FOLLOWING THE DEATH of her elderly father, a close friend of mine recently asked if I would read a poem by Goethe at his funeral. I didn’t know the man well. In fact, I had met him only once, seated in my friend’s car on a Fitzroy street on a sunny day several years ago. What struck me about him at the time was the mischievous smile he wore and the youthful sparkle in his eyes. I felt honoured to be invited to share in the celebration of his life. Although my friend is near a generation younger than me, we are very close. I have known her since she was a shy but determined young person. She has since become an advocate for the rights of Indigenous people in Australia and the South Pacific. She is thoughtful and kind and fierce whenever the situation requires a ‘warrior woman’.
The funeral service took place at a community hall in the Dandenong Ranges, east of Melbourne. Family and friends of the man who had passed spoke, sang and prayed (in their own way) about the remarkable life of a person who had survived the ravages of war-torn Europe, the loss of loved ones, separation from family and an eventual migration to Australia, where he fell in love, raised a family and continued his lifelong passion for the natural world. Before I left home for the funeral service, my wife, Sara, asked me, ‘Will you be okay?’ My younger brother had died suddenly only weeks earlier, and I remained grief-stricken by the experience of finding him in the small government flat where he’d lived for two decades. I answered Sara’s question with a dismissive, ‘I’ll be fine.’
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