Posted by: alegra22 | March 8, 2012

on earth

It is humbling to stand at the edge of grief. There is nothing to do but witness and allow it to do what it does: transform.

Hundreds of people have shown up for Earl’s tangi. At one point, over three hundred are accounted for. Dan and I stand at the borders of the crowd. We can’t hear much of what is being said until my sister-in-law steps forward into the bright light of a day that has stripped her family back to the bones.  They are left holding the fragile skeleton that lives beneath all of the busy this’s and that’s we layer over it.

I imagine the bare bones of our reality as this: that at any moment we might be taken from this life that we cling to with complaints, goals, stressors, gossip, judgment, drama, fear, celebration, hunger, pain.

But none of it binds us to life in the way we intend it to, it doesn’t protect or pad us.

Alziere steps out, wearing a shirt with her little brother’s face printed across her chest, his tag “Deskrym” printed on the back. She looks small and mighty all at once as she addresses the hundreds of people who have come to pay their respects. I am in awe of her. I am in awe of the way grief moves through her body as she speaks. It is one of the most honest things I’ve seen in another person. She lifts her hand in the air, a gesture that has become familiar to me. The ancient inheritance of her Maori culture,a  culture that is  now part of my inheritance, the inheritance of my children and their children.

I see Alziere as God has created her – a leader, a woman of great mana (power), a woman who has handled more grief in the last few years than I want to imagine, and yet, each grief has been transformed by her faith.

“This is what my little brother has taught me. To not judge on appearances, to not judge the lives  of others. Look to the heart. Love on each other,” she says, “because you don’t know when you’ll be taken. God has put us here to love on each other.”

It becomes too much for her and my brother-in-law, so like my husband, moves forward with a quiet strength and wraps his arms around Alziere, just as Dan wraps his arms around me.

I’m aware of the strength of my husband’s muscles, the stability of his bones, the way his heartbeat anchors me. I’m aware of these things because I imagine them gone and that imagining is something I never want to experience. I allow myself to lean into him as the sun presses down, its heat gathering in the black threads of our clothing.

Driving into Hamilton for the first night of the tangi, I turned to Dan and described my sudden revelation about what I wanted done with my bodily remains. It involved an extensive road trip so that my ashes could be thrown into the ocean at various spiritually important places beginning in New Zealand, travelling through California, New York, Baja, and ending in Spain. I wanted a great gathering of all the people I loved so that they could become well-acquainted with one another. I wanted them to be familiar so that we’d all recognize one another when it was time to cross the great divide. I also wanted eighties music mixed in with the more spiritually moving soundtracks. A lot of laughter, dancing, and funny stories, so long as there were no sharing of my secrets.

“I might be dead,” I explained, “but I’m still a deeply private person despite, you know…” I waved my hands in the air to express the rest of what I meant: all of this! and this! You know, my random confessions and bold declarations! Despite this, I’m deeply private.

I was being irreverent because how else do you deal with this kind of discussion?

But Dan quietly took in my grand plan and then he said, “How about we do all of that while you are still alive? You can go to each one of those places and scratch off some dead skin cells in the ocean, sort of like leaving your scent. It’ll be just as good.” He took his hand off the wheel as he glanced at me, “I want you to be buried with me. I don’t want you scattered all over the place.”

I agreed. His words were an anchor that sunk me deep into the reality of what I am: a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, a body cradled by an island.

When Earl’s body is carried to his final burial, there is a wailing that rises up to the sky, a primal sound that reminds me of the cry of coyotes out in the desert. I don’t allow myself to imagine what it would mean to be walking my son’s body toward a final resting place because I know the imagining would exhaust me to my core. Instead I stand in witness of the beauty of these women’s voices rising up against gravity, against the force of loss. I hold Dan close to me. I hide in his warmth.

As people line up to say goodbye, to throw a handful of earth on to Earl, the women sing songs of worship. They are the voices of an island.

Dan and I watch the people around us deal with death in their different ways. Some of them stand on the graves of others and gossip as if a mother isn’t longing to be buried with her child. A young, muscular man wipes at his eyes, moving through his peers with his pain hovering above his skin. Another young man throws signs, laughs, acts like nothing is happening, like he’ll live forever but never really live a moment of that over-extended life.

As Alziere has said, we can’t judge, we can only love. Death is not easy for any of us and I can’t imagine facing death without faith.

When the line has thinned, Dan and I walk over to pay our respects. The grave is deeper than any grave I’ve seen. Later I will learn that Earl’s brother and father spent the night digging it deep enough for his mother to be buried on top of him. It is so deep I feel like I am standing at the edge of a canyon when I throw the dirt on to the flowers and box that holds his broken body.

It is this image that haunts me, a father and son digging a grave deep enough for two bodies; a mother and her child. I imagine each strain of muscle, each heaving of earth. The sweat, the thoughts lost in the repetitive action of digging.

It has left me quiet, all of it. It has left me a little more honest. There is no room for false humility or pride in this lifetime, just a gratitude for the moments we are given and the roles that we are born into.

Even in death, Earl was described as ‘haututu’ (mischief) and an ‘agent of change’. He was a game changer on the edge of breakthrough. What he’s left me with is the message that his sister spoke beneath a bright sun, “Judge not. Love on each other.”

Because in the end, our legacy is the story our hearts tell.

As we drive home from the tangi, I find myself taking comfort in the trees. It’s the way their roots anchor deep into the earth, mostly unseen, but those roots are a reflection of the balance needed for the tree to reach up to the heavens.

So on earth, as it is in heaven.
Love here because there on the other side there is only love.



  1. Once again… So beautifully written and so very raw! Thank you!!

    • xoxoxo

  2. I hope I can find the kind of strength Alziere found if I am ever in a situation such as this. My heart aches for her and you, but I am also thankful that there are women like you, like you both, who can see through the gauzy cobwebs that is this material world to the heart of what we really are, what we really can be. It gives me hope about myself.

    And every word you speak, every word you write, whether of grief, of reflection, of stress, or happy times, is just another affirmation that life is beautiful and cherishable.

    And you needn’t worry about ashes being scattered, because through your words, your spirit has already been gifted to so many places on this earth. And that will be your legacy.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    • Thank YOU for this.
      It was a prayer hug to my heart and spirit.
      And yes, I feel the same about Alziere.

  3. Beautiful. I really like the sentiment to not judge others, but to look to the heart instead. That is very important. I also agree with Dan, it would be better if the road trip that you are envisioning would be done while you are here. Also, I think this is a phenomenal quote above:

    “There is no room for false humility or pride in this lifetime, just a gratitude for the moments we are given and the roles that we are born into”.

    • Yes, I’m thinking the road trip should be undertaken while alive…I’m already starting to scheme and you’re apart of that scheme my lovely companion xoxo

  4. great write. Every time we are hit by grief waves we start thinking about the temporariness about this material world. But once we recover from that we again start bonding with the material world. That’s why again and again we are getting reminded accidentally

    • Yes and yes. It’s funny, tonight i sit here looking at food recipes and thinking about devoting a year to really getting the ‘physical’ of my family and my own health in order…it’s like peeking over the edge to the other side has made me want to anchor all of that ‘heaven’ here on earth.

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