Today was my grandmother’s funeral. Well, my step-grandmother. But seeing as my actual grandmother died when I was two years old, Rose may as well have been it. She was a quiet Swiss-German woman, adept at knitting and sewing, as well as making delicious rösti. She had two sons, Richard and Victor, but Richard died when he was in his early twenties. She was married to my grandfather for around 20 years (I think), but Victor didn’t get on with Papa especially well, so we never became close to my step-uncle and -cousins.
Anyway, after my grandfather died in 1999, we gradually saw less and less of Rose. She lived in Hornsby; it was quite difficult to get there on a regular basis, and also it was always filled with a kind of desolate sadness going to the house where Papa had lived and having nothing to talk about. As I said, she was a very quiet, reserved woman and this was heightened following a stroke she had. She started speaking a mixture of English and German, and would ramble on about people we had never met. But the one good thing was that after Papa died, her son Victor and his family became close to her again and really brought her back into their fold. She absolutely loved her little great-grandchildren, and I think the last few years of her life were happy and full of love, even though she was sick a lot.
She was a faithful Catholic, so the service at the Macquarie Park Cemetery was a Catholic one, arranged by her son and his family. And it felt very strange to me. The chapel had the coffin in the middle, a little spotlit statue of Jesus on one side, and a little spotlit statue of Mary on the other. The priest was disorganised and spoke with a very thick accent so was hard to understand, but I don’t think we missed much; the parts of his homily I did pay attention to were irritating, self-absorbed and seemed to me completely pointless. He spent half the time talking about himself and his own mother who had died a couple of years ago, and there was hardly any reference to Rose. He got the family’s names wrong, and stumbled over very familiar Bible passages. He talked about how although Rose belonged to God, we still had to pray for her soul because we didn’t know whether she was with him or not – and that made me mad. We said the Lord’s Prayer, but stopped before “The kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever, amen”, (which is apparently what Catholics do but it still angered me). By the time he closed in prayer and asked us to pray for the people in the cemetery, I was ready to throw something at him.
There was no singing. No eulogy. There was a slideshow of photos with Ave Maria playing over the top of it, and the thing I thought curious was that there was hardly any reference to my grandfather or our family. If I had wondered what they thought of us before, I had no doubt now; there was one photo of Rose and Papa together – and this is a couple that was married for two decades! I think mum and I were in there too as we had been at Rose’s 80th birthday, but there was no reference to anyone else from the Shearer family. Interesting.
Still, afterwards I went up to her son and gave him a hug, said I was sorry for his loss and if they needed help with the house or anything to let me know. He smiled and squeezed my arm and said “well yes, likewise, let us know if we can help you. She was family to all of us.”
As we were leaving the cemetery, my brother and I found ourselves behind the priest who had taken the service. His numberplate was ‘PRIE5T’. Says it all, really.
I was very fond of Rose and loved her. I remember staying at their place as a kid and pottering around in the garden with her. I remember going on walks down to the national park at the end of their street with her and Papa. I remember reading a book she had about the Swiss children living in the Alps and always wondering about the country she had come from. I remember that she loved me and my mum, and that we had a special place in her heart.
She was a special woman, and she loved God and was faithful to him. No matter what that priest said, there’s no need to pray for her soul (as if that would make the slightest shred of difference!) because I think she is with God now. And that’s a wonderful place to be.