My Dear Friend,
Today we stood rocking your great grandsons under the peppercorn tree outside the Woorndoo church while I listened to my girls deliver the eulogy at your funeral. I have never felt more connected to you than at that moment. In their words, your grand daughters captured beautifully the essence that was you and I felt comforted by the warmth of our shared pride in them.
The minister made a remark about a door being opened and remarkably the door of the church suddenly did just that. Some may have found that eerie but I wasn't surprised. I felt your presence keenly. You were just letting everyone know you're still in charge!
You were my oldest friend, a stable influence in my life since I was a little girl. Our relationship existed on many levels at different times. You were my mother's friend, my friend's mother, my mother in law, my ex mother in law, my children's grandmother but always, my friend.
I was a little bit scared of you as a child. It took me awhile to realise that your bark was worse than your bite. From my cosseted, only-child perspective, your rules were tough but I learnt to live with them because I loved being part of your big, rambunctious family. I loved the bickering and horse play and shared chores. I loved the routine of it; poached eggs for breakfast and a teaspoon of tea for each person and one for the pot.
When I married your son I became a bona fide member of the family and our relationship took a new turn. As a young farmer's wife I was in awe of your ability to manage a household, cook 3 meals a day and smoko for 6 or 8 or 10 or more without raising a sweat, all the while keeping the bench tops sparkling and the floors clean enough to eat off. In hindsight I can only imagine how difficult it was for you to put up with my messiness when I moved into your pristine former home.
We shared many cups of tea and the occasional glass of sherry during the long, lonely Summer harvests. I learnt how to keep the house cool in the heat, to be thrifty with water, how to cook mutton in 57 different ways and to never leave the fly wire open. I learned that the key to cleanliness is that shoes MUST ALWAYS be removed at the door and I discovered that if you really want something done, you should do it yourself. I watched you chop the heads off chickens, kill snakes and knock holes in the wall. We learnt to respect each other's strengths. We shared secrets and played cards and laughed a lot.
And then I became a mother myself and you, a doting but no nonsense grandmother. You never once tried to interfere with my bumbling parenting (though I'm sure you felt like it!) Instead you praised me and gave me the confidence I needed to do a good job. When my own mum died, you cleaned my house, cooked all the food for the wake, looked after Jaime and cradled me like a baby until I had the strength to look after myself again.
As your brother said to me today, "With Leila, you were either in, or out." I was lucky enough to be 'in' and stayed that way even when I broke your heart. Divorce may have seen me 'unfriended' by lots of people, but not by you. While you hated my decision, you understood it. Our family ties wavered but our friendship stood firm. Your decision to keep me 'in' allowed my new family and my old family to blend together. You gave my girls the gift of unity, never forcing them to choose between their parents. You were happy to 'rouse' my new husband and son just the way you roused your own. Today your new daughter in law took my hand at the cemetery and we said goodbye to you together. If that's not testament to your ability to bring people together, nothing is.
We disagreed about politics, religion, technology and feminism and whether or not lipstick was mandatory when leaving the house! You were black and white while I always live in the grey but we agreed on the things that count most; love and loyalty. I'm sad that we won't be able to share any more conversations, but I'm happy for you that you're no longer stuck in that little room waiting to move on. I know your energy still exists; I saw it today in the faces of all your gorgeous grown up grandchildren and your ever increasing brood of great grand children.
Thank you for being my friend.
Love, Ann(e) xxx