16 hours before I was due to fly from New Zealand to Australia for Burning Seed 2019 I got a terrible call from my mother.
“I’ve just been told by the doctor that Grandad probably has 48 hours left to live”.
**silence on my end of the line**
“Are you alright?” Mum says
“Yes, I’m just computing. There’s a big decision to make”.
A couple of hours later Jarred, Levi, Sean and I were driving to Auckland to stay the night at my parent’s house before the flight to Australia at 7.30am the next morning. There were many tears in the car. Texts from Mum pleading me to stay in New Zealand. Attempts from Levi to convince me to let him go to Australia with Jarred. Sean trying to work out how to do the family polite thing and still go on the trip. Silence from Jarred, who was going to support whatever choice was made. It was a pretty heavy time.
We visited Grandad before getting to Mum and Dad's. He was indeed, on a sharp decline, but he had eaten some food that night.
Having to deal with such a decision doesn't come all that often in my well-off life. It actually felt good to stretch into that part of my brain and wrestle with a very real decision. For some, this would be an easy decision to make - to stay or go. For me, it was something that completely tore me in two. Choosing between my two loves.
My family and keeping those ties strong is important to me. My nana (passed) and grandad had been an integral part of my childhood and life. Our family has been one of wonderful, foundational love, where no dramas have ever occurred. And my grandfather has been training my brother and I on the songs he wanted at his funeral, even giving him a yearly "concert" each Christmas since Nana died three years ago. Missing the funeral was out of the question.
But at the same time...
The event that I was heading to was Burning Seed! My other home and family. Where the Real Me was allowed to be present at all times and where my creative spirit had learned to fly. Jarred and I were running our theme camp for the 6th time so there were 30 people depending on the infrastructure we provide, as well as the art installation Sacred Seed that we have been putting up for 5 years. This year three groups of people had created new artwork for Sacred Seed, and we had 8+ workshops scheduled that weren't by me. THIS HAD NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE! The slow expansion of this mahi (life work) was finally taking flight to well beyond my capabilities and I wanted to be there to celebrate and see it.
Ugh to have to choose between them!
After many conversations, even more tears and a late night, I decided Levi and I would stay in Auckland. Jarred and Sean would continue to do the Seed mission, taking the art of Sacred Seed with them ($200 excess baggage fee even though we had paid for two seats that were not being used). Jarred was determined it was going to happen, even if I wasn’t there.
Dropping Jarred and Sean off at the airport was completely heart wrenching. As Sean said to me, “You are now losing two things… your grandad, and all the hard work you have put into your art”.
It was hard to let it go, to leave it to others to put it up without me. But I knew it was the right decision to make. The next 24 hours are a bit of a blur, but it did involve visiting Grandad and singing his chosen songs, as well as other songs I knew he liked. Grandad was pretty awake that day and was able to have short conversations between napping. He never suffered dementia, so he recognised the everyone in the family right until the end, asking detailed questions like "When did you come down from Whangarei?" to me.
The super gentle side of Levi emerged as he offered his Great Grandad his juice with a straw. I’ve never seen Levi be so gentle before. Grandad seemed to have got his appetite back, and ate three meals that day. I'm pretty sure I went to bed early, emotionally drained and exhausted.
The next day I visited Grandad again, and he seemed much "better". With the amount that he was eating it was pretty clear that he was definitely not going to die in the next 48 hours like the doctor had predicted. Seeing this, and mulling it over in my mind as I visited my sister, I decided I would try and broach the subject of me leaving with Levi on Thursday. I wondered how that was going to go down with my parents.
A Thursday arrival was important to me, because the Welcome To Country ceremony happens on this day. It is a traditional smoking welcome performed by local indigenous people, who are also full participants at Burning Seed. They are First Camp, and The Orphanage, my camp, are neighbours at the quiet end of the paddock. Being there for this ceremony was especially important for me because it was the first Burning Seed after our previous indigenous liaison had died. This wonderful woman had been integral in building up First Camp and their role at Burning Seed and was such a special person in our community. I wanted to be there at Welcome To Country to honour her, and cry with my friends for our loss.
To my surprise, when I rolled up the driveway, Mum and Dad were literally waiting for me in the front doorway and said to me almost in unison,
“We think you should go to Australia”.
“And we think you should go as soon as possible. You can go tomorrow if you like”.
Fortunately it was Saturday and I was still able to contact Jarred before he went into the uncontactable wonderland that is Burning Seed. As Lumi and Sean did happy dances in the background, Jarred and I laid out plans that would enable him to pick me up from the Wagga Wagga airport on Monday, the same day he was dropping off the hired truck we used for all our gear.
On Sunday Levi and I visited Grandad for the last time, and lunch was served while we were there. Again, Levi’s gentle side came out and he was feeding Grandad his whole lunch with such gentleness and joy. That was so special. It was such a beautiful thing to witness and a memory I will hold forever. It was the last memory there was to have.
Monday morning we were at the airport early, as we flew our way to Australia. We made it to Burning Seed having only missed one day of set up (plus all the driving and packing of the truck). All the core infrastructure had been set up, so on Tuesday morning it was all hands on deck to set up Sacred Seed - which we managed to do in one day, including lighting.
As I brought out the things of my Nana’s that are part of the Sacred Seed installation, I thought about how there is literally nothing else in the world I would rather be doing, and nothing better that could transmit the love my grandparents shared with us into the world. Being able to share this love with the Burning Seed community is such a blessing for everyone involved. I’m so happy I was able to be in that space at that time.
The new art was outstanding and our improved street frontage meant that we had a lot more visitors this year, thank you Layla, Lewis, Pille, Toby, Emrys and Will Retry! I can’t get over how amazing your contributions were. The workshops were well attended too, well… all of them aside from the ones that I ran, lol… the universe still keeps me humble 😉 .
It seems the universe blessed me with being able to experience both my families in a deep and beautiful way. The Orphanage theme camp went well. We now have a returning crew dedicated to what our space is about and there are now more offers of art for Sacred Seed next year. And I got to see and feel and cry at the memorial of our friend. Lumi, Jarred and I got to be a three publically. Levi had a ball playing in the forest and with the other kids of Seed.
What a phenomenal time.
It was with great fortune and blessings that I was able to stay in Australia for the week after Seed as planned (instead of being called back to New Zealand for a funeral) so I was able to hang out with Jarred’s daughters as well.
Grandad was still alive when we returned. He died three days after we arrived back on the 9th of October, at the grand old age of 99 and 9 months old.
Thank you to everyone who supported me, counselled me and hugged me during this time. Thank you to T-Slam for working out a way that message could get to me if my mother needed to contact me. Thank you to my family for providing such support and the funds to get to Australia to fulfil my arty dreams. Thank you to Sean and Lumi who took on more responsibility for setting up The Orphanage in my absence. And thank you to Jarred who bravely continued on without me, determined to serve The Orphanage and the Seed community and ensuring that what we had planned came to fruition. It certainly did.
Love you all