Saying goodbye to a friend is always sad but the final goodbye leaves you with an emptiness, a space in the world which that friend used to fill.  The older we get, of course, the more spaces.

Over the years we had spent quite a bit of time together, good times as well as sad.  When her mother, a grand old lady, was dying, waiting for the family to gather around.  Then again when her sister, my wonderful mother in law, died, waiting for the inevitable.

The couple of times we drove over to Adelaide and home again when she regaled me with stories all the way over and back, keeping me awake and sometimes focussed.  It’s a long way in a little Datsun 120Y, longer even, when you get lost at Ouyen.  There were only two roads at Ouyen back then - and probably still are.  It shouldn’t be too hard and you’ve got a fifty fifty chance of being right in any case, but when preoccupied with an in depth conversation it is easy to makes mistakes.

She was with me when I was pulled up for the first time in my life for speeding.  Again, I think we were completely engrossed in a conversation of great moment when I failed to see the change in speed sign.  That put a stop to too much conversing for a while.  Having spent most of my driving years in the outback, I wasn’t used to having police pull me up for anything. 

We had a couple of trips to Bourke and on these long drives she told me of her life in that way she had of making it seem simple when I knew it had not been.  That quirky, dry sense of humour and little laugh made you almost miss the depth of what she was saying and her take on things, the slant she had, was always different.

When talking about the depression and men having to leave their homes with their swags on their backs she queried why?  Many of the excuses were that they couldn’t bear to see their children starve.  So they left the wife to watch the children starve on her own?  Surely there would have been something they could have done at home, grown vegetables, been a help of some sort, been a comfort to the wife and kids?  I had never looked at the swaggie saga like that.  Her own father would never have left his wife and children to fend for themselves and that was a fact.

It had crossed my mind recently, with all the discussion and teachings these days of living in the moment, that this moment in time is all we have, she did not need to be taught this, it was innate in her.  No regrets for the life past, that was as it was, no worry about the future, her faith took care of that.  I made this comment to one of her sons.  In his own dry way, so like hers (like all of them for that matter) he made the laconic observation that “There was never time to do otherwise, she was always too busy putting food on the table and clothes on our backs.  How else could she live?”  When that was all done and the job complete, it had already become second nature, part of who she was.  With no fuss, she had nailed it.  When I come to think of it, her parents were the same, her siblings.  It came from a long way back, further even than we can imagine.

Another son said she was the conduit in the family, the point of contact to where they all came to check on her and find out how all the others were going, what they were doing, the linch pin so to speak. Her memory was amazing, and she didn’t ever get the information wrong, mix them up.  That is a feat in itself.   Now that linch pin has gone, the fabric torn and they will do well to keep it together, try as they may with the best of intentions, scattered as they are.

My visits were never frequent and, as always in later years, the spaces between became longer. Nevertheless, we could always take up the conversation where we had left off, no matter how long the time since.  That’s what friends can do.  

Never wanting a fuss at her funeral, I was always told not to bother coming out for it.  She wanted to slip away as she had lived, quietly and with no fanfare, no fuss.  She wanted no one there.  However, I have no doubt she would have been very proud with the lineup of her many descendants who graced the church to say their goodbyes, even if against her wishes.

Looking at all these young people, ready to tackle their lives, it occurs to me that most will never realise - and as she would say, why should they? - the hardships and adversity in her life, the strength and humour with which she tackled them, the sheer tenacity of this one woman, their amazing ancestor,  that she is the very reason any of them are alive today.   

Having fiercely brought up those six children so well, they duly went forth,  I have no doubt with her many prayers, prospered and multiplied.