a photo of Box Hill Cemetery from the southwestern entranceYesterday, my family gathered at Box Hill Cemetery to inter my grandma’s ashes. The funeral itself was held back in September, but with the Covid-19 restrictions no more than ten mourners had been allowed to attend, and we wanted to delay the interment so more people would have the opportunity to pay their respects, if they wanted.

I still haven’t fully adjusted to the reality that she’s no longer with us, which I’m sure is a common sensation. It feels like not very long ago at all that I was visiting her in the hospital and chatting away about family history and world events and all kinds of things. We certainly had some differences, but there’s also a lot that I admire and remember fondly about her.

a grave plot with a small hole dug in it, with a basket of flowers and a photo of an elderly womanMy grandmother always kept herself very busy, both with church and community groups and a wide range of different crafts. She was a good cook, always baking her own bread rolls to eat. She was talented with a lot of different handcrafts, from sewing to weaving and knitting – perhaps her most “classic” project that I’ve heard about, the one that makes me go, “yup, that would be her,” is when she painstakingly saved all the fur she brushed off her long-haired cat over ages, spun it into wool, and made some kind of garment out of it (like a scarf, maybe). She was a fantastic gardener and could help plan out what could be done with things like front yards or large flowerbeds. She was also pretty good at rustic cabinet-making, and could knock up things like a bookshelf or a slide-out kitchen cupboard in an afternoon. Very hard-working and practical. She was also never one of those older people who acts all indignant that they might have to learn a new technology, like the internet or smartphones… I will say she didn’t have a natural aptitude for learning about these things, and especially as she got really old she could get pretty frustrated… but she’d always keep persisting because she understood it was important in this day and age. I sure hope I stay flexible and open to learning new things as I get old.

When I was younger, I also appreciated that she was one of those grown-ups who listened carefully to kids and took what we had to say seriously. Like if there was some vegetable I hated and didn’t want to eat, she’d ask me what I didn’t like about it so she could suggest some better alternatives (instead of, you know, just yelling at me to be grateful and eat what I’m given, which is how some adults react if a child ever expresses a food preference). Her house was always full of interesting gadgets I could experiment with. She was also a source of that kind of intergenerational knowledge, stories about what it was like to be young during the Depression or WW2, or even songs and storybooks and things that were popular when she was a kid, and fun skills that are kind of unfashionable now, like how to sing rounds.

It feels like a real shame that the Covid-19 restrictions meant none of us were allowed to visit her in her final months, and then prevented most of her friends and some of her family from attending either the funeral or the interment (or both). And while the cemetery itself was quite green and pretty, the family plot has clearly not been well-maintained, and the whole area was also pretty lonely and bereft of people – very different from what I observed in Latin America for example, where cemeteries are often full of families picnicking and kids playing, which helps to keep the dead alive in people’s hearts and minds and prevent people’s final resting places from becoming “depressing” places. I think I might’ve felt more content if Australia was more like this. But I guess, regardless of where her ashes have come to rest (and the cemetery is, honestly, a bit too far away for me to become the change I want to see in the world on this), we can still keep her memory alive through the way that we talk about her. And perhaps that’s the more important thing.