Mothers' Day

Young man, about my age, sits slumped on the neatly mowed grass, knees bent only as much as his leather motorcycle pants will allow. He hasn’t brought flowers…just himself. As he settles before the brass plaque, flushed from the ride, the cool evening air stills against his face. His heart rate drops to a steady meditation, subdued by an old, aching wound. We walk by silently and carefully. He looks up and I smile at him, sadly. I feel a bit pathetic. I can only imagine.

It’s Mothers’ Day and there are fresh flowers everywhere; plump petals boasting youth and life. They will wither soon after the visitors leave. Rebecca and I walk Kerry to the grave of her elderly parents. It doesn’t seem two years ago, although a lot has changed. Kerry has her own unit now and seems so confident and independent. It’s been nice to watch. She comes to the gravesite with some artificial flowers in hand – she’s such a practical person; these ones won’t wither and die. I remember when we lowered the coffins (Kerry’s mum’s first – she’d always been afraid of heights). I think back to Kerry shaking with grief as family members threw chunks of soils into the grave. Mothers Day is always hard, but today Kerry is composed.

Rebecca and I leave her to be alone and go to search out the O’G-s’ grave. Rebecca has visited before but can’t remember where it is. We file silently through large, dark-grey tombstones of polished marble, engraved mainly with Greek-sounding names. Some of the newer ones have photographs of the deceased embossed on the stone. I’m surprised – I hadn’t known such a large Greek community existed around Whittlesea. Mum would disapprove – for herself, she wants just a brass plague, simple and dignified. I too would feel uncomfortable having my remains adorned by a large shiny tomb. So showy; not very Australian. But I suppose it wouldn’t really matter for me. It only matters for those left behind.

We finally come across the grave we are looking for, marked by a temporary post. Stapled to the post is one of the laminated keepsakes I took home from the memorial service, with the names and smiling faces of the three family members. Under each face is written 7/2/09 – the date of Black Saturday. The freshly heaped dirt is covered in bunches of flowers – some fresh, others turning brown and stained by coloured tissue paper that has run in the rain. There’s another, unmarked grave next to what seems to be the main one, bare besides a few scattered marigolds and a pinwheel that is spinning a little in the light evening breeze. Rebecca wonders if that’s Stewie’s. She’s not sure so adds her small bunch of home-grown flowers to the main grave.

We realise that the O’G-s’ grave is actually quite close to Kerry’s parents’. I wonder if they knew each other. Ken and Alan might have played golf together – Ken being a long-standing employee and volunteer at the Whittlesea Golf Club, and Alan being a local businessman. Ken lived with Shirley and Kerry in a small house (which he owned) in Eden Park. Alan lived with his family in a spacious home at the top of a hill in Humevale, near the golf club. Neither the golf club nor Alan’s home are there anymore, thanks to the fires. I think Ken’s place has been sold. Now, they are all practically neighbours.

Rebecca and I find Kerry sitting on the grass, tears streaming down her face. Her body shudders and she says, “I miss them so much!” She comes here most weeks, but today, being Mothers’ Day, is difficult. Rebecca tells her how much her parents would be proud. Kerry nods, chin dripping. We help her up and walk her to the car, arms draped across her shoulders.

Our huddle makes its way past the boy in the motorcycle gear. As if our leaving marks his cue, he stands to his feet. We pile into Rebecca’s little red car. The radio comes on and we turn it off. Peering through the two front seats I watch the young guy walking towards his bike. His back is stooped like an old man. Rebecca silently navigates the narrow paths between the sections of graves.

Turning around in my seat, I can see the boy getting onto his bike and turning his headlight on. My heart aches for him; I want to run out of the car and give him a hug. I don’t. I imagine that at least for this part of Mothers’ Day, he wants to be on his own.