Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

Morris and the Comportment of a Good Heart.

April 11, 2017



Morris was not long married and father of one when he signed on with the British Army as a Chaplin in 1939. He would not see his family again for five and a half years.

“I feel asleep in a trench in the Burmese jungle and woke up to find myself surrounded by Japanese soldiers. They must have thought I was dead because they were taking no notice of me so I stayed dead for a few hours. Suddenly there were shots and two Jap’s fell down about me and the rest fled. A moment later members of my unit piled into the trench and one said ‘we got about five miles down the line and we realised we had lost you Padre’. They fixed me some food and a hot drink and off we went”.

About two months before he died he grabbed my hand and said he had a confession to make and needed absolution. I looked about like a startled hare and wondered if I was the right person for the job but he wasn’t hearing any of it. “I have never told anyone this but I need to get it off my chest. I had two affairs during the war. Once with an Indian nurse while on leave in India and once with a Chinese schoolteacher while on leave in South Africa. “You have to understand I was young and lonely and sure that I was going to die out there and I was looking for warmth and connection”. He paused for a moment then asked me if I thought he was a bad man? I didn’t and told him so. He seemed relieved.


Morris was an Anglican vicar who had felt the call to serve ‘the loving Jesus’ since he was a child. “I never rose through the ranks because I refused to play the game.” The game he was referring to was politics. Morris didn’t care about being seen to do the right thing, he did as he felt and this included tending to the needs of homosexual parishioners in a time when homosexuality was not only a mortal sin but also illegal with it. This did not make him popular with his peers nor did his acceptance of other faiths including Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. “At their best they are all paths to love” he confirmed.

It was his open mindedness that bought him and his wife to New Zealand, that and a daughter who had married a Kiwi and had moved out here several years earlier. She sent him a clipping from the NZ Herald about an iconic Anglican church in the heart of a major NZ city that was falling on hard times and in need of a vicar who could make a difference. Morris got the job and in 1967 he and his wife made the big move and began life afresh.

I wished I had of asked him more about these times because as I am writing I am only beginning to realise how spare my knowledge of him is. I am recalling snippets about how he revitalised the parish by organising dances for single Christians wanting to meet other single Christians and putting on special services for Gay Christians. They retired in 1979 and moved to the Central Waikato to be near their daughter.

Morris flirted with my then wife, a pretty and vibrant young woman of considerable charm while reassuring me that it was all a game. “I am a eunuch you see old boy so I am no competition to you.” He had contracted testicular cancer a few years before I met him and they had been removed. Not long after he had lost his beloved wife to illness. This last one was real blow and he staggered back to life determined to find new meaning. “I lost interest in the Church of England. It was moribund and had forgotten the essential Christian message of love”. Like me his searching had bought him to the Rosicrucian Lectorium, a Gnostic Christian sect based at Karapiro just outside of Cambridge.

The Rosicrucians suited Morris to a tee. They were Christian but they also borrowed heavily from the Eastern spirituality that had long impressed him. He liked their egalitarian attitude and enjoyed their fellowship though he couldn’t cope with their vegetarianism. He was part Basque and carried that peculiar Basque genetic profile that meant his body could not absorb iron from plant food. He needed flesh.

Otherwise he saw through their more pretentious allusions and made a great deal of fun at their expense. These Rosicrucians, (or as he liked to call them: The Rosy Crustaceans) were of Dutch origin and being typically dour were ripe for the picking. He referred to their founding figure Jan van Rijckenborgh as J Rickenfuhrer or Rickenburger as the mood took him all in honor of Rijckenborgh’s instruction that the leader should never be exalted. Of course they exalted him, at every turn, but Morris was always there waving the satirical flag to remind them of their obligations.

In this context he referred to their bi-monthly magazine The Pentagram as The Penthouse. To their credit they put up with up with it possibly because he was creakingly old and to protest would just be wrong headed. Still, for those of us less inclined toward unswerving fealty he was fresh air blowing out the bull dust.

Once he decided to surprise his daughter and her husband by going out to their farm with the idea of completing the renovations underway on their house while they were on holiday. He managed to pull the roof in on their living room while inadvertently setting their entire winters wood supply alight. That story followed him about like a bad smell and any mention of it were the only times I ever saw him look displeased.

Halfway through his ninety-third year his body shut down and he went fast. It was a peaceful death at home in his own bed surrounded by friends and family. The Anglican Bishop of the Waikato officiated at the funeral and stood before us all in his finery and waxed lyrical about Morris’s eccentricities (his Gnostic faith) and suggested that god would take into account all Morris’s good work and forgive him for his aberrations. Seriously, I wanted to kick the smug bastard where it hurt the most and regret that I didn’t. I have seldom before or since met a person with a truer heart than Morris’s. A man who judged no one but himself, he didn’t deserve to go out on a snipe like that.







November 4, 2016


 Hautapu Cemetery.

What do I remember about Hilary? I remember that she wore red boots that were once described to me by someone who should have known better as ‘Frankenstein boots’, big solid things with steel frames attached to support her frail calf muscles. One of her legs may have been longer the longer than the other and the boots designed to compensate but I am not sure but I do remember that she used crutches.

I remember that she wore a catheter and had to endure regular enemas because her bowels were improperly formed and suffered multiple operations on her spine and legs but those events are only a whisper to me. I was farmed out to my maternal grandparents through much those years so my parents could focus on the difficult task that had been thrust upon them and as they struggled to come to terms with their new situation in life I was at large the dreamtime of childhood, apart and mostly unaware of the main event.


I remember that we are lying in her bed with the covers up over our heads listening to children’s stories on the radio, laughing, acting out and having fun. It is a warm and innocent moment where there is no disability, just two siblings lost in revelry. I imagine that she of had lived we would have been very close, a feeling reinforced by other stories about us passed onto me by our mother.

There was a spare ten months between us, a fact that (in my mind at least) almost made us almost twins. We shared a similar sensibility and intellect and I wonder how different things might have been had I had her in my life, the usual kind of questions that haunt those left behind to deal with the complexities of living.

A few years after her death my mother described her to me as intelligent and wilful, the latter a quality she needed in spades to navigate the world carrying with her the burdens she did. Halfway through her ninth year she used that wilfulness to successfully lobby for a radical change in circumstance. Hilary was determined to be ‘like the other kids’ and instead of being taken to school in the car asked if she could take the bus. After much soul searching our mother agreed.

Along with our neighbours she was collected from outside our house and after school deposited a few hundred metres down the way where they would disembark and would walk around the front of the bus and wait for the driver to wave them safely across the road. This done he would put it into gear and move off. On this day everything went as normal but Hilary new to the system was struggling with crutches and schoolbag failed to keep up. She was still in front of the bus when it roared into life.

I wonder at her last moments? Perhaps there was a startled panic as she realised what was happening? I hope it was quick. It was certainly horrifying for the witnesses one of whom ran to our house yelling that a girl had been run over and to call the police. My mother knew straight away. I was already home and I will never forget her scream, a heart rendering wail of grief that ripped the guts out of everyone present. For Dad it was even worse. He was milking the cows and someone had run to cowshed requesting a tractor to help move the bus off the body. He did what was required only to find the crushed body of his second born lying under a tyre.


As for me, that day is coloured by a strange conclusion that for many years after shaped the way I perceived the world. My school reports from that time observe that I preferred to work alone and alone is how I often felt. It was not an uncomfortable state but part of me wondered at the activities of the other children and asked if I was not missing out on something important.

This need for social acceptance become something of an obsession and I had begun to aspire to be something I wasn’t. On the fateful day I got my wish and there I was throwing a ball back and fourth with another boy howling with laughter and revelling in the joy of connection. I have no idea how this came about but I clearly remember going back to class at the end of the lunch break thinking that ‘today had been the best day ever’. It turned out to be quite the opposite and I concluded that great tragedy follows on the heels of great joy. It was a long time before I felt safe enough to be happy again.

I remember the day of her funeral and the dreamlike journey from house to church to graveside. I remember looking at the small delicately padded white coffin and remember thinking that if I willed it hard enough it would open and she would rise out of it and return to us. It did not happen and by the time the vessel was lowered into the earth at the cemetery I was exhausted.


Where do you go from here? Nowhere it turns out, you just endure it, a dreamlike state of disbelief, a hundred pressing questions and a morbid state of waking confusion. You live and you endure and eventually you heal, or at least you think you do. Some wounds cut so deep that there is no proper recovery, just the semblance of one.

I look back on these memories and wonder at their accuracy gathered as they were by a child adrift in the most tragic event any family should expect to endure. A wash of images and sensations, reflections of people coming and going, awkward words, strained silences, moments of forgetting followed by the anguish of remembering. I may have gotten some of the details wrong but this is how it lives in me.

Dad is now in his mid-eighties still visits her gravesite every Sunday, his devotion a living act of love. My mother celebrates her birthday with that same unwavering fidelity. Her name was Hilary Ann Johnstone. She had a freckled face, brown hair and carried her bits and pieces about in a little blue case with a brown handle. She died aged nine and a half, 02/10/1972.