ONE of the more annoying things about getting older is that one goes to far more funerals than weddings. I’ve been to far too many lately. Three women I knew died recently and, to add to the tragedy, they took their own lives. Then the Anglican priest who buried them died at the much too young age of 65. I used to speak to him when I walked past his family house in the morning to catch the train into town. He was usually weeding the garden or playing with his dog, a black dog that looks quite lost these days.
His name was Boak Jobbins — the man, not the dog. He was given this name by his mother (not surprisingly), who gave birth to him in America. She was a bit of a hippie in the days before they were called that. Anyway, she called her son after a woman who sang at a club she attended quite often. ‘‘ Can you imagine how difficult it was to come back to Australia and attend the local school, which was the ordinary old Randwick High?’’ he told me. I taught at Randwick Girls High at one point so I knew what he meant.
But he got through it, ending up for a time as dean of Sydney. And now sadly gone.
Of course most of us don’t know when we will be called; we can hope, however, it’s not to hell. I went back to South Africa when my mother died. My sister and I sat in the front pew; she was — is — an atheist. When the nuns who had taught us at the convent marched briskly down the aisle and sat behind us, my sister tensed up. She had no time for the sisters because she said they had ruined any fun she could have had at school. Funnily enough, when they all were seated, the cross on the casket crashed to the ground and we shook in our boots. It was not usual for nuns to go to old pupils’ funerals, but my mother was different because she taught the girls tennis at the school, so the nuns helped send her upwards, telling their beads together.
Children tend to get spooked out if they are taken to church to observe someone’s last rites. A couple of years ago my grandsons went to their grandfather’s goodbye. The older boy asked his mother what was in ‘‘ that box’’. She replied, ‘‘ That’s your grandad.’’ They called him Potsy. The boy went green and his eyes rounded, but his younger brother was not affected at all. He had the plan all worked out. ‘‘ Potsy climbed all the way to heaven and went to see God; he found him and told him the news. ‘ OK,’ said God, ‘ climb back to earth. I’ll come down and I will see you in church.’ ’’ Out of the mouths of babes.
Thinking about such things isn’t terribly good for me. I get far too many panic attacks. Just the other day I didn’t know where I was and thought I would never get back home. I was on my way to the bank and had no idea which street to take. When I finally got there I couldn’t speak properly. Fortunately my hus- band had a seventh sense and called me on the mobile phone to ask if I was OK, or just lost again. I was more than happy to hear his voice.
He’s quite a good husband, even if I was warned against marrying him. A male friend of my now husband phoned me from his house just before we were to wed and said to me, ‘‘ Don’t do it, for heavens sake, don’t do it; don’t tie the knot.’’ I asked why not, my voice shaking, thinking perhaps he already had a wife whom he had kept well hidden.
‘‘ No!’’ he shouted. It wasn’t that. He told a story of having brought his own bottle of wine to a get-together and discovered that not only did my intended not drink wine, there was no bottle opener. This was before screw-tops, of course. I took my chance and have never regretted it, although he still is outrageous if I have a second glass of the grape. I ignore his bite and he soon gets over it.
Another thing about getting frail and forgetful and old is that most people make noises at night. You can’t sleep on your back or you snore your head off like Old King Cole, the merry old soul. Men are inveterate snorers — when my children were young they liked to climb into bed with their father because they felt safe with all the noise he was making. But then he was young — or younger, anyhow.
Sleep apnoea is nothing to laugh at but you don’t like to wake the sufferer in the goblin hours in case he has a heart attack or throttles you. So I listen patiently to the blend of sniff and roar and find it quite good company. And I have decided to write a book, a Christmas stocking filler of sorts. The Bedside Book of Snoring should go down like a pipedream.