical compositions, traditional psalms, video, plus a guitar for sale to help with family expenses. That may sound weird but he’d been a master craftsman whose quality guitars sold for $5000. But the pièce de résistance was his stipulation that mourners wear Hawaiian shirts to the funeral. Brilliant!
Needless to say there was much laughter and clapping during the hour long service which culminated with a rousing rendition of the Monty Python song, Always Look on the Bright Side. This was started by his wife raising her arms in the air, singing and swaying to the gentle beat, leading the mourners to follow suit. Best funeral I’ve ever attended.
P.S. Check out 28 year old Foz's grave. Local surfer, Souths supporter and party boy, his final request reads..."CALL ME BY MY OLD FAMILIAR NAME, LAUGH AS WE ALWAYS LAUGHED TOGETHER, PLAY, SMILE, THINK OF ME". Cool, eh.