Afterwards:  A short story

His children organised the wake for their mother in her top floor apartment and when the old people left one by one, his grandsons showed them to the lift and helped them into their cabs; such nice young men, they all said.  They were, he agreed, but was waiting for them to get over their mid teens lack of conversation.

It had all gone well, she hadn't wanted any sentimentality or speeches, that's the way to go he thought, and it had been good to catch up with so many joint friends from the past.  But his main concern was for his daughter who had borne the brunt of her mother's dying.  Her mother had always subconsciously favoured her first born son but losing a parent is a primitive, primeval thing that always bites whatever the relationship might have been like.

Both of them had made a point of telling him at the wake that they intended to visit him soon, their mother's death had clearly shaken them, and he was next in line. He was pleased they both seemed to be weathering it all OK.

After a disastrous funeral years before with an inept clergyman who had never met the departed and had got it all wrong, he'd been so appalled that he'd gone home and written down exactly how he wanted to go. It wasn't much different from his first wife who they'd just seen off, no religion, no service at a cold crematorium, just a wake within a week with good food and grog and plenty of chairs so the old people could sit down and relax, with the Bach cello pieces playing in the back ground and everyone to select a book from his library as they left to remember him by.  He didn't care if some of them wanted to talk about him, it enabled people to get it all off their chests, wakes were for the living not the dead, and hoped they would follow Iago's directions in Othello:

   Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
   Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak
   Of one that loved not wisely but too well.

When they were living in the country he'd even thought of being buried some where on that 180 acres of old dairying paddocks and patches of rainforest he loved so much; he'd always liked those small collection of graves surrounded by a fence to keep the cattle out that you often find on old homesteads usually under a big peppercorn tree.  He found that home burial was legally possible with a few conditions, considered the possible locations and wavered between designing a simple marker himself or leaving it all to his son who after all worked in stone.

Well, for a variety of reasons they'd ended up moving back into the city so that was out; it was a bit pretentious anyhow unless the place had stayed in the family which would have been unlikely; the nice thing about those homestead cemeteries was the sense they gave of family continuity and the history of the place. 

His wife had once suggested there should be a service in the one church he had ever designed, it was, after all on the NSW Heritage Register, and as she said tongue in cheek, she'd be able to quote that great epitaph on Wren's tomb in St Pauls Cathedral, 'If you seek his monument, look around you!'    It was a nice conceit, but the church was hardly St Pauls and would be a bit hypocritical in view of his lack of religion; in any case they'd recently shut the place up because of a dwindled congregation.  No, just a good wake would do, and they could do what they liked with his ashes, dig them in around their favourite rose bush perhaps? 

He didn't have many relatives left, his only remaining brother had died last year and his few in-laws had gone years before.  But their children (and their children) stayed on at the wake after the old people had left, they all grazed on the left over finger food and kept on drinking and he tried to remember all their names. 

The day after the wake he'd seen the State Library and had been pleased that they agreed to keep his archive of photographs and documents for future historians; it had seemed a pity to just toss it all out.  He suspected that all old people start tidying up at a certain stage. 

Two of his buildings were on heritage lists but he would more likely be remembered, if at all, in a footnote for his urban design interventions to improve parts of his city.  His wife thought it was a bit of a wank but he wasn't at all embarrassed, it would be good to get rid of it all so she wouldn't have to deal with it when he died. He'd only been a little fish in a big pond, but he'd always done his best to change things for the better, it hadn't all been driven by ego

A week after the wake he went to a public demonstration in the Treasury Gardens protesting about the lack of action on climate change.  It was a lovely sunny Sunday morning and the good natured footie final sized crowd had a good vibe.  He found a wall to sit on and had even remembered to bring his hearing aid.  The demo had been organised by GetUp and all the environment groups and there were parallel demos in the other capital cities. Grey heads like him were well represented and all the left wing beards and vegetarian sandals were there, but what really pleased him was that the crowd was mostly young people in their twenties, and there were many couples with their small children.

climate rally

One of the speakers asked each of the thirty thousand strong crowd to emulate Obama and tweet ten people in the next hour about the need to stop burning coal.  He didn't have a mobile phone and wasn't into facebook or tweeting but the thought of them spreading the word gave him hope for the future.

There is no doubt the world is getting warmer, and there's no doubt it's largely caused by burning coal to generate electrical power. The long term consequences will be dire unless action is taken to curb emissions now to limit world temperatures as much as possible.  It gave him much heart that they were all there and not out shopping.

On the way to the demo he had passed other young people participating in a City to Sea fun run, and there was a crowded Polish Festival with prim folk dancing by young women in traditional Polish dresses in Federation Square as he cut through on his way back to the St Kilda Road tram; this diversity was what cities were all about he thought, and how bloody fortunate he was to still be in the middle of it all. 

Don Gazzard LFAIA
December 2013

 

 

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