Most of us grow up with at least some understanding of the inevitability of death.  Even so, losing a much-loved childhood pet didn’t prepare me in any substantive way for the loss of a parent. I suppose young-me assumed that they’d live, if not forever, at least well into old age. That they’d remain the safe and secure corner stones of my life, no matter what. So when my Mum died and then, just a few years later, Dad followed suit, I felt abandoned and rudderless – and far more so than I’d thought I might. Despite being all grown up – after all, I was 24 by then, I felt like an orphan in a storybook. Somehow, something I hadn’t yet fully come to appreciate had come to an end and there was suddenly no-one to provide the imagined security of unquestioning love and support.

Everyone deals with grief and loss in their own way. Some reject it absolutely, others dive into it, pouring their feelings into reminiscences, sharing photographs and stories with family and friends. Then there are those who keep themselves busy, focusing on details and generally getting on with life. It turns out I was the keep yourself busy type. No surprises there, but that meant it took me longer than necessary to process what I felt and how best to deal with it. I got there in the end, but the loss still bites from time to time, even decades later.

Now, just recently, I’ve witnessed the passing of FiL and MiL within 8 months of each other. These losses have been more drawn out, with ill health, memory loss and so forth gradually taking their toll. Even so, the loss of a parent is no small thing, and the loss of two so close together even more so. FiL was farewelled in September last year and, having known the family for 30+ years, it’s been interesting to observe how each of the siblings has come to terms with the parent-shaped gap in their lives.

Over the years, when she talked about funerals, MiL often expressed a desire to be “sent down the river on flaming Viking longboat.” This, she said, would be a “proper send-off”. So, with that in mind, Himself set about trying to bring into being something that would have both entertained and pleased her.

This involved many hours of planning, of sourcing schematics and scaling them down to a plausible size, purchasing balsa wood and other bits and pieces, and acquiring permissions from local council and the water authorities both, providing them with detailed plans, lists of materials, fire control measures and so on.

MiL had been privately cremated soon after passing away and her ashes kept Himself company through the process of the actual build. Each piece of the model was handcrafted in our garage, in the evenings and over weekends. Gradually it started to take shape as the pieces were painstakingly put together. Part of the process was a number of test burns of scrap pieces of balsa outside our garage to see what combination of flammables would produce the best – and least polluting – result.

When the day of the send-off finally dawned, it was grey and overcast with rain pending. Despite the longboat being completed with a few hours to spare, the prospect of a successful launch appeared unlikely. Even so, after a memorial afternoon tea, a contingent of hardy friends and relatives headed to the river for the final farewell.

It seemed fitting that MiL’s final resting place would be where she learned to swim as a 4-year old. Mason’s Landing, on the Canning River, has changed a great deal in the intervening 83 years, but was still recognizable from paintings of the area done by her mother in those early days. She was lovingly placed on the longboat and the siblings waded out into the river together to see her on her final journey. There was some chaos, a few false starts, some hilarity and – finally – success was achieved.

I think MiL will rest easy at Mason’s Landing and we’ll all remember her Viking send off with a smile and a light heart.

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