Zuzu with her mum, in Darwin.

Thoughts on a funeral and love

Today is 15 years to the day since I spoke the eulogy at my daughter, Zuzu’s funeral. She was eight years old, nine that September had she lived that long, she had died two weeks previously.

I’m sitting at home in my little office with its view of a quiet, suburban street in York during what is I hope the first and only wave of Covid-19. I’m listening to Verdi’s Requiem until the rain in Manchester desists and the cricket begins again. I’m calm. I’ve just spoken with my ex-wife, Zuzu’s mother, who lives in Sydney with her new husband. We speak a few times a year, just checking in, just making sure we’re both ok.

Fifteen years used to be a long time when we were young. It’s longer than Zuzu’s entire life. It’s longer than eternity. Next year will be another eternity.

As I write this, it is around the time I was speaking a clumsy eulogy to a crematorium packed with people who had been touched by Zuzu’s brief life. Two week’s previously, on a chilly Sydney morning, I had discovered her body in her bed when I came into wake her up.

Today, however, is today. It is an anniversary not the actual event, or rather a compression of events. Today is less than those events, it is not even a simulacrum. It is a navigation marker in an ocean of time. It’s not a lifeboat. I could, if I chose to, ignore it. There is some solace in the possibility of that choice, solace but not hope. Those two things are different and appear at different times in grief. I’ve learned that much. Solace, like any form comfort, dissipates though. There’s also something terrifying in that. Hope, on the other hand can kill you but it won’t let you kill yourself. Getting hope – a dream of the future – from grief takes more time.

Those events included finding her body in her bed, visiting the morgue, then the police station to be interviewed, the morgue again, the pub, the funeral planning, choosing the smallest of coffins, choosing which dress to lie her down in, the pub, the pub, writing the eulogy, the funeral, speaking the eulogy, the final kiss goodbye, the reception, the pub after the reception in town with close friends and family, the day after the funeral, the week after the funeral, the month after the funeral.

Those after-periods when the energy required by everybody concerned was gone, they were swamps and also deserts of lost, meaningless time that had to be filled with something. I chose work and drinking because strength was gone, and I’ve never been heroic. I don’t have the jawline.

I wasn’t, I’ve remembered this year, a movie-ready paragon of virtuous grief after we slid her into the flames and carried her ashes home. Truth be told, and what’s the point of this otherwise, I fell into bottle after bottle for a while. Unlike before, when I’d learned a great deal about living a decent life, I was living alone with no childcare duties any more. I only had me to consider, and I didn’t consider me worth the breath for a long while.

Even now, my dreams around this time of year – and my waking thoughts if I’m not circumspect – are often tattered by the still-exploding shrapnel of those days.

So, I stop writing for a while. I breathe in and out slowly. Listen to some cricket at last. Normal life. I take a sip of tea.I look out of the window, I shake my shoulders and place my hands on each side of the keyboard. I look at a picture of me and Zu’ at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.

Taronga Zoo

I’m wearing a pale, linen suit. My hair and beard are dark, not yet grey. Zuzu is dressed in a red dress, speckled with white. I’d cut her hair the day before. Probably too short, but it’s hot in Sydney. The picture reminds me that I wish could cut her hair again. She giggled as I was messing it up. She didn’t care. It made her cooler, and she had no vanity. Never, vanity and self-consciousness were not in her being.

In the picture at the wedding of some friends. It’s hot, and Zuzu has seen her first ever giraffe, her first and last elephant. She’s sitting on my knee, holding my thumb. My other hand is holding hers. You can see her cerebral palsy by the way she tries to look at the camera. Her mouth is open because her muscles worked that way. It’s a hot day. The person behind the camera is my ex-wife. The expression on my face says, “She’s exhausted, we should go”.

I imagine today, an anniversary, as a marker, a buoy floating in the ocean of passing days. It is lessened by the absence of Zuzu.

Every so often I feel that every day is diminished.

However, sense, love and rationality tell me that feeling does no good for her, for me, for her mother or for any of those many people, her friends and carers, who packed the crematorium fifteen years ago today. That feeling simply tangles life in loss, self-pity, everlasting grief and despair.

That is no kind of memorial to the little girl who I took to the zoo and who saw the elephant and the giraffe for the first and last time in her life. That is a rewriting of my own history. It is a monument to wasted time, energy and love. Wasting love is a criminal thing to do to anyone let alone your own daughter.

So, today, I chose to remember Zuzu and everything that came as part of her life. Unlike last year though, today is a quiet day of contemplation and weighing my life and hers in the balance.

Next year will be different again. And the year after that, and the year after that. But I’m still a long way from making the choice to overlook this anniversary. I’ll take the chance, instead, to re-examine it and see what new meanings are hidden there.

Because I’ll always have had Zuzu in my life. She made it better. That’s love. What a lucky old sod I am.