I am not good with death. Perhaps no one is good with death, although doctors and funeral directors must deal with it so often that they develop coping mechanisms. I haven’t developed any yet. Possibly (and luckily) because I haven’t been exposed to it too often. That was until the last few years.
In 2012, my cousin Scott died unexpectedly. In 2013, my second cousin Zac died unexpectedly as well. And this year, my 89-year-old grandmother Betty died. It wasn’t unexpected – at that age, it can’t be. But it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s unexpected or not. All types of death are equally difficult to comprehend, to accept.
For the funerals of both Zac and my grandmother, I was asked to write eulogies. Normally a writer is so pleased to be asked to write anything. But normally you don’t cry through every word as you type it on the page. Normally there’s a happy ending. Or one of your own choosing anyway. Nobody would choose this. Nobody who had a choice would choose death.
These are the times when I wish I wasn’t a writer. So nobody would ask me to write a eulogy. Because there are no words. Nothing that can make it right. Nothing that can do justice to who they were when they were still alive, nothing that can do justice to how perfect they were in their imperfect lives.
But both my second cousin and my grandmother are worth celebrating. So today, here is the eulogy I wrote for Zac. And on Friday I will post the two eulogies I wrote for my grandmother (yes, two, but that story will keep for a few days). None of them are good enough. Nothing ever could be.
Zac and I had three things in common:
- Family: we were second cousins
- Football: we were Collingwood fanatics.
- And stories: we were the writers of the family.
I’m also a trained editor and when Zac finished writing his novel called “Heaven and Hell” in 2012, he asked me to do an assessment. When I agreed, he tweeted:
When he finally got my assessment about a month later, he tweeted:
Despite my brutally honest assessment of his novel and his overwhelmed response, Zac was a genuine writing talent. As part of my assessment, I recommended that he focus more on short stories while he developed. He’d already been writing short stories, of course, but as they started coming through to me, I realised his was a truly unique style, which he was well aware of. Zac once tweeted:
Zac had just started studying professional writing and editing at RMIT this year. He had a twitter story published by One Forty Fiction in December last year and a short story published in February this year called “Francis the Brave”.
He had an eye for the quirky. He tweeted:
He had an eye for the unusual. Zac tweeted:
And, strangely, he had a liking for telling the stories of old men including:
- An old man who voyeuristically painted portraits of widows seen from an apartment window high above opposite a cemetery
- An old man who obsessively maintained the length of his lawn with scissors
- And an old man who mediated between his two daughters, one a soldier, the other an ardent anti-war activist
Zac himself tweeted:
Another theme in Zac’s writing was the casual bystander. Although he often wrote from the first person perspective, he was often narrating the story of someone else from the sidelines. He was a natural observer of the banal, the beautiful and the heartbreaking aspects of life.
When the Melbourne Writers Festival asked via Twitter who people’s favourite short story writers were, I immediately tweeted back:
And his short story called “Death: Oil on Canvas” confirmed everything I had come to suspect. After he sent it to me in January this year, I told Zac, “You have the makings of a top-notch short story writer – your talent for these sorts of unusual concepts, which are a must for stories this length, is undeniable.”
This is an extract from Zac’s short story called “Death: Oil on Canvas”:
“A gentle breeze is blowing my father’s fine white wreath of hair about. In the absence of noise I step around the room and admire pictures of my mother; a few are of her younger years, faded around the edges, the sepia centre as strong as her gaze in the distance; others are coloured, only a few years old, her hair shiny and white and her eyes beaming with unsuspecting joy; there’s a stroke on the horizon.”
Zac, I was unsuspecting in the end, too. But in a short, too short, amount of time, you enriched my life immeasurably. I will miss you, I will miss your tweets popping up in my Twitter feed, I will miss your short stories arriving in my inbox and I will always wonder what the number one bestselling book you had in you somewhere would have been about.
In February this year, Zac tweeted:
Collingwood and Hawthorn play next Sunday afternoon at the MCG and I invite everyone to go along and celebrate Zac just like he asked.
And if you like a book and people ask why, tell them it’s because it’s better than kittens. Zac thought that was a damn good line.