Our Son. the Organist and the Funeral.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

WH Auden: Funeral Blues

Revisiting the old photos of the kids playing the piano, reminded me of a hilarious anecdote from my grandmother’s funeral when my 5 year old son spoke with the organist.

“I remember I laughed so hard I cried. But my response was half appropriate, because I was at a funeral.”
― Jarod Kintz, This Book Has No Title

Funerals are funny things because, although there’s the obvious grief and solemnity but they also end up becoming something of a party. After all, you only ever seem to catch up with this veritable melange of family, friends and the outer layers of the onion on mass at weddings and funerals. So, there’s usually not only the opportunity to reflect on old memories, anecdotes and photographs but also create new ones. Something to recount at the next wedding, funeral or even over Christmas.

My Grandmother at the Australian Embassy in Washington, 1948.

My Grandmother at the Australian Embassy in Washington, 1948.

My grandmother, Eunice Gardiner, was an Internationally recognised concert pianist. So when it came to her funeral, my uncle arranged for Bernard Kirkpatrick, who had played the organ for the Pope’s Sydney visit in 2008 to play at the funeral. Although the funeral was only held at our family’s Parish Church, the organ had multiple layers of keys and really looked and sounded very impressive. This grandeur all culminated with the recessional, which was Bach’s Great Fugue in A minor. My grandmother had played its piano transcription at her London Debut at Wigmore Hall in 1937. Although the Parish organ wasn’t the Sydney Town Hall’s, the music truly was incredible, even ethereal.

Say not in grief that she is no more
but say in thankfulness that she was
A death is not the extinguishing of a light,
but the putting out of the lamp
because the dawn has come.
Rabindranath Tagore

Not unsurprisingly, 5 year old Mister was captivated by the organ and was just the sort of kid, funeral or no funeral, who would start tinkering on the keys. Afterwards, seeing his interest, the organist casually started talking to him, asking him whether he plays the piano. Given my grandmother’s career and reputation, I’m sure this was more along the lines of learning the piano. Mister, who couldn’t sit still and hadn’t had any formal lessons replies: “Yes”.

After all, at this point of time, he could do a fabulous imitation of someone playing the piano. He’d stick the music up and move his hands around the keyboard with almost professional skill without playing any notes. Sure, he might have showed a strong Liberace influence but he really did do an exceptional job.

However, contrary to his great ideas, that’s not actually “playing the piano”.

Anyway, his conversation with the organist is deepening and I was starting to feel just a little concerned.

“Would you like to play?” asks the organist.

Now, his father and I start choking, almost dying on the spot thinking about Mister letting loose on the mighty organ. As a 5 year old boy who made wild horses look restrained, anything could happen. I could just imagine all the mourners leaping out of their skin as the mighty organ let out some kind of almighty scream as it reacted to his touch.

Under the circumstances, it wouldn’t have surprised me at all if my dear grandmother had  leaped out of her coffin and whacked him over the knuckles with both walking sticks. Not that she’d actually do something like that but I do remember her feeling justifiably “concerned” when we were taking the obligatory Christmas photos  and the kids were rather rambunctious.

This photo was taken at Christmas Day 2006 right next to my poor Gran. You can see the edge of her skirt but she valued her privacy.

This photo was taken at Christmas Day 2006 right next to my poor Gran. You can see the edge of her skirt but I’ve respected her privacy.

However, in what was possibly the greatest surprise of his early years, Mister mysteriously declined the offer. It seemed that somewhere, deep inside our young man there was some discernment. This was the very same little boy who usually bolted in where angels (and the much more tentative Miss) feared to tread.


Perhaps, my grandmother did tap him on the shoulder after all.

You just never know.

Mister took my grandmother's obituary into class for news. Whiteboards in classrooms were quite a novelty at the time and it was so exciting that we could beam her obituary onto the screen.

Mister took my grandmother’s obituary into class for news. Whiteboards in classrooms were quite a novelty at the time and it was so exciting that we could beam her obituary onto the screen.

Here’s a link to her obituary: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/a-musical-career-honed-in-the-laundry-20090823-ev2w.html

I must say I find the title rather sexist and offensive. Made her sound like a washer-woman….humph!

Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow is
a mystery and today is a gift,
which is why it is called the present.
What the caterpillar perceives is the end;
to the butterfly is just the beginning.
Everything that has a beginning has an ending.
Make your peace with that and all will be well
Buddhist Saying

xx Rowena

14 thoughts on “Our Son. the Organist and the Funeral.

  1. TanGental

    I’ve always enjoyed funerals in an odd, let’s celebrate way. I suppose, were it to be a youngster it might be different. Or maybe that’s even more a reason to celebrate, to help their friends move on. Lovely pics as ever. And interesting qotes

  2. Joanne Corey

    Thank you for sharing this story. The first person I lost as a child was my maternal grandfather. After the funeral when we were gathering for refreshments, I remember being upset that everyone was laughing and having a good time. Nana told me that it was good that people were enjoying themselves, because she did not want them to be too sad.

    I was an organist when I was younger. The first public service I ever played was the Month’s Mind mass for my grandfather. I must have been about twelve.

  3. roweeee Post author

    Thank you so much for sharing your memories as well, Joanne. Learning how to process grief and honour a loved one and deal with that crushing heaviness in your heart is a lifelong journey. Given my precarious health, loss is something we discuss more often than most and I keep my eyes out for helpful material. My sister-in-law has also had breast cancer this week and we’ve had a few mums at the school with it too and one died a few years ago. This has made our daughter quite upset and anxious and we had another talk last night.
    My mother was an organist at Church. I used to sit on a chair next to her and pull out the stops. I was mesmerised by the organ, as were most of the kids, attracted particularly to the silver pipes and I remember clearly being “shuffled along” by the older organist. The organ itself was given such incredible reverence back then. We didn’t have so much back then, did we?! xx Rowena

  4. merrildsmith

    You are right that funerals are sometimes celebrations that end up being enjoyable because you get to see people you haven’t seen in a while.
    I love the photo of your grandmother in the obit. You are right about the sexist tone–seems weird when it wasn’t written that long ago. The writer lauds your grandmother and discusses her talents, but goes on about how she did this while coping with marriage and motherhood. You know this would never be said about a man. I did like her reply though about the piano in the laundry.

  5. roweeee Post author

    Thanks, Merril. She was such an independent, strong-willing woman and that heading did her no justice.
    I always wondered how she juggled her career with 7 kids and it certainly wasn’t easy with sacrifices made on both sides but I was interested to find out that there was a migrant hostel just down the road and she always had a housekeeper and her mother had quite a hands on role with the children so she wasn’t on her own. I struggle with two kids so it certain challenges my thinking xx Ro

  6. Joanne Corey

    I’m sorry that there are so many health challenges among your family and friends. You are wise to talk about it. All parents would do well to discuss serious health issues and dying with children, appropriate to their age, personality, and situation, because, even in a small town or school, something is going to happen to someone they know.

    It is so nice that you grew up around organs! It is becoming rare, as fewer people attend church on a regular basis and many churches have moved away from organs toward pianos, guitars, and other instruments. At least that is how it is in the US. I’m not sure about there in Australia.

  7. roweeee Post author

    It’s the same here. We belong to a Church pastored by Darlene Zchech who used to be at Hillsong. She wrote: “The Power of Your Love”. So our Church has a modern band and what they call worship music. There are still traditional Churches and services around with the organ but not many.
    I agree with you and the dying talk and that it’s better for them to be prepared and understand that life on this Earth isn’t a permanent thing. It is just a stepping stone. Hopefully, that will help them let go, not just me but other people they know. My daughter’s best friend moved to Poland 5 years ago and she still considers her her best friend and was so upset when she left. It was like a part of her self was gone. They came back for a visit and the two girls connected as though no time had past. It was really beautiful. Hope you have a wonderful weekend xx Rowena

  8. Joanne Corey

    Thanks for sharing more stories with us. I hope your weekend has been lovely, too. There is a three-day holiday weekend in the states this week, so I’m looking forward to a bonus day!

  9. roweeee Post author

    Sounds great to me. I wouldn’t mind an extra day. After getting through the auditions, we have schoot need to wear summer so we’ve been doing hems and washing clothes. I really did enjoy living in my bubble yesterday at the audition and in the city but in terms of the home front, it’s called losing a day. Hope you had a great day today, Best wishes,

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