Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Farewell Auntie Merle

On Friday we drove up to Shepparton for my Auntie Merle's funeral. She died on Feb 8 aged 79 and although it was a shock to hear she had died it was not really unexpected. I hadn't seen her for over a year but Pop had been to visit her twice when he was down for Christmas and she had said to him she was ready to go. In fact she even said she wanted to go, and perhaps having seen her brother for "the last time" she had ticked off a final item on her bucket list?
I was very glad that Dad had seen her recently and spent some good time with her because due to a clash of scheduling he was unable to come down from Queensland for the funeral. The day before he had the final operation to reverse his stoma and remove the colostomy bag after a 12 month battle with cancer.Every indication so far is that the surgery was successful and Dad is on the way back to good health. 

The funeral was held at the Salvation Army church in Shepp and I thought it was a lovely service. 
Dad had written a eulogy for his sister and asked me to deputize for him which I was honoured to do. When I walked in and saw the flowers on the coffin I suddenly remembered he had also asked me to get a bunch of flowers on his behalf!! Thankfully there was a florist not far away and I had time to go and get some but....it was Valentine's day!! Busiest day on the florist's calendar!! There were masses of red roses and romantically intentioned customers everywhere but I found a couple of lovely bunches of native orchids and the girl arranged them for me while I wrote a card and within 5 minutes I was back at the church and all set. 
I was able to set up Mrs Holt Press' ipad to record the service so that Dad can watch it later, along with Vicki who just missed getting back from her Pacific island cruise in time to make it to the funeral. 
More importanly, my cousin Kathy and her husband were able to cut short their trip to Thailand and get back in time.

I delivered the eulogy on dad's behalf and managed to keep my emotions in check, something he had feared he would be unable to do if he'd been there himself. He had written a beautiful tribute to his beloved sister and several people commented on it later.

I was followed by my cousin Geoff who spoke on behalf of Auntie Merle's kids and family and he did a fantastic job, painting a really lovely and complete picture of his Mum. Towards the end his emotions swelled up and tears flowed and it was a poignant tender moment of love and sadness.

Then came a beautiful powerpoint presentation of photos of Auntie Merle's life accompanied by her favourite songs. It was great to see pictures of her with so many people she loved and was loved by. There were many pictures of her with Dad and they were always smiling and happy together. Dad had written that apart from early childhood when they didn't always like one another, the remaining 60+ years of their relationship had been one of harmony and love, with no recollection of any argument or conflict between them. That showed in the photos.

Straight after the service came one of the highlights of the day for me. An old couple approached me and the man introduced himself as Danny Delaney.
I was stunned. I had only ever heard the name and hadn't realized he was even still alive.
"The legendary Danny Delaney" I replied!
Danny was my Dad's mate (cousin) when they were kids, living at Dixon's Creek (?). There are photos of them together as young boys and I've heard stories of some of their exploits but to meet him in the flesh was wonderful. He grasped my hand warmly and said how pleased he was to hear that Pop's operation had been successful and that he was doing well in recovery. I felt transported to another time and place and euphoric and touched and amazed all at the same time, as if a character in a favourite book had suddenly come to life and appeared off the page in the flesh. The only disappointment was that we had to adjourn to the cemetery for the burial and I didn't get to see Danny and his wife again, I would love to have talked to him some more and heard some of his stories and memories.
(When I told Dad about this encounter he too was moved and promised that once he moves down to Victoria we would go and visit Danny. I can't wait.)

The cemetery was a long way out of town and if I hadn't been following the hearse I'd have questioned whether we were going the right way but sure enough we eventually got there and a brief burial and committal was held in the lovely surrounds. Auntie Merle was buried alongside her beloved late husband Harold.

We then returned to town for refreshments at the Parkdale Hotel and it was great to catch up with family and friends I hadn't seen in a long time. In fact I was shocked, and a little ashamed, to realise that I hadn't seen my cousins Geoff and Julie in 40 years!!!! The Holt and Gallagher kids were inseparable every school holidays when we stayed at Nanny's place in Nathalia. The Gallaghers lived next door and the holidays were always full of adventures and games and family fun together. How had we let 40 years pass without seeing one another?
(I had seen John plenty of times during that period and Kathy and I had hung out a bit as young adults as well as a visit to her place when Dad was down about 12 months ago).

We resolved not to let so much time and distance pass again without seeing one another and began discussing future Holt-Gallagher get-togethers and reunions. I look forward to them already and considering that so many of us now live, or will be living back in Victoria it will be a lot easier to organize.

I enjoyed meeting several of my cousins' kids for the first time too, especially Bec who had come down from Queensland. She was very close to her Nan and has written posts on Auntie Merle's blog a number of times to keep people informed about her health and eventually her passing.
Dad has some lovely photos of Auntie Merle on his blog, Holtieshouse too.

The other BIG news is that not only has Pop bought a house in Geelong but just a week after putting his house in Gympie on the market it has sold and at a higher price than he'd hoped for! The move is well and truly on now. In fact, Alan and I are flying up to Queensland next week to help with the packing and preparation. I've been commissioned to run a BIG garage sale to help dispose of all Dad's unwanted stuff prior to him moving. 


Peter said...

Well Writ Marcus, Thank you for your help with Aunty Merle's farewell, wish I could have been there but we can only do what we can do.

Meow (aka Connie) said...

Thanks, Marcus, for writing about this. I was lucky enough to have met Merle on a couple of occasions, and thought she was an amazing lady. I'm sad that she's gone, and that I hadn't seen her for a few years. But, I am pleased that her farewell was such a beautiful reflection on her life. She will be greatly missed by many. Take care, Connie :)