Kimba Griffith

Solitary Islands

The woman died in her mobile home, alongside the
upper reaches of a river that tumbled
clean from the mountain above.
Her family gathered for a funeral in the midst of pandemic,
the clearing surrounded by spreading willows and gums –
a stark contrast
to a whole world closing in on itself

I came to offer ceremony, one we planned by phone
Unsteady on the wet grass, unsteady too having missed the
chance to bear witness
to the weight and heft of grief
its form as it moved through a family,
Lacking a map of faces, the language of laden glances;
the silences where sadness snagged in those old worn places

The day threatened rain
Her neighbours in this caravan park trailed the hearse.
Someone precious was gone and they wanted to gather.
And here I stood ready to:
stop them/turn them back/Citing new laws/warnings/
regulations/a new normal/
“Ten mourners only,” I breathed the words out like a song

A palpable sense of tongue-biting, rattled breathing and
wistfulness reared up between us. Me, the stranger turning up
and started saying how it was
and them,
the ones who’d lost a mate

Some wore suits.
You could tell they hadn’t been worn in years.
The wearers trailed away to the far edges away, tugging on
their collars.
Ten lonely chairs were placed before the coffin, each one a
solitary island.

The one speaker addressed his words to her coffin, his simple
turn of phrase weaving gold into the cracks her sudden
passing left splintered and open. On those little islands of
sorrow, the solitary mourners rocked, clasping themselves,
their aches

The woman’s sister rose to approach the coffin, and as she did the grief rose
a sudden whitecap
a moan snatched to a whisper.
“It isn’t real, this isn’t real,” she whispered.

It was as real as when I laid her in that box myself. Cold and beautiful and gone.

As the mourners slipped away I noticed the man in his
wrinkled suit, edging closer.
A hasty Windsor knot clutched at his throat, his mouth set
hard, but cheeks wet.

We locked eyes, and I nodded. He wandered up to the coffin,
and without touching it he leaned forward.

“Goodbye duck, you were one of the best. Goodbye now.”

I felt a lot of resonance with this publication as I have worked as a death doula and sat with the dying, most recently when my father died after a long battle with cancer. In my work as a funeral director, I have traversed many kinds of deaths and farewells, including working with people who have chosen euthanasia, and want to plan their deathcare in advance.