Be Prepared


“Be prepared”

My old Brownie pack, in the early 1970s. Can you spot me?

As a child, I lived in the tiny rural village of Patutahi, just out of Gisborne, nestled between fields of corn (or was it maize?), close to the land Witi Ihimaera writes of in his fabulous novels. A sickly kid (my parents were told I wouldn’t live past age six), with skinny legs, pale skin and dark hair, I was also very happy. The highlight of my week (if I was well enough) was to go to Brownies, where the wonderful Robyn Richardson (I wonder where she is now?) led maybe 15 of us to explore ways of relating to others. I don’t remember much, except a dusty old hall, a two finger salute, and the pledge: “I promise to do my best…” it started. And of course, the ubiquitous motto, “be prepared.”

Many years on, that motto is firmly embedded in my psyche. The boot of my car carries an assortment of rugs, shoes and shopping bags neatly stacked in plastic trays, and the glove box holds rubber gloves (of course!), tissues, spare reading glasses, and extra CDs for those long journeys in Auckland traffic.

And more recently - as a funeral celebrant - I’m aware of the need to be prepared in respect to our lives, and especially the end of lives. Death is inevitable, yet many of us are fearful of talking about it, even with those close to us. Preparing for the end of our physical life makes it easier for our families, whether the death is expected or not. My friend Deborah Wilkinson tragically lost her husband to cancer, and was shocked to find how much she had to untangle after his death. Her easy-to-read book, Where’s the Password? provides practical tips about steps to take - a must-read for all adults.

 Here are a few things you might like to consider putting in place:

  • Power of Attorney: who will make decisions about you if you aren’t capable of doing this yourself (due to an accident or illness)? This is a legally binding document, and can prevent family squabbles later on.

  •  A Will: it’s a simple process to get a will drawn up through your solicitor or the Public Trust. Even if you believe you have few assets, having an up-to-date will can speed up payments for the funeral, release of property, and so on.

  •   Funeral or Memorial: providing family with details about your wishes can help them navigate a very difficult time when they are overwhelmed with grief. Would you like to be buried or cremated, in a casket or a shroud? Are there people you would like to speak at your funeral or memorial? What special songs or readings would you like included in the ceremony? Do you even want a ceremony?

Recently, I prepared the outline of my own funeral, and shared this with my sons, both in their early 20s. It includes the tracks that I’d like played (complete with the YouTube links), and instructions about what to do with my body. My kids are millennials so maybe I’ll start a Pinterest board too, the modern equivalent of the little notebook in the bedroom dresser. I hope they won’t need any of it for a long, long time.

But best to be prepared.

Second Time Around

“A bride at her second wedding does not wear a veil … she wants to see what she’s getting.” (Helen Rowland)

Once upon a time, unless a woman’s husband died, it was unusual for her to remarry. The church prohibited divorce and frowned on remarriage. Thankfully, at least here in Aotearoa, times have changed. It’s now common for contemporary couples to marry for a second time, choosing a partner with a degree of wisdom they may have lacked in their younger years. And it’s not just heterosexual couples remarrying, but people from our LGTBI population who are now free to marry or form a civil union with their preferred partner.

So what’s different about a marriage the second time around? For most people, there’s no longer the pressure of a perfect wedding, and family (including children and grandchildren) play a much bigger part in the ceremony. Friends of mine had their adult children in the bridal party as they combined their two families into one. Others have had sand blending enactments, while hand-fasting is also popular with those of Celtic origins.

And things often happen much more quickly with second-time-arounders, who just want to get on with life. A relaxed, casual ceremony with a simple barbecue or lunch on the lawn makes it all less stressful, and can be organised in just a few weeks. Even the clothing can be more informal, though some of the romantics amongst us love the idea of a lacy gown or fancy suit on that special day.

You’ll still need a registered celebrant to officiate at the ceremony, and there are plenty of us available around the country. Check out the Department of Internal Affairs website or CANZ for celebrants in your area.

 “And suddenly, you meet that person that makes you forget about yesterday, and instead dream of tomorrow.” (Anon)

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Second time around

Less fuss, more confidence

Tiny Weddings

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Tiny Weddings

Avoid money down the drain

Weddings can often seem overwhelming - loads of planning, sleepless nights, lots of decisions to make, a rapid exit of money from your bank account, and relationships with friends, family and whanau put under pressure.

If you’re keen to do something a little simpler, why not consider eloping or a tiny wedding? Traditionally, eloping was running off into the sunset with your beloved, leaving behind a wicked step-mother or jilted lover. Today though, it’s more a choice for brides or grooms who are wanting to leave a small eco-footprint, or for those who don’t want a lot of fuss.

You still need to meet the legal requirements - applying for a marriage licence and having a ceremony with an independent celebrant like me - but apart from a couple of witnesses, it’ll be just you (and maybe your children or grandchildren).

A tiny wedding is great for those of you who are marrying for a second (or third!) time, or those who want a private ceremony without all the razzmatazz. Choose a location that works for you both (you’ll still need permission if this is a public place), and make it your day, your way.

Tiny weddings. Perfect.

A Grave Matter

The moon is full, shedding its light across the waking city. April Fool's Day, the end of daylight savings and Easter Sunday in unison this year. Hot, sweet coffee, feed the cat, a load of washing and a walk.

I am lonely, desperate for a person to talk to, to hold, to argue with. Lonely, but not alone: the radio tells me it's common this contemporary dis-ease, an increasing toll on our society. The old, they are lonely, and I imagine council flats, meagre meals, and unkempt feet and hands. But no, it is the young who top the loneliness stats, the virtual world making our existence simultaneously more accessible and less real. Insta, the tool of the young, a platform for self-exposure, while sitting alone in a bedroom. A famous online life coach writes about "life envy" and the comments are pitiful:  Facebook posts keep up the illusion that we are successful, happy, and perpetually beautiful. We hide the flaws, edit backgrounds, add filters to our lives. 

I read to dispel the loneliness, characters jumping off the pages into my head, my heart. Violence and death in The Great Alone; resilience and determination in A Gentleman in Moscow. The risque Anais Nin challenges my world view, and Witi Ihimaera confirms it. 

Today, I seek out company, and head to Purewa, a park in the centre of Auckland, full of people. They are quiet these people, lying six feet under, broken concrete and lichen decorating the earth. A strange novel - Lincoln in the Bardo - has brought me to this place, the story of the president's son, William - young Willie - dying tragically at 11. He father is distraught, his mother no longer able to function. It is odd this book, but I persevere, and the quirky characters grow on me, like the weeds on the tombstones. 

I wander through the cemetery, the bright sunshine casting deep shadows beside the graves. I've come to see angels, to master my new zoom lens. Plots first inhabited in the 19th century sit alongside recent burials,  no order to their arrangement. A bottle of beer and a tiny Santa gifted to a 15 year old boy, lying beside his relatives, his parents and friends still visiting. The grief consumes us, when young lives are lost, the injustice, the despair.  

A tiny angel, a cherub, catches my eye. The marble is bright, the skin smooth. I walk around the tomb, aiming for the best angle, for bokeh in the afternoon light. Six (or is it eight?) people rest here, a fence containing them. 

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Back home, I process my photos, blue-skied monuments and simple crosses marking Easter in the metropolis. I plan a future - a future with hope, with promise, with optimism. A future with friends, with beautiful images, with fresh vegetables and flowers and tastes and scents. I am looking forward, so I write, clumsy today, a lack of practise. In that future, I will write every day.

Then I find it, a quote to end, Amor Towles at his finest:

"It is a lovely oddity of human nature that a person is more inclined to interrupt two people in conversation than one person alone with a book."

This post originally appeared on Sandy’s blog “Living in the Light” in April 2018.

Love & Marriage

Love and marriage, love and marriage

Go together like a horse and carriage

This I tell you brother

You can’t have one without the other!

I’m immediately transported back to Married with Children, the escapades of the main characters flitting through my brain. Of course the foul-mouthed husband is now better known for his role in Modern Family, the patriarch of a diverse and colourful reconstituted family. Dramas, big and small, play out around them, reminding us what life is like when we live with others.

Of course if you remember Al in MwC, you’ll remember Peggy, the gorgeous but lazy “mom” with her red hair piled high into a beehive atop her head. She later starred in another sitcom I occasionally tuned into - Eight Simple Rules. I came to love the family, especially the Dad, played by John Ritter, who was so protective of his daughters, and struggled to do the right thing. And then suddenly, Ritter died, the same age as I am now. I was shocked. This wasn’t comedy, this wasn’t a show - this was real life. The cast chose to carry on with the show, their tears real, their grief palpable, a tribute to the man they loved as a friend and co-star. I thought the final of M*A*S*H was tragic - this was even worse.

Fast-forward 15 years. It’s three months - to the day - since I stopped working full time. An email appears in my inbox. It's the Registrar-General who tells me I’m officially registered as a marriage and civil union celebrant, following my interview with two lovely people from DIA. I’m chuffed. Over these last three months, I’ve been cleaning: my body, my house, my mind. I’ve been taking photos, some terrible, others magical. I’ve been learning new tricks in Photoshop. I've been studying and networking. I’ve been updating my will, and getting professional insurance. My migraines are less frequent, my sparkle is returning. But this? I wasn’t expecting registration until November or December, and now I have to rattle my dags, get a portrait, write text for a Facebook page, buy a sound system, design a logo.

“Will you do funerals?” people ask, and I pause. Last year, there were two funerals. The first my dad’s, celebrating the life of a man who had lived 85 full years, doing the things he loved. We ran the ceremony, my sister and I, clear that Dad would have liked the send-off, classical music playing as his treasured collections sat on the table next to him on a sunny winter's day in Hawkes Bay.  And then - just 6 weeks later - another funeral, the daughter of a friend, not yet ready for her first birthday, instead lying in a tiny coffin. Rain, tragedy, heart-break, despair. Life is not fair.

So will I do funerals? The answer is yes. Love is love, and we need to celebrate life and living. I’ll need some practise, to stay calm, to be the rock for families who are distraught. . But as Prince William reminded Cantabrians in Hagley Park as they commemorated the anniversary of the devastating quakes, “grief is the price you pay for love.” 

This blog originally appeared on Sandy’s blog, Living in the Light in August 2018: