Part way up the mountain in Macedon, we said goodbye to my
niece.  It was freezing despite the
faintest glimmer of sunshine.  
The organisers had set up a marquee in a secluded section of
the gardens at Duneira, a reception centre that mainly caters for weddings and
other life inspiring events.  
It was uncanny the way I found myself – I was not alone in
this –using the word ‘wedding’ in the place of funeral.  It was also understandable, because in
November last year, my niece and her partner were married in the sun in Portsea and the festivities
were similar, much happier, but even then we knew about the gruesome diagnosis
and that it was only a matter of time before we would be saying goodbye. 
Even in her dying, my niece worried about polluting the earth
with her chemical soaked remains and so she organised an environmentally sustainable funeral where they did not use more chemicals to keep her body life-like after death. 
Nor did she use a coffin. 
Instead, her family wrapped her in a shroud, which they and others who had
attended an earlier vigil, decorated with drawings and messages.  A simple calico coloured cloth that housed
her body before cremation. 
They rested my niece on a flat board
with handles on either side, which the pallbearers used to carry her out. 
We all brought flowers and foliage from our gardens and
spread them around her body during the service and then later the funeral
assistants carried these cuttings, flowers and branches in huge strips of cloth behind
the hearse.  
My niece’s immediate family walked before the hearse as it
drove down the hill to the main road and the rest of us formed a guard of honour
on either side to farewell this beloved young woman.  
All the cliché’s come to my mind and I try to push them
I dreamed this morning that my niece’s father, my brother, stayed at my house.  He was looking for
things to repair he said.  He liked to keep himself busy. 
Keep busy, he and his wife said after the funeral, as they
handed out food to guests.  Keep busy, as
if in doing so they could keep on living. 
If we stop we die, too. 
We join my niece in her frozen state.  
In the past week I find myself overcome by a type of malaise
that leaves me unmotivated beyond my work and the normal domestic duties of my
I find myself wanting to withdraw
from the extra-curricula.  
I find myself wanting
to sleep more than usual. 
I find myself wanting to avoid writing. 
I tell myself I’ve written enough words for any person’s lifetime.  Maybe it’s time to start editing and erasing.  Prune back the words to their bare
I know of at least two successful writers who reckon that
most people write too much.
I felt chastened when they first told me this.  It left me feeling clumsy and loud, as if I had
spilt out my thoughts in a useless array when I should be more like my friends and sit
for hours in silence before I let one single sentence appear on my screen. 
Everything else is mere indulgence.  

A dead man’s shoes

Is it churlish of me not to believe
that my beloved niece who died five days ago is up there in heaven with my mum
and ‘having a ball’,  as one of my sisters told me the other day?
I wish I could believe it.  Such thoughts make going on living
easier.  Such thoughts make the idea of
dying easier, but they don’t help me. 
My niece has died and the process
of saying goodbye is too raw and close to write about.
Given my preoccupation with my own
death of late, I try to find other ways of processing this stark event.  Stark because it’s out of order.   Read my niece’s words, before she died, if you will. 
She writes like a dream.
Young people should not die, but
they do.
Young people who leave other even
younger people motherless, should not die, but they do.
I have only attended funerals thus
far in my life where the death has felt vaguely okay, given the age or circumstances
of the person who died, my parents, my husband’s parents, my brother in
All their deaths felt
bearable.  This most recent death in my
family does not.
So I will go into memories of an
earlier death, one that did not leave me breathless, but curious.
The Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel
Mannix died in his nineties and our city grieved, at least those who shared my
bubble of the world as a young girl living in the  leafy green suburbs of Catholic Melbourne grieved. 
They laid him out in state in the
middle of Saint Patrick’s cathedral and people were invited to visit him over
the course of a week. 
My family went, those still living
at home, and by some strange turn of events, my father, who had long stopped going
to Mass, came too.  He drove the car and
my sisters and I sat in the back of the station wagon from where we waved to
cars that followed. 
The idea was to get as much of a
response from the driver and his passengers following.  A nod, a smile a wave of the hand was enough.
 It was more than we could elicit from
the body of the archbishop. 
We queued outside in the early evening
and walked up the aisle in a shuffling procession of silent believers, heads
bent in grief. 
I had to pretend and studied
the terracotta tiles on the floor and the curve of the arm rests at the end of
each pew.  The way they formed an ending
to each row and became their own sort of row going up and down the church.
I had never before seen a dead
body, at least not in the flesh.  I
imagined only the dead saints from holy pictures, those who were burned at the
stake or flailed alive or had a red cascade of blood flowing down their sides,
with a beatific smile on their faces. They welcomed death.
The archbishop’s face was white and
his skin taut.  He wore makeup and his
hair, tucked underneath his archbishop’s hat, what little you could see of it, was
neat and slicked down. 
Clerical robes hid the rest of his
body, all of it unremarkable.  But the
shoes left me puzzled.  They shone as
though they were black patents, the shoes of my First Holy Communion.  They shone as though they were made of black
plastic.  They caught the light.
I could have seen myself reflected
in those shoes if I had been allowed to lean over far enough to try.  But the coffin was erected on a dais and held
away from the people by a frame of posts held together by dark braid. 
No one told us to keep off but it
was obvious.  Keep off.  Keep out. 
Death lies here. 
Death has a way of silencing
us.  It leaves us breathless, and I’m not
talking about those who die.  They are silent
and breathless for evermore.  I’m talking
about those of us lucky enough or unlucky enough, as the case may be, who

Those of us who must go on living
in this imperfect world without their loved one.  Those who must make sense of the world
without her.