Order of service prepared by the Reverend Dorothy McRae-McMahon of South Sydney Uniting Church for the Memorial Service at the Chapel of Sacred Heart Hospice, Darlinghurst 29 June 2007. Also see the tribute page and my account of the day.
On behalf of the friends and family of Malcolm Gleeson who brought us together today, I welcome you all. We will begin with some of the music Malcolm loved.
— John Coltrane
When somebody dies,
there is a significant empty space in our lives
and then that space is almost, but never quite filled,
with the memories of the life which is lost to us –
some of them happy and some of them sad.
In this next hour,
we will not deny the mourning which is ours,
but we will embrace our loss with things which we remember
about our friend, Malcolm.
As we do that, we cannot help but be reminded of our own mortality,
of the uncertainty of our days
and of the footprints which we leave behind us in our journeying in life.
None of us will ever know for sure what lies beyond death.
What we do know is that our lives are always changed
by those who live with us
and that the essence of who we have been in this life
will live on in many ways in those we leave behind.
No-one here who knew Malcolm can doubt that our lives are different
because we lived with him and engaged with his gifts and challenges to us.
When people we love die, we sometimes let them go,
as though they trickle over the edge of life and into death.
We will not let that happen to Malcolm.
Just as he lived boldly,
so we will send him out into his future, whatever that may be.
Symbols of Malcolm’s life
Some of us have brought symbols of Malcolm’s life and placed them here.
The symbols are described.
Telling the story
We can never capture someone’s life in an hour or a day.
All we can do is give glimpses which remind us of the one we knew.
As we listen and watch, we will each fill in some of the gaps
in the silence of our hearts.
Stories by friends and family
John Morrison, Ian Smith, Joy Burgis, Malcolm’s aunt in Tasmania and Malcolm himself (readings by NW) and others: representatives from Airshows DownUnder, NorthAids; Scott Bickford’s father; Malcolm’s younger brother Sean.
Death Is Nothing At All
Henry Scott Holland
Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
whatever we were to each other
that we still are
call me by my old familiar name
speak to me in the easy way
which you always used
put no difference in your tone
wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together
pray smile, think of me, pray for me
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was
Let it be spoken without effort
without the trace of a shadow in it
Life means all that it ever meant
it is the same as it ever was
there is unbroken continuity
why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you
somewhere very near
just around the corner
All is well
John Gillespie Magee
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
I only met Malcolm Gleeson three times in the days towards the end of his life. It says something about him that those three visits are ones which I will never forget. It was not that we talked much, although we did have some conversation on living and dying and how I perceived that.
There was something about this man which told me that I was in the presence of a special human being. I can’t even describe what it was. I loved his beautiful face and told him that – even when it had lost its normal fullness which I saw later in an early photograph, it was still beautiful. I like his quirky sense of humour and his directness – an extraordinary mixture of unusual strength and yet vulnerability.
As I tried to get some insight into what had formed his life, I could see that to soar into the skies or spread your life across the oceans was part of him. Still I puzzled about sensing something much more in this person – an indefinable depth of being.
Last Sunday, his friend Neil gave me a loan of a little notebook in which there were a few pages of quotations which were precious to Malcolm. He had written them in tiny handwriting, some of them in other languages. He noted that the black pen quotes were about love “following Williams’ precedent”.
There were quotes from Dante, Hegel, Kant, Karl Marx, Kierkegaard, Wordsworth, Nietzsche, Foucault, Freud and others whom I didn’t even recognise. Many of the quotes were so profound that it took me some time to reflect on what they might mean. I have photocopied them all so that I can go more deeply into them with my philosopher daughter.
A couple I liked and understood were both by Kierkegaard:
“At first sight, I perceived that he was a poet – if for no other reason I saw it in the fact that a situation that would have been taken easily in stride by a lesser mortal expanded into a world event for him”
“I know that what I have hitherto understood is very little, so there will always be enough left behind, hiding in the shadows of the soul’s vaguer intimations”
His last entry was by John Barth:
“Things must be wept for.”
Yes, they must, Malcolm and we weep for you.
The quotes which I read helped me to understand the instinct which I had about Malcolm – that the fragile body I saw before me was holding a deep and complex person. It also explains why I immediately wanted to write a blessing for him, which he framed and kept beside him.
A blessing for Malcolm
May the night be calm around you,
like a cloak of gentleness,
and the day be filled with moments
of gathered gifts.
May memories hold you firmly
into life lived with delight –
the past spread out before you,
with regrets tossed away,
and all that is valuable
cherished and staying close beside you
to add to your future.
May you be surrounded
with clouds of love which visit you
like every friend you ever had
and a God who is filled with kindness
bring you rest and peace.
I wish I had known you better, Malcolm Gleeson. Maybe we will meet again one day in another place and can catch up. I do weep for you and for a life which we needed among us and which was, sadly, cut short.
As we come to the moment of farewell,
part of our grief may be regret
for things done or left undone,
words said, or never said,
or moments that never happened.
This is the time to lay aside all those regrets
and to honour the generous spirit of Malcolm himself,
who would never want those regrets carried into our future.
A silence is kept
Let us go forward in peace.
To love someone is to risk the pain of parting.
Not to love is never to have lived.
The grief which we now experience is the honouring of our love.
Let us now in a quiet moment
make our farewell to Malcolm.
A silence is kept
The sending out
Go with our love, tears and laughter, Malcolm Gleeson.
And may your irreverent spirit
soar high in the winds of the heavens,
flying in joyful freedom
to meet universal life.
May you journey in delight
into new places of hope and peace
and hover low over our lives
when we grieve your going.
Blessing and dismissal
Even as we grieve this loss,
let us commit ourselves to the comfort of those who miss Malcolm most.
Let us surround them with our love and comfort.
And now let us go into the world,
glad that we have loved,
free to weep for the one we have lost,
free to hold each other in our human frailty,
empowered to live life to the full
and to affirm the hope of human existence.
Let us go in peace.
John Morrison’s group provided music to top and tail the service. Their opening number was much in the mode of the top YouTube, and the final number was in fact “Fly Me to the Moon”.