Give me the Night.

Storytime. About Darren. About my Dad. About family. And the practicalities of death.

When a burial must take place within 24 hours SOMEBODY has to make it happen. Somebody who knows what they’re doing, has all the necessary equipment, somebody who can drop everything and come make the grave ready. For us, that somebody, was Darren Young. I am incredibly thankful for my brilliant, generous and hardworking husband who helped make our dad’s request possible. So very glad that our father’s resting place was prepared by the hands of a man who loved and respected him as his son-in-law. And that grandson Zach helped to dig and make the grave too.

We Wendt’s can have these philosophical plans and fanciful ideas for what to do when death comes, including – my mother saying ‘I want Fili to lie on a bed of banana leaves! Because he was an agriculturalist, a farmer!’ And, ‘No ugly tarpaulin anywhere. If you must block off sight of the road, use my green elei.’ And, ‘No I dont want to wrap him in siapo, he should be wrapped in my white elei fabric. And line the grave with my fabric too.’ Do you have any? ‘No not yet. I will go print some right now.’ Me saying, ‘Don’t cut any trees down or clear any of the greenery. It should look like Dad is in the middle of a forest! At one with nature!’ My brother saying, ‘No raised cement grave. Make it all grass on top.’

But it takes a Young to make those lovely ideas a reality! 😉

Late Thursday night when Dad’s O2 stats dropped very low, we – the immediate family at Dad’s bedside, had the talk. About the possibility that Dad’s time was near, and ARE WE STILL AGREED WE WILL FOLLOW DAD’S WISH, NO WAITING, 24 HOURS? We agreed yes and Cam asked Darren if he could start the grave preparations. Just in case. The doctor visited with Dad the next day. She said Dad had a few days left, perhaps a week? But Dad had other ideas. An hour later, he took his last breath.

And outside in the garden, Darren was already at work. The challenge was to clear the spot and dig the grave while damaging only a bare minimum of the surrounding garden. Because Darren’s wife kept saying, ‘It needs to look like Dad is in a forest! Dont cut any of the trees!’

Which means they couldn’t just rip everything up using the excavator or the digger, but do most of the work by hand. They ran into a problem when the spot that Dad had picked out for his grave – turned out to have a bed of solid rock only a few feet down. Darren said, ‘I think my father in law really wanted me to work hard for this grave!’ Work stopped so he could get the breaker machine and then they continued until nightfall.

The next day, work carried on. The fab team at Naydith Hireage set up a tent for the burial, in case of more rain. It was SO HOT though, so we upgraded our tent order to an air conditioned one (with royal draping and some chandeliers because hey, why not? And yes Dad, I know you wanted a simple immediate burial, and we are your children and we love you so we will follow your wishes, but we are ALSO the children of Marita Johnson, which means we want elegance! Fabulousness! Artistry!)

Dad didn’t like plastic flowers. So Cam went early to the Saturday market and bought every single fresh flower arrangement there was. (To everyone else who couldn’t buy flowers for decorating the church that weekend? Sorry!)

Dad did not have a coffin. We did not want a conventional brick concrete grave either. It was to be as # natural #backToTheEarth as possible.

A few practical details to know when you’re burying your loved one this way. You have to reinforce the sides of the grave with something, otherwise when lowering your loved one into the ground, the sides of the earth wall could collapse. In Dad’s case, Darren built a “grave” shape inserted in the earth using plywood along with a narrow platform outline of the grave for us to stand on as we farewelled Dad. This was then lined with Mum’s handprinted white elei fabric, AND we placed fresh banana leaves in as well (as per Mum’s request!)

Originally I wanted to leave the grass lawn right up to the gravesite, BECAUSE IT SHOULD LOOK LIKE A NATURE WONDERLAND! but Darren patiently explained to us that with the rain (and all the people going back and forth) the grass was sodden and muddy. So he brought in a load of aggregate to make a pathway and a clearing around Dad’s gravesite. Thank goodness for my clever husband because otherwise we would have been slipping and sliding in mud and smushed grass as we said goodbye to Dad!

After the service, Dad – wrapped in mum’s elei and a beautiful ie toga fine mat gifted by Grandmother Faoliu – was carefully lowered into his resting place, and covered with more white elei, and banana leaves. We all gathered around to say goodbye, placing fresh flowers in the grave.

After most people had left, we stayed late into the night. (the air conditioned tent was especially appreciated at this time.) We played Dad’s favourite songs, ate lovely cheesecake from Mum’s friend Lorraine, drank Diet Coke, looked through old photos and #talkedStories of Dad. We videocalled with our sister Pele in Australia who couldnt get here for the 24hrs deadline. There was much laughter with our tears. Our cousin Henry made sure we could all see the funny side of the frantic burial preparations. So many good stories shared with Fu’a M Hazelman about Dad and the late Dr Malcolm and the USP and agriculture days.

Darren and two helpers went to work. First they covered Dad’s body with earth. I had a turn shovelling, along with my brother Joshua. A layer of dirt, polythene and mesh wire. Then they mixed a load of concrete in the cement mixer and laid a block over Dad’s grave. All the children and grandchildren present, put their handprints in the wet concrete, wrote their names with messages for Dad. Making a grave is hungry work so we ordered delicious BBQ mamoe from Rosies Takeaway for everyone.

I will always look back at that night of Dad’s burial as a happy one, one of my most special #DaysWithDad. My Dad was no longer struggling for breath, choking every time he swallowed, no more slipping into mists of confusion, or getting upset when he needed help with bathing and dressing. My Dad wasn’t hurting anymore. I thought of him seeing his mother again, being reunited with his father and siblings, many many friends and aiga. Most of all, I was happy my Dad didn’t have Alzheimers anymore. He was all better, his full self again.

I was exhausted but so very relieved and thankful we had been successful in honouring Dad’s wish. That everything had gone well. I said to my big brother – I CANT BELIEVE WE PULLED IT OFF!

Dad’s farewell was beautiful with much love and even celebration. I had Darren and all my children there with me. My husband who I trust mostest in the whole world was making my father’s grave and I knew he would make it perfect.

As we played Dad’s funeral song again, George Benson’s #GiveMeTheNight, I danced a little dance beside the new grave surrounded by flowers, and I knew that if he could look back over his shoulder at us all right then, my Dad would be pleased.

We left the concrete to set overnight and on Monday, a layer of earth was placed over it and a concrete marker made – so we wont accidentally forget exactly where the grave is! Cam and Zach planted grass on it. Eventually we will have a stone for Dad’s grave with all the required details. More plants and flowers landscaped there, with a garden seat so you can sit and visit. As the wind rustles through the trees with the lingering golden fragrance of mosooi.

Thank you Darren. For the tautua you render to my aiga. For all the different ways you show love and respect to me and our children. For making my father’s final resting place.

Faafetai mo le alofa.

Photos by Mykka Stanley.