The business of dying
Judith Ann Saunders, passed 28 September 2018 at home and in a toasty warm bed in Glen Iris. This is my last blog post about my super spunk, my angel, my princess, my soulmate, who is gone but will never be forgotten.
It's been quite a while since I have written. The reason, which I could make up is that I've run out of stories, run out of energy, although that's not the truth. The truth is that this story has ended, and that I have finally come to that realisation.
It's not a sudden realisation. It has been an accepting one, full of pain and anguish, with time and beautiful memories being my only guide. A journey of grief does not have a timeline, more a sliding scale.
So here it is. The last blog post about my super spunk, my angel, my princess, my soulmate.
Judith Ann Saunders, passed 28 September 2018 at home and in a toasty warm bed in Glen Iris, dancing with the fairies on morphine, aged only fifty four years. Death came just down the hall from her beautiful twin sons, in the very early hours of the morning and in bodily contact with me, her fifty year old loving griever and giver of morphine, gazing into her eyes that ceased to move, resting aside her chest that finally ceased to heave.
Missing Judy will always hurt, yet will always bring warmth to my soul.
That it is vulgar to talk about money is a sentiment usually spouted by those who have bags of it.
I don't have bags of it, so therefore I am definitely going to go there.
In the months following Jude's death, I was struck by the fact that handling a departure from life is a most lucrative trade, with eye wateringly large sums of money exchanged.
Birth rates are up, even though death rates are down, imperfectly netting themselves out to a healthy market full of people increasingly regularly popping off, so this lucrative trade is only getting more lucrative.
It's amazing what we'll spend in life over short periods, but it's extraordinary what we can spend in death. Private school fees pale by comparison in the moment.
There's that feeling when occasionally you get a twenty grand credit card bill, and give yourself a good hard talking to that next month there needs to be some serious economising. After all, repeatedly spending more per month than you earn is unfortunately a bad idea, so you have to economise.
With death riding roughshod over my credit card shortly after Jude's death, I comfortably put up a 'five' in front of a five digit bill one month.
"Hoohoohoo, whaah... What the... Fuck me, you big spender."
- My brain
But that month I really did not begrudge a cent flying out of my wallet, and did not give myself a good hard talking to. Honestly, my brain was reasonably thinking elsewhere, and decided it did not give a fuck about finances. This dying business was clearly expensive, so I accepted it, didn't begrudge it, nor felt guilty about it.
First up, there was a hole in the ground.
Many, many years ago I clearly recall having a conversation with Judy about cremation versus burial. It was a very long time ago, and one of those conversations that you have when you're full of life, and at a very early stage in your relationship. You know, things like discussing how many kids you want, analysing why the ex is the ex, and how many exes there are, cat vs. dog and other philosophical stuff. I think we were less than a year into our soulmate-ship, possibly not even married yet when the burial conversation happened. With all of life's problems solved, and having worked out that both of us were not psychos, we left all that youthful voiced philosophy, sentiment and disclosure well behind, and well and truly got the fuck on with our life.
We didn't discuss funeral desires recently at all, which should be considered odd, because it should have been the time to discuss it. After all, having a terminal illness gives you a really fucking good reason to do so. In fact, I reckon it gives you licence to say whatever the fuck you want. Yet, in my mind, to do so would not have been good for either of our heads, because according to our attitude Judy wasn't going anywhere, right up until her last laboured breath and my first laboured howl in the surprise of being without her.
So we didn't.
Anyway, we both knew what each other desired, and what the other would do, so why repeat out loud what we already knew so very well? (Desired is wholly the wrong word, though.)
So in deciding this first funeral arrangement, I fell back on that early discussion of cremation giving us the heebie-jeebies, with us both far preferring (again, as if a preference would make things any better in that circumstance), a gentler return to this Earth from whence we had sprung so youthfully, innocently, vigorously and, sadly not that many decades after our cremate-or-not conversation.
It wasn't a fiscal conversation way back when we were young. Finances didn't rate a mention back then, because ideals, distant future, and ignorance. It was purely a preference thing. If money had weighed in then a nice ceramic urn for one's toasted remains would have been the go.
A quality hole in the the ground turned out to be some of the most expensive real estate that I have encountered. Fuck me! It was on par with Toorak per square metre (a local toffy suburb) without even being close to designer shops or transport.
Box Hill Cemetery was a great choice by our two lads, made with unbelievably heavy hearts, forced to grow up to thinking about such things well beyond their years. It transpired that for them Melbourne General was not desired, despite it being the resting place of quite a few politically agreeable Prime Ministers, there was nasty parking for visiting often. Springvale was too far away, and too big, and way too impersonal. Their choice was well thought through, and perfect. Reasonably close to home, yet with an intangible small-ish, family-ish feeling.
When we got there it was a surreal shopping experience.
Despite buying land, there was no real estate agent trying to talk anything up, and 'crunch' us, in a cheap suit and fancy-ish car. There was no expatiating on close views of the grassy central circle, mausoleum at its centre, the amenity of a huge stand of trees shading at a respectful distance, yet too far away to mess up your grave with roots, plus how about the great city views whilst being surrounded by ancient and tasteful monuments, with a sense of history and chirping birds.
Instead, a quiet and respectful lass guided Seb, Al and I on a tour of available sites, offering occasional gentle words, voiced in such a way that they did not elicit nor require any response. She was perfect for the situation. She did mention the birds, though.
"Birds. I don't like birds. They carry disease and shit on your car."
The reality was that it was a final resting place for my soulmate and the best mother that my boys and I were searching for, so I truly appreciated our agent's unobtrusive approach to sales, despite bird chirp talk. When we found the spot, it felt just "right". It didn't need to be sold.
For my cash, I received transferable and perpetual rights to dig down to three bodies depth, including bonus internment of several sets of ashes above. I elected at the time to gently place Judy at eight feet, forfeiting one spot, making room for just one more to nestle in with her in future, for me to also gently return to mother Earth. That should make my burial good value, holed up with my super spunk, bringing our bodies together for forever whenever the time comes, symbolically marking the start of our spirits dancing together eternally in the afterlife, if that exists.
And all GST and Stamp Duty free, would you believe it? Finally, a way to beat the taxman.
Despite being free from Government clip, it was still an expensive start to my encounter with this business of dying, yet later viewed as a currency drop in a seeming ocean. It was also the first, and last tax free item.
Then on to funeral director choice.
I started with absolutely no idea who to engage. The hospital offered up a suggestion, but within days a strong Ansett Airlines "family" connection to another company became clear.
After the fall of Ansett, most of the flight attendants laid off, including Judy found new careers in all sorts of places: real estate, the prison system, home decorating, policing, celebrants for weddings, other airlines and more, including the death industries. There was quite a move it seemed to White Lady Funerals.
I met with Sue initially, and warmed to her. She was supremely respectful initially, but it didn't take long for a wicked smile like Dawn French's to be revealed, where you could see her zest for life with every grin and sparkle in her eye, despite her industry choice. Jude would have fucking loved her, and in cheerier circumstances probably would have invited her round to the Hutch in our backyard for a barbeque. So a funeral director choice ended up being a no-brainer, despite the whole galvanising White Lady "hat" thing.
And a casket choice? It had to be a rich mahogany red cedar casket to compliment Judy's blazing red lips, so also a no-brainer. Plus, beautiful blazing red lips deserve bloody good handles, don't they?
As it became clear that Judy's send off would be attended by a sizeable crowd of family, friends and coworkers, the choices of venue for the occasion shrank to a tiny handful. The Chapel at the Victoria Police Academy would have been perfect, because it's huge, and with Judy being a serving member of Victoria Police would have been at no cost, but it was being used for a major memorial service on that day. A fortuitous alternative was snagging the main hall at Box Hill Town Hall, with it being quite near to the Box Hill Cemetery, and close to the wake venue for after.
Their beautiful space was a steal at $1,195.
By now the credit card must have been groaning a bit.
And a celebrant.
Should you call them a celebrant at a funeral? Technically yes, and I know the whole process is billed as a celebration of a life, but let's run with "officiator", yeah?
Known to Jude, and many of her friends who were ex. Ansett Airlines, Elizabeth, a registered celebrant/officiator stepped up whole heartedly after being contacted by one of Jude's mates. This was family, after all.
The amazing deal was that if I tried to pay her a cent she would not accept the job. I grudgingly, but gratefully accepted.
$0.00 for that, plus GST, heh, heh, and a heartfelt thank you for a brilliant job, Liz.
During and not long after Judy's funeral service there were over one thousand views of its live stream over the Internet, arranged by Belinda Jane Video. I'm most glad I ticked that box. It was an investment that was worth every penny. Not only could way more folks be involved in her send off, both in Australia and abroad (these Ansett peeps spread themselves around), but myself and my extended family could remember it by the recording. I've viewed it many times over, holed up in the Hutch alone, each time with tears pouring down my face, but with a feeling of a job well done.
It was quite a production, with multiple camera angles, a few videographers, sound desk, audio/visual set up, post-production editing, pre-production tribute assembly, memorial card drafting and printing, and more.
A bargain at $1,405.
The wake at the Box Hill Pavilion was a small stroll from the cemetery.
This piss up with Patties party pies and chicken sandwiches made to Jude's exacting recipe was so well attended that I had none of either. The pies and sambos were hoovered down by a throng of Jude's mates before I got within cooee, and God bless. I had to work with the contingent warmed up frozen quiches the Pavilion had pre-conditioned me with after having encouraged catering for a wholly inadequate three hundred. They had no idea of the crowd drawing super spunk that they were dealing with.
For drinkies there was Kooyong Estate Chardonnay, Jude's absolute favourite, made perfect by her by floating precisely two ice cubes in the glass, which I made perfect at the time by doing precisely that. Many cases had made their way to the venue, but not many bottles came home. $1,732 from Dan Murphy.
Her wake was heaving, with me being mobbed and not able to make it fifteen feet inside the front door for about an hour. God bless you wonderful humans. I bloody love you. Jude does, too.
I lost count of the cost of the venue and food, with it being somewhere between $6,000 and $8,000, but I do recall dropping a two grand bar tab on top of that and the Chardy.
And many months later came the olive in the martini, the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, and final piece in laying my beautiful soulmate, and mother to our twin sons to rest: Her gravesite monument.
Designing and building this earth covering couldn't be rushed. It will be there forever, so it needed to be right. It had to be granite of a beautiful earthy red tone to perfectly compliment her Lancôme 183N emblazoned lips, with which she will lay in quiet and undisturbed repose. In my minds eye it needed to be a near match to the beautiful red mottled stone which she chose for our kitchen benches.
It had to be contemporary, and striking, and traditional all at the same time, and an original and unique design. And it needed a headstone able to be added to, with me having a reserved spot there, too, but the design couldn't speak "oh, yeah, here's some space for your bloke's lettering", as was so obvious with many twin designs I saw.
Money doesn't buy you happiness, they say, but it bought her a monument fit for the princess that she is, and that makes me happy.
$5 grand deposit. You don't want to know what it cost, and I don't care.
It was installed a couple of days ago. On that day, as I approached the site while the sun cast its last light of the day, a group of school children on their way home were standing at her grave in silence, admiring this latest, and I think perfect addition to their route home through the cemetery grounds.
I stood at its foot, and gasped with delight and renewed sadness. Through tears, I felt relief that my angel had been finally fully laid to rest.
Whatever all this cost, it doesn't hurt at all.
My princess was priceless, after all.