Jess Nickelsen: Discombobulated
February 11, 2021 - Saying Goodbye


We are heading up the Kapiti coast to attend Steve’s mum’s funeral. It’s a beautiful sunny day and already quite warm. We have speeches tucked in our pockets and food in a chilly bin in the boot. The child is primed with books, devices and food. She’s listening to pop music on the stereo. She doesn’t want to go today but understands that sometimes you have to put your own needs after those of others.

I’m doing a double speech with my brother-in-law from the perspectives of the in-laws. I’ll be talking about how she and I bonded over music, crafts, and spinning.

Later, at Steve’s sister’s house, we put salami on platters and wonder if we have enough cups. Some of the family go to Steve’s parents’ house, where the funeral director will be picking up his mum and the coffin. One of the nephews finds out there isn’t room in the car. I say, it’s ok, she’ll be at the funeral,” and he laughs but I wish I could take it back too. I always make jokes at the wrong time.

It’s hot; I shouldn’t have worn black tights and boots. But I have to wear my linen jacket because my speech is in the pocket and I wore a dress without pockets. I wonder if bare legs are ok. I’ve eaten two croissants and a nectarine but I’m still hungry.

I take my tights off. My stomach feels uncomfortable. Everyone is walking around quietly. We are waiting.

It’s after the funeral now, the next day actually. It was a really long afternoon and we got home late and had a cup of tea, and I called my dad, and then we all went to bed. The funeral itself was as good as a funeral could be. It was run by the family, no external, official celebrant, but with a friend acting as MC. There was lots of music, everyone spoke clearly and well despite the emotion. Leila kept saying I don’t like it, I want to leave,” but I told her we had to be strong for Dada,” because he needed us. I think she understood.

It’s hard to write about funerals. Hard to write about losing someone. About how one moment a person is here,” and the next minute, not-here.” And of course all of the wonderings about where do they go? Do they really stop being them? Is what we do to our dead, burial or cremation, or burial-at-sea, the right” thing to do? I also wonder if we shouldn’t be better, well, fore-warned. In our learnings, our education, our culture. We know death is a thing. We know it happens to every living thing on the planet. And yet we struggle with it so much when it happens to us. It’s about the bonds we form, about the type of species we are, but I can’t help but think that if we had a better framing for death, it might be easier to think about, or anticipate. Not that I really know what that is. But I suppose thinking about how each of us is of an era,” of a specific time, and if we were to live longer, would it be too difficult? Too foreign?” I’m obviously struggling to put many complicated feelings into words. It was an exhausting, sorrowful, heartfelt day.