I’ve been absent for several reasons – limited internet access, family health, my health and, most recently, two funerals.
The first was my grandmother’s. Her name was Challis Barling and she was 87. She was loving and generous, one of those proper North Shore ladies who on occasion cheerfully let her guard down and revealed her country upbringing. She had been involved with Red Cross and Lifeline and Meals on Wheels for decades, she gathered people into her orbit. She was sensible and selfless and never saw the reason to say ‘why me’ – though she had been widowed, her older son had vanished in the Andes, her daughter nearly died of a bone infection, her second husband was sick for a year and then died and her younger son first brought over an American bride to whom it took the family a little while to warm (until, as she told my mother, “I’ve seen how happy you’ve made my son”), and then was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and couldn’t go to the funeral because, physically, we could not get him to Sydney. She had also – and I must have forgotten this when I was reading Cryptonomicon – been a cryptography clerk at Macarthur’s Brisbane headquarters during WWII and had decoded the message that the battle of the Coral Sea was on. She also had a strong and enduring faith, and that was reflected back by all who spoke at the service, even those who did not share it. And there were so many people at her funeral in Sydney last Wednesday – from the minister who got choked up because he had known her since he and his wife first came to the parish to her quiet gardener and the hairdresser who used to open after hours for her and said it had been a beautiful funeral for a beautiful lady, but he had to run because he had left someone under the dryer.
On Thursday my mother, my younger sister and I flew back to Brisbane and spent the evening visiting my father where he was in respite care. The next day I went to work and read my email to find out that Kris Hembury had died.
Kris was a writer, past president of Vision Writers (of which I am current president because of a reverse-coup staged by Kris). He was my age – only two months younger – and was vibrant, clever, witty, never passed up a pun, wise, a keen critiquer, a mad fan, someone who, as was said at his service today, not only connected with people but connected people to each other. He had won writing awards, had started investigating screenplays and had started another degree and work on a novel and was still emailing the list with schemes in spite of the frustrations caused by his malfunctioning email. He died of aggressive bronchial pneumonia and his funeral was today. It was very well attended and an announcement was made by Fantastic Queensland which I will let them announce officially first. It was beautiful to see so many people who had known and loved him gathered around his family – a family that was clearly used to having a house full of people of all ages who loved Kris, both in life and death.