Island Life by David Slack


The longest last time

Wendyl Nissen said to us: there is no right way to feel when someone has died; there is no correct way to react. She said: You have permission to do whatever feels right.

Once Patricia Herbert said to me: I like a good funeral. Patricia is a historian. She had a Catholic upbringing and many teenage months in a hospital bed contemplating mortality. I agree with her, but I don't mean this one and I doubt that she would either.

We sat, we stood, we crammed into the boating club at Narrow Neck beach and listened to the unsteady voices of family and friends and children. We watched video images of a little girl: first, in a cot, then taking tottering steps, then being gathered up in her beaming mother’s outstretched arms. We drank cups of tea and signed a book full of photos of a beautiful sunny-faced child who died at the age of nine from the rarest of cancers of which neither she nor her mother knew anything nine months ago.

Sandy said goodbye to Finlee by placing the lid on the coffin and blowing out a candle. The room was full of parents and their children. We watched her lean in to embrace her daughter for the longest last time and the room wept.

The other day Adrian said to me: We’ve got a Russian working with us. Those guys have a different way of looking at things; I like it. I said: more dour? He said: They're used to things working out badly. They expect it.

Wayne said: It’s the first time Wendyl has led the service at a child's funeral. Karren said: she was wonderful.

Michelle said: It felt as though it was over in a flash. She wasn’t sure if they’d done it right. I said: It was kind, it was warm, it was affecting, it showed me what Finlee had been. She said: We were working on that DVD 'til 4.00 in the morning and do you think we could get the machine to work right?

Wayne said: She’s had about four hours' sleep in the last week.

Mary-Margaret said: I said to Michelle ‘are you okay?’ Was it okay for me to say that? Mary-Margaret said: I gave Sandy a sad look. Was it okay for me to do that? Karren said: Yes that’s okay - what did Sandy say? Mary-Margaret said: she just sort of looked upset.

Sandy works at Mitre 10. So does Nat Curnow. He said the company had helped Sandy out. I said: I’ve been hearing a lot about that. He said: they gave her as much paid time off as she needed to be with Finlee. They paid for flights to Australia; Finlee was guest of honour at the Christmas party. I said: it’s nice to know a business will care that much. He said: it’s a bit of an unusual company. It's a co-op run by the owners of the stores. He said: it can be a bit hard sometimes to get something new going, but it seems to work out well. We decided that this was MMP applied to enterprise. Nat is building a house out of straw bales. I said: I'll come and visit with a microphone.

Andrea said: Sandy is going to be working with the Guardian Angels.

Guardian Angels are mothers who have been bereaved. They know what to do when the floor opens up beneath you.

Karren said: If it happened to me I would want the world to stop.

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