A Funeral (August 2019)

My friend Josie passed away recently. Today I went to her funeral. It was a special occasion. It was obvious that Josie had been a special friend to many.

I knew Josie from Tai Chi. She had been a tutor for the Beginners’ Class, which I had gone back to and attended for a time, until I was stung by guilt to move on to Continuing One. Others advised me that I should be in the more advanced class, and there was a waiting list for Beginners. Part of the reason that I stayed was sheer laziness: Beginners’ Class was easier, there was no form work: we did lots of walking to Tai Chi (reduced in later classes), the Flexibility and Balance Set, and then, after a break, some more balancing and breathing exercises and the Lotus Qi Gong. Afterwards some of us would have coffee and something to eat at Kaizen Cafe. This was how I got to know Josie. All the tutors at Tai Chi are wonderful, but Josie was very special.

Josie had a beautiful smile, and she was very accepting and welcoming. We spoke about travel. She had traveled much alone. I was to learn much more about her at her funeral.

After I moved into Continuing One Tai Chi, I learnt from a friend that Josie was unwell. I had known that she had reduced lung capacity. Then recently I learnt that she was dependent on oxygen, although she still maintained her Tai Chi relaxation and breathing techniques. So, while it was sad to learn that she had died, it was not unexpected. It turned out that Josie was almost 75 when she died at Wellington Hospital, where she had been for about two weeks.

It was special to be able to attend her funeral, which (conveniently for me) was a few days after her death, and was to be held at St John’s Anglican Church in Bassett Road, Johnsonville. Thankfully there was to be a Christian funeral.

The beautiful church was full by the time the service began at 12. Josie’s brother introduced himself to me when I arrived. For a long time I knew nobody there, but there were several Tai Chi folk whom I spoke to afterwards.

What a nice funeral service it was. We sang The Lord is My Shepherd, and Praise My Soul. The text was 1 Corinthians 13, (the whole chapter) which we also had at Alfred’s wedding: “Love is always kind…” I thought about how these things are so much more meaningful for me now…”when I was a child….I reasoned as a child”. There was a lovely reading from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 5, scene 2, culminating in “The readiness is all”. Generally speaking, we cannot determine the time of our birth, or our death. There was a beautiful prayer in Tokelauan.

There were four wonderful tributes, and we were told there would be an opportunity for further tributes over refreshments in the Hall next door, after the funeral service.

During the tributes and afterwards, I learnt a great deal more than I had previously known about Josie. She had been to Wellington Girls’ College, ( a few years before me, so our paths had not crossed), she spoke French and Italian, and got 1st Class Honours in her MA in English Literature. Unlike me, she had got a scholarship to Oxford to Lady Margaret Hall. She had also lived in France for several years, and in India, where she held a senior position with the ILO. She also loved books. At WGC she had been head prefect and proxime accessit to the dux.

She had no children of her own but inherited six step-children when she married her Greek husband in the 70’s (six weeks after they met). He was several years older than her, and died well before she did. Her step-daughter, Jane, who had flown over from England for the funeral, spoke most movingly about her and her affection for Josie. She spoke of Josie being more like a big sister than a stepmother. Josie’s husband was buried in a double plot in France, where she was going to join him in death, but when one of her step sons died, Josie gave up the plot for him so that he could be buried with his father. That was an example of her generosity.

The only person with anything negative to say about her was one of her nephews. He spoke about his reluctance to see tourist attractions in Vatican City when he was in Rome with his family – he just wanted to practise guitar in his hotel room. Josie got a bit cross with him and said that he really should visit the Sistine Chapel and other famous sights in the Vatican Museums that she and his parents wanted him to see! This person was a member of Shihad!

Then there were several prayers, culminating in the Commendation and The Committal. There was to be a private cremation later.

After the service, we went to the Hall next door, where there was lots of food, tea, coffee, juice, water, wine and beer. This occasion was MC’d by a Scottish gentleman, who did a great job. He had a loud speaking voice, and was very good indeed at getting everyone involved and ensuring they felt comfortable. First there was a Scottish Grace, then we were invited to get something to eat and drink, before further tributes and songs took place. I had been reluctant to go to the Hall for refreshments, but I’m pleased that I did.

There was a rush to get more chairs out so that everyone could sit down. Then there were several more tributes. We were all encouraged to join in with the Grace, with singing songs, this culminating in a saying a Scottish toast, and then drinking to Josie.

After this I said some goodbyes and left, meeting JD in Johnsonville. I am so pleased that I went – eschewing scrabble, a film in Khandallah, singing in Karori, and a film festival movie. What a wealth of things to do! I am happy with the choice I made.

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