29 November 2009

funeral march

One of the most unfair* parts of being a PK (priest's kid) is having to tag along to funerals. You get a cold and school is out of the question, all your relatives are going to a funeral. Guess what. So are you. By the age of 12 you are able to judge a corpse on its presentation like some beauty pageant of death and you've sorted your casket and clothing choices for this big day. Cheap pine box, linen wrap, Jordan river whites baptismal cross, no make up. Although, I wore my auntie's paisley nightie when I went for a dip in the Jordon so a subsequent visit is inevitable. I do not call the bodies of the dearly departed corpses out of disrespect. You realise from an early age that the body is just a shell for the soul. Looking at your grandfather laying in state (grade 2?) reiterates the meaningless and fleeting nature of our existence. The body without life is no longer a person. Of course though, in our tradition the body is seen as sacred as it is intended for resurrection at the end of the world - so no cremation. I do not mean to sound immune to the effect of seeing so many deaths. There have of course been times when funerals broke my heart. I've seen old women try to throw themselves into the grave pit when their child had died before them. My favourite teacher died of a brain tumour when I was young and she called and called for me in hospital and so I saw her in the pallative wing with her head shaved and dying. I loved her so much. I loved helping her to remove the lids off whiteboard markers because she had only one functioning arm. I loved her stories of fainting in front of monks that she had crushes on. I loved how she teased me about going through puberty when I'd be moody in class (I was ten, puberty came much later). I loved that on the last day of Russian school she'd buy icecreams for the class and let us play hide and seek in Fitzroy Gardens. Memory Eternal Nadezhda Grigorevna.

I have many fond and strange memories of time spent at cemeteries. A few summers ago, waking up from New Years day everybody had a hankering to go fishing. Someone recalled the overbloated carp at Fawkner cemetery. So off we went with our rods and reels to cast our lines into a narrow, grave backwash creek among the drapey weeping willows. The carp were so enormous they snapped our lines, we did however catch one yabbie. Later we spent the afternoon exploring gaudy mausoleums and lamenting sad, abandoned graves.

When my brother was yet a wee fellow, my parents packed him up in the car for a long trip to send off an old friend or perhaps, the Russian relative of an Anglo. At the sea-side cemetery, Alexey absconded from the incense-laden burial ceremony drawn away by the maze of plastic flowers and grey headstones. My parents were to find him blissfully dancing atop a marble grave in his little boy mary-janes. I like to think of him as a gypsy in that moment, pouring his juice from a baby bottle onto the stone in remembrance.

And so today I think of death. Perhaps because Lent just started.

* I think really, the most unfair part was being overloaded with superstition (thanks to all the babas out there) and End of the World talk as we were growing up. Repeating this in the school yard was a bad idea. I once had to see the school nurse on behalf of my brother as she thought he was suffering religious delusions. NO YOU IDIOT. HE HAD A BAD DREAM LIKE MOST 5 YEAR OLDS HAVE.