Tuesday Poem: ‘Nora’s Funeral’ by Sue Hansen

Nora’s Funeral
For Ray & Nora Doogue, married 1941-1993

I expect rain, the day we bury my Grandmother.
Yet, as mourners gather on the cobbled yard
we squint into the sun’s light,
and the wool of my jacket itches my neck.

I sit at the end of the pew
next to Grandad’s gaunt form,
strapped upright in the wheelchair.
He cannot genuflect – Parkinson’s.
So I cross the translucent skin
of his forehead,
wipe the rivulets of spit
that traverse down his badly shaven chin,
tissue catching in the stubble.

His blue eyes stare at the pulpit;
would he realise at the hospice
that the person feeding him potato
was a nurse, not his wife?

We sing, ‘Enfold me in your love’.
My voice swells with the congregation
and there we are, Grandma,
on your threadbare orange sofa
where we read together,
tucked under the cashmere rug.
You would ask,
‘Are you warm enough, dear?’

During the final eulogy
Grandad coughs loudly;
I pull his large hand into mine.
The hand that taught me
fishing knots and chess moves
is cold, like the
snapper we would throw
onto the boat floor
in Ohope.

The pallbearers stride up the aisle.
My uncle and some second cousins.
Grandad’s eyes rove over the casket
as though a blind person seeking ballast.
I stand to wheel him out.

While he sits
covered in prisms of pink cast by the lead light
touching his wet, grey stubble –
incarnations of Mary’s hand
reaching down from her assumption.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to post poems by students of Massey’s 139.229 creative writing paper. Massey University doesn’t (yet) have an online journal like Turbine or 4th Floor, and these poems should be read beyond my dining room table. During the course students write contemporary elegies, odes, and love poems.

I was moved by Sue’s poem about her grandparents, Ray & Nora Doogue. My own grandfather had Parkinson’s, and I’ve always thought that the mental decline of the disease creates a particular type of heartbreak for the partner who remains. There is a subtle redemption at the end of Sue’s poem; while the image of the grandfather being ‘covered in prisms of pink cast by the lead light’ as though in ‘assumption’ suggests a certain peace for the grandfather, I actually read the ending as the granddaughter being freed from seeing her grandmother care for a man who is lost to both of them.

Sue Hansen lives at Narrowneck beach in Auckland with her husband and two extremely beautiful children. Her paternal grandparents, Ray and Nora Doogue, had a large part to play in Sue’s childhood, as her father died when she was aged two. Sue was always in awe of her Grandparents bond with one another.

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