It was to celebrate the life of Alison (Aly) Bennett of Auckland.
Aly was young – only 39 years old, and the mother of 3 beautiful children: Olivia 8, Greta 6, and Nicholas 2. She was also the loving wife and best friend of Tom, and was taken from us surprisingly quickly – she was ill with leukemia for just 6 months.
I guess I found this funeral particularly difficult as it was especially close to home – Aly had been in our original antenatal group – i.e the group of us who had had our first children together (Susie, of the Dear Susie column is also a part of this group – our daughters Abby and Holly were born at about the same time). Just over 8 years ago we all gave birth to our first children, almost all of whom were girls.
I always remember Aly as being slim, willowy and graceful, as well as intelligent, funny and warm to talk to. Perhaps what sticks in my mind more though, is little Olivia, who had the cutest, chubbiest cheeks of any baby I had ever seen!
The funeral was lovely (I hope this isn’t an oxymoron, but I’m sure you know what I mean). There were speeches by Aly’s brother, her best friend, sister, sister in law, and the senior partner of Tom’s law firm Bell Gully.
Most moving though, were the tributes from Tom and Olivia.
As a mother of an 8 year old girl myself (Abby used to sit next to Olivia in her Plunket baby capsule), I was astounded by the poise and confidence shown by Olivia when she stood up at the lectern, spoke clearly into the microphone and read her speech about her mum.
I must confess I’m crying as I write this – I swear there wasn’t a dry eye in the church, as she talked about how much she loved her mum (“you’re the best mum ever”) and missed her, and wished she was with us today. Greta stood close by supporting her sister, whilst little Nicholas played with family members – seemingly oblivious to what was happening.
Tom’s speech was equally moving, as he shared how Aly was his wife, his best friend, and his touchstone on so many issues – including relationships, and how to interpret people and their motives. I’m sure this is typical of many men in relationships, where their partner fulfils many vital roles in their life.
It was only at her funeral that I realised that Aly was much more multi-faceted and talented than I had appreciated (isn’t it often the way, that you only see one facet of a person in real life?). She was an accomplished teacher and Assistant Principal, a passionate dancer, a keen yachtie and a well travelled, independent woman who was well liked and respected by all who knew her.
I feel somewhat ashamed to say that I only knew her as a “mum” and we never got the chance to move past talking about the pressing concerns related to motherhood.
I came away from this funeral feeling somewhat cross and disappointed in myself. Just 10 years ago I lost my husband Don to a brain tumour. For the first few years after that I had a keen appreciation of the fragility of life, and was much more aware of the importance of enjoying life and your loved ones whilst you have the chance.
However, over the last few years I have slipped into the complacency that I know is “normal” for most of us. We plod through our daily lives, working hard, getting tired, and taking our “nearest and dearest” for granted.
Over the last few months I have been doing a great deal of reading about the “meaning of life”. (Yes, I know it sounds trite, but without a doubt I am going through a mid-life crisis!).
However, something that struck me with great force after the funeral was the aptness of the Tibetan Buddhist view, that we must each truly understand, accept and appreciate that life is fragile and any of us can die at any time.
Now, that doesn’t mean one should live one’s life fearfully. But rather, we should be fully alive, aware, and appreciative of what is good in our lives – especially our friends and family.
My heart goes out to Tom, Olivia, Greta and Nicholas – as well as all of Tom and Aly’s family and friends.
I sincerely hope that the grieving process will be kind to them, and that they may come through it as gently and quickly as possible.
Goodbye Aly – the world is a poorer place without you.
Rest in peace,
Kerry and the Mac Clan, Susie and the Brebners, and all of the KF Team