My grandmother died last week. It was definitely time, over the last twelve years she had sunk into the depths of dementia, and for at least five of those years she was barely there at all. We all wanted her to go, and were surprised at how sad we felt when she finally did.
When I was little, Marj used to create elaborate treasure hunts down at Shell Beach, the paradise on the tip of South Australia's York Peninsula, where we went camping every summer. She gave me warm flannel nighties for my birthday. She made me a narrated tape of music to listen to when I went to bed (everything from Swan Lake to Cockeyed Optimist). Our relationship was often complicated - our politics didn't exactly mix (she was a prominent Scientologist), and we clashed quite a bit, particularly when I was a teenager.
Her funeral was last Friday. She wanted it to be outside, and outside it was, even though it rained the whole time. People told funny stories - like the time when she escaped from her nursing home and walked in through some stranger's back door, putting the kettle on for tea. People cried a little bit. Dad reminded us that she voted for the Greens one year, and Pauline Hanson the next (who he described as 'someone to the right of Genghis Khan'), and blamed that particular phase of Marj's life on her Alzheimer's. Of course the next person to stand up and speak was a One Nation member and Scientologist, with a black eye patch that made him look like a Bond villain. My family is a bit weird sometimes.
The best bit of the funeral was when we had a moment to listen to some of her favourite classical music, after all the eulogies. We sat in silence, and then my uncle Howie sprang up with his red and white striped umbrella and danced around the coffin in the rain. Marj was a dancer, before she got married. Howie is a dancer too. He leapt around and twirled and tossed his umbrella aside and let water pour down his face. We were all a bit undone after that. The funeral director (who was a little bit like Murray from Flight of the Conchords) said he'd never seen anything like it. I think we made his day. I was a pallbearer (the only girl). We took her coffin up to the car, and escorted it off the property, as Howie danced before us, flinging petals at the hearse like it was a wedding car.
This last photo is my favourite one of her - when she was a teenager. It's so timeless and dreamy - it could have been taken yesterday.