The little grey box and I have made it to Hong Kong.
We’ve had no issues going through the layers of security. We are surviving the physical manifestations of bureaucracy that are integral to international travel.
I have four hours in this transitional space, a numb space, and that is how I feel, numb.
The magnitude of what I am undertaking has struck me, legs up the airport wall trying to drain fluid, it has struck me deep.
And then there I am again beside my Nan’s bed in the last hours of her life transitioning from this to whatever is next.
Her breathing is laboured. That deep rattling breathe that occurs before death. There is no sound on earth like it.
“Nan, I’m here…Tui is here too.”
(Tui is a family dog – a little terrier and the best of canine creatures.)
The tone of Nan’s breathing changes.
Deep breathe in and then a soft “I love you”, another deep breath and another soft “I love you.”
This continues for the last hour we spend together. This is how we say goodbye. Every god damn breathe she has with me is to to say she loves me.
Every damn breathe.
“I love you.”
I stroke her hand, so fragile, as the life leaves her body.
“I love you too Nan.”
I stand up, the dog licks Nan’s face.
I kiss my Nan on the lips lifting my hand from hers.
The dog jumps from the bed.
I look at my Nan, a tiny sparrow in a huge bed, wrapped in her favourite grey mohair blanket.
I put Tui on her lead.
I look at Nan again. This is the last time I see you alive.
You take another deep breathe and I turn away tears pouring down my face.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Walking down the corridor away from my Nan is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I could have stayed there fore ever and yet I left. Other people needed to say goodbye and we had said everything we needed too.
We knew we were loved. That we loved one another. Truly, madly, deeply.
We loved one another through trauma, through the mundane, through clearing up the poop of litters and litters of Labrador puppies, through ironing sheets perfectly flat, through the passing of family members, through marriage, through divorce, through failure, through success, through moving homes, through family fights, through riding horses, through mad adventures, through danger, through our despair at the lack of reasonable gluten free bread.
We were loved.
And so this trip is my act of love to a life sometimes fraught with drama but one filled with love. Even if somewhat damaged love at times.
Life will always impose it’s circumstances.
The Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Paris has just been called.
I check Nan in her little grey box. I bought a bag especially to carry her and my camera gear. She’s tucked in next to my Canon and it’s lenses. She’s held softly in the world whatever turbulence we hit.
Poleaxed by the first flight , bent weirdly to fit the seat, the lights of seat screens visible behind my eyelids I embrace morpheus deeply. The deep disrupted sleep of the traveller.
And before I know it we have arrived. I’m in the French immigration processing queue at Charles De Gaulle, passport in hand and a sheath of papers for the little grey box.
The seriously armed gentlemen don’t even ask, it is “Bonjour, Ça va?” stamp and go.
I whisper to Nan as I walk into the Arrivals hall.
“Nan, we’re here.”
Our driver is waiting. It takes us an hour to get into the city. But we are here. It has begun.
This story first appeared in The Spinoff July 18, 2018
In my carry on luggage is a little grey plastic box. On that little grey plastic box is a name. That name is my grandmother’s.
The little grey box is filled with her ashes.
I am returning my Nan to where she was happiest in Bath, England via a trip to Paris.
Nan and I always talked about travelling Europe together. But life happened as it does and we never walked the streets we talked of.
My Nan was a rule breaker. She made unimaginably hard decisions to inhabit her own life on her terms…
Read the rest here
I’m super proud to announce the extended trailer release of the documentary I am producing Guerrilla Aid – Breaking the rules to rebuild Nepal.
At 11.56am April 25th 2015 a 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal.
From that moment we at Non Fiction Nepal have been filming aid missions – fly on the wall style – documenting what unfolded and is still unfolding three years after the initial quake andover 300 aftershocks.
We’re doing something that hasn’t been done before – going to the villages not reached by aid agencies or government support and documenting the long term aftermath (villages are still broken, some are still homeless…swathes of the country still needs support to rebuild) and recovery as delivered by an ad hoc Guerrilla Aid team.
Director Hamanita Paradigmus (Hamilton Pevec)
Producer by Neesha Bremner
Production Consultant Tobie Openshaw
We are actively looking for sponsors, backers and funds for post production.
Please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to get involved or wish to support us to get Guerrilla Aid completed.
On May 30, 2017 my Grandmother Dorothy Joan Antrobus died. Later this month I will be travelling to Europe to do the trip my Nan and myself talked about but never managed. Below is the eulogy I gave at her funeral.
I love you
I love you
I love you
I love you
I love you are last words my grandmother ever said said to me.
In a soft moan as she took each breath. I was holding her hand . Our family dog Tui was curled up beside her. Every few moments Tui would lick Nan’s hands trying to get her to engage as Nan finally let go of a life she held onto so furiously over the last six years. Even though she had retreated from interacting in the wider world.
Nan somehow knew a dog was with her as she let go of this life. Her small hand reached out to Tui and she stroked her slowly and rested her hand on her back. Nan, Dorothy Joan Antrobus became calmer. She seemed to settle knowing a dog was with her. I am grateful I was there for that moment. I am grateful my Nan spent time with her truest deepest love – a dog – in the last hours of her life on Tuesday May 30th 2017.
There was my beautiful, tenacious, charming, disarming and sometimes fierce Nan, surrounded by pictures of her beloved Labradors, with a picture of her favourite Adam overlooking her, slowly leaving this world with a little dog by her side. A little dog giving her the companionship she needed.
It is exactly how it should have been.
It is strange how fate decides how the seams of our lives touch one another and are woven together…sometimes never to be unbundled… but filled with a complex deep love regardless.
A love the acknowledges the tangents of our lives, the ones we decide and the ones chosen for us
For Dorothy Joan Antrobus and I our lives where woven together as grandmother and granddaughter in late 1975.
Where our lives entwined there was love, there was pain, there was joy, there were dogs, puppies, dogs , more dogs, more puppies and horses and in moments there was a shared sadness. But where our threads combined there was us- drinking gin and tonics at five thirty on the dot, cleaning up puppy pens, walking happy labradors, hacking ponies and most infuriating for me as a teenager ironing sheets to a flat perfection. “Stupid girl, there’s a wrinkle!”
Joan’s home was a safe place in the world for me as I grew up. BBQ’d chicken cooked by “Froggy” otherwise known as Commander Michael Antrobus, Nan’s beloved second husband, by the rose garden at Redoubt road. Adam Nan’s adored favourite Labrador lying resplendent in the late evening sun. Busy days walking the fields across the road or hacking a pony to Flatbush pony club or an exciting trip to the Manukau mall. Joan fussing, toast in my special toast rack, teaching me to set the full dining table with the correct silverware and layout. Falling asleep in a room especially made up for me. These are the memories I will cherish. I have dined with lords and ladies and the odd Nepali general and passed with flying colours due to those skills embedded by my grandmother.
Joan was a private woman. So the deep details of her life have left with her.
But some things we know. We know her essential character and what she loved.
We know Joan was born January 21st 1928 to Eileen and Frank Hannaford. My understanding is she was born in Vancouver as the family made their way to New Zealand via the colonies. Frank was a merchant trader, Eileen a home maker. There was a store here in Auckland that sold clocks and other such items. The family home was in Parakai Drive in Orakei and it is here in Auckland Joan’s life long friendship with Pam began as their mothers were firm friends.
Pam and Joan attended St Cuthbert’s and Solway together.
Pam was the constant in my grandmother’s life. With her at the beginning and here today as we feel her passing. Thank you Pam for all you were to Joan. Thank you for all your love and care when Joan chose to retreat from the world.
I’d like to acknowledge my father, Joan’s only child, Andrew Bremner. Andrew was born from her first marriage to Doug Bremner in 1950. Their’s was a short marriage in a time when it wasn’t conventional to part. But Andrew was the gift of that union for all its flaws and complications. And my Nan for all her sophistication and Britishness was not a conventional woman even if it sometimes made her life and relationships unduly tricky. Joan was beautifully flawed like all of us.
After the dissolution of her first marriage Joan left New Zealand for the United Kingdom and from what I can garner from sifting through boxes of photographs spent time in Singapore and Hong Kong having adventures before settling in Bath where she eventually married Commander Antrobus.
In ole blighty the Franco’s were amongst Joan’s nearest and dearest. Joan maintained a close friendship with the Franco’s over the years despite returning to New Zealand through letters, long phone calls and trips to the UK.
Back in New Zealand with Michael Redoubt road became the centre of Joan’s world with her beloved labradors, her white and yellow rose beds ( I had the dubious pleasure of dead heading on numerous occasions). Joan adored and cherished that home and with it’s selling a little part of her died and she began to retreat from the world. That green house and acreage had been the centre of things, her life with Michael here in NZ until his passing. Her world with dogs and her many operes – Andrea and Annabel most particularly. Joan adored those girls even though she must have been a challenge at times to live and work with.
When Michael passed, dogs, Southerly Kennels and everything Labrador became my Nan’s world. Thank you to the Kennel Club and Nan’s Southerly Kennel partners and others for being here. Thank you for the joy you added to her life. And a special thank you must be given to just labradors in general for existing. You where her north , her east and west – her beloved Southerly. Her joy and meaning came from your demeanour, your strong gate, your wagging tails and fine companionship. Good dogs!
A special mention must be given here to Barbie Gianotti who passed on Nan’s birthday this year. Barbie cared for my Nan. Barbie called me shortly before her death to ensure I understood Nan’s wishes and kept me in line over the years when she felt I wasn’t meeting my obligations as Joan’s granddaughter. I will be for ever grateful to Barbie and her husband Bill. They ensured my Nan was cared for in the ways she wished, even when she changed her mind a thousand times. I imagine Joan and Barbie are watching us now, surrounded by happy dogs and gorgeous horses, drinking a cheeky gin. And Bill thank you for all your care and love and all the organising over the last week. I am so grateful my little sparrow, my Nan had such fine friends looking after her well being.
I have missed a million details of Joan’s life, her stint as a consultant for Elizabeth Arden, her love of Rudolph Steiner and anthroposophical philosophy, her love of fashion, her adventures abroad, an exploration of why she could be so jolly posh, of why she made the decisions she made which some of us, to this day live with. But never-the -less today Nan we acknowledge you, we all loved you, each in the best ways we could, and we are glad to have had you and your stories woven into the fabric of whom we are, the good, the sad and everything in between.
Dorothy Joan Antrobus.
You were dearly loved.
I love you too.
For your listening pleasure check out the podcast I co-produce American Immigrant.
American Immigrant follows the life of American film maker Hamilton Pevec as he negioates life, love, family and natural disasters in Nepal.