My eulogy to Doris in St John's Church, Reid (Canberra), Monday 28 July 2003:
This is scary. I recall Doris taking these same steps up here, at about this time of the year 4 years ago. Part of her job as Director of St John’s Care was to report back to the Sunday congregations on the progress they had made since she had taken over in January. She had already taken her 3 deep breaths as she walked up from the back & I could hear the nervous quavering in her voice as I sat down the back & gave her the signal that she needed to increase her volume. It took about 20 to 30 seconds for the professionalism to start to shine through & she settled in to what she wanted to say. She carried a cheat sheet with about 5 salient points on it & from that, she could talk continuously for about 15 minutes. Unfortunately, I have so much to say about her, that my cheat sheet runs to 6 A4 pages. And for those of you who are sitting outside, you don’t get to see the hand actions, so I’ll just have to paint the word pictures really well.
The first one of those word pictures is of her first boyfriend arriving on his bike with a broken leg, in a full plaster right up to the hip, sticking out sideways from the bike. Stewart wants me to apologise for the next part of this celebration, which is a song that links her entrance today with that early period in her life. It also talks about not letting opportunities pass you by, which has certainly been a hallmark of my relationship with Doris. The songs & the hymn in the rest of this service also link back to the ceremonies we held in Seattle last week, both the bedside farewell & the funeral last Monday. Please join in for the chorus & listen carefully to the words.
... The Newcastle Song by Bob Hudson ...
My friends, it gives me great pleasure to introduce my wife & the love of my life, Doris Anita Hella Kurtovic de Wildt McCutchen Ehret Turner Fiddaman.
The story starts in the early 1950’s. At the end of World War 2, the only countries that would accept people without ID documents were in South America. Doris’s parents, Anita Kurtovic from Croatia & Claus Wildt from Germany were there & kicked off the life of this remarkable woman, in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Anyway, Claus was a bit of a bastard & disappeared within a couple of years. Doris turned out to be a bit of traveller. At one point, Anita & Doris lived in Paris for a while, living off the generosity of the local nuns. It’s funny how that one eventually went full cycle. Along the way, Anita married Ed McCutchen, an American geologist, and followed him to the Canary Islands, where Doris’s brother Tom was born. In the US, they lived in Shreveport, Louisiana and Salt Lake City, Utah. When they arrived in Sydney, Australia in 1966, Anita said “enough” to any more travel.
Doris always was a bit of an outcast. When she arrived in the US, she spoke German, Spanish & French, but no English. She was mistaken for a Puerto Rican. Years later, on a holiday in New Caledonia, her French came back after a few days & someone asked her which part of Paris she had lived in. When she arrived in Australia, the first person she spoke to at school told her to “go home, ya bloody Yank”. Madame Hagney’s elocution lessons were particularly trying. You can picture it – “Hark the lark, singing in the park”, and from the back, “Harrrk the larrrk, singing in the parrrrk”. Years later, we ran into one of her old school friends. “Oh I remember you, you were that hark the lark chick”.
I have a photo at home of a stunning young woman in her nurse’s uniform, with her hair pulled back to show off her high Germanic cheek bones. Doris was the type of nurse that I would certainly have liked to have caring for me. She told stories of her days as a Community Nurse in the Botany Bay area of Sydney, where she would often go against official instructions to accommodate the wishes of the patient. She got carpeted by her manager on numerous occasions & I think this is where the “patient” started becoming the “client”. She told stories of a home brew exploding in the kitchen, with bits of schlivervitz dripping off the ceiling, & of the old man who just wanted to be able to keep his bike in his apartment – he turned out to be a former Olympic Gold Medallist in cycling.
Doris married Terry Ehret, but that marriage self destructed in a few months. In Graham Turner, Doris saw a man of strength, who would enable her to escape from Sydney. She married him & they went to live in Adelaide, where Stewart was born in 1985. Unfortunately, the marriage to Graham didn't work out & Doris left Graham when Stewart was about 3. I first met Doris at the gates of the childcare centre, when she was dropping off Stewart & I was dropping off my girlfriend’s daughters. I thought, “Wow, she’s got great eyes” & she thought, “Hm, he’s got a cute arse”.
We circled around each other as my relationship with Mary Jane ended & we finally met again at the Jaycees Annual Ball. Doris was dressed as Merlin, complete with tall conical hat & a wand. We sat in the garden & talked for ages. I said I’d call her & she omitted to give me her phone number. Three days later, I called her & she answered. What she didn’t know was how much heaven & earth I had moved to get her unlisted number & what I didn’t know is that she had stopped the car in the driveway, punched out the window screen & reached in through the window to answer the phone. I invited her to dinner 2 days later at the house I was sharing. It was the only night of the week that we were all home at the same time, & it became known as our “bring a tart” night, so I invited her to be my tart. She turned up, with a lovely fruit tart. But she also made a fifty mile round trip to drop Stewart off at a friend’s house before she arrived.
At the end of the evening, we shared a kiss & the heavens exploded. I pulled back & said, “I don’t need this” & that REALLY needed some explaining. What I was trying to express was that I had been through a 10-year marriage & another substantial relationship, & I was finally making it on my own. I could do anything. I was self-sufficient. I was in control of my life. And if she wanted to add some icing to that cake, that was OK with me. Doris, it seems, was at exactly the same point in her life. She was studying, she had a part time job & she had spare time to enjoy with Stewart. After that, we were never apart for more than a few weeks at a time, for 15 years.
Some 18 months later, we were married in our own backyard, under the cotoneaster tree, with all of our friends around us. We already had 2 of everything (toasters, washing machines, dryers, kitchen tables), so we asked each of our friends to supply a specific item or service for the wedding. Tony organised the chairs, Larry supplied the barbecue, others brought a roast or a salad or a dessert & Clive arranged the grog. And our neighbour dumped a bucket of freshly cut roses & orchids on the back doorstep. We had a ball & the guests catered for themselves.
Still in Adelaide, Doris had worked for an organisation known as TOYS, which stands for “Together Offering Your Skills”. It was a motley bunch of mostly old men who would repair toys & jigsaw puzzles for child care centres, kindergartens & toy libraries. She learnt a lot from these men, not only about how to work a multitude of power tools, but also about how many rich life experiences they had to share. Some of Doris’s most treasured memories was watching these guys, average age 75, play with a new type of toy that perhaps they hadn’t seen before, & one in particular when an ark came in missing a few animals, & seeing them play with the animals, marching them in two by two. Doris started a similar project here at St John’s Care, it’s called “Patch a Puzzle” & many of those volunteers are here today.
Then it came time for our mid life crisis. We really needed to create some distance from our ex-wife & ex-husband. So we bought a small trading company in the Philippines & moved there to run it. Three weeks later, Mount Pinatubo blew up about 15 miles away. In volcanic terms, that’s just over the back fence. We were lucky in that we were stuck in a hotel with no means of escape – we had food, shelter, power, lights, & a big screen TV with laser videodisks. There I was with sand raining down outside & a concrete pillar hitting me in the back from 9 inches away & the boys’ eyes never left that screen, even when they were moving in the opposite direction to the TV cabinet. All of Doris’s Emergency Room training & all of my Emergency Services training was put to the test that night & on into the next day.
We survived the eruption & the aftermath, & Doris even featured on a 60 Minutes program in Australia. In fact, just thinking back, I’m told we should all have 10 minutes of fame in our lifetime. With all of Doris’s appearances on radio & TV, she’s had her own 10 minutes, my 10 minutes, Stewart’s 10 minutes & I think she's stolen 10 minutes from a few other people as well. Back to the Philippines, the best way to make a small fortune in the Philippines is to start with a bigger one. We did exactly that, but also did lots of scuba diving. I need here to paint you a scenario. When you’re diving, you’re basically swimming along forwards, head up to see where you’re going, wearing a lycra suit to keep the bities off your skin, & propelled along by your fins. For those of who had met Doris, you know she had big boobs. And of course they tend to hang down in the water & create an opening at the neck line, which means that any fire coral that happens to be floating in the water, where does it go? Yep, straight down the middle. So when we got back to the room, I had the REALLY tough job of rubbing alcohol over the whole area, to ease the itching & draw out the stings.
On our return from the Philippines, Doris studied & practiced in her next job, which was also working with older people, the concept of “social role valorisation”, which involves accepting all of us as individuals & honouring the talents & gifts that all of us have to share. Sometimes it’s something as simple as not putting a retirement home next to a cemetery (think about it), or not putting an old person at the end of a dead end street. They already know they’re on a one-way trip, & we don’t have to rub their noses in it.
Doris worked with volunteers for most of her career. When we moved to Canberra, she coordinated the home-based volunteer program for the ACT Hospice. She came home with some remarkable stories. One day she went to do an initial visit to a man whose wife was dying. His parents had died when he was 10 & her parents had taken him into her family, so they had really been together for about 80 years, & married for 70 of those. He was a little confused as why she was there. As she explained that she had volunteers who could come in & help him do things for his wife & perhaps allow him to take a break from caring for her for an hour or two. He said, “My dear, I have been doing the little things for my wife for 70 years, why would I NOT want to do them now, when she needs me the most?” It was a lesson that Doris never forgot. For us, one of those little things was a coffee in the morning. I’d make the coffee (black with ice-cream in it) & she’d turn on the TV. I could never get to work before 8:30, because from 7 to 7:30, we absolutely had to snuggle up in bed & watch the Today Show. But on the other hand, when I left the house, I knew that I was loved & special.
It was in Canberra generally & at St John’s Care specifically, that Doris really started to shine. As I’m sure most of you already know, St John’s Care is the community outreach arm of this parish. I’m sure lots of people today will share some stories of Doris from our time here in Canberra. One of the keys to SJC’s original success, before Doris even started as the Director, was that it was small enough to exist without much paperwork. Doris not only continued the process of limiting the paperwork, but also insisted that intrusive questions be kept to a minimum. Many of the clients were surprised to find that their defensive barriers had been broken down within minutes of talking to one of the staff. She also insisted that EVERY person who walked through that door had a right to do so & was to be treated with dignity & respect. She even made up little cardboard “J” letters & distributed one to every volunteer. “J” stands for Judgement, and the idea was to “put your judgement back in your pocket”. It came home very clearly one day when a rather dirty young woman came in, wearing tracksuit & joggers, hair all over the place, what you might think of as a “typical” client of a welfare agency. She proceeded to pull out $150 in cash to pay for her upcoming Marriage Education Course, & drove away in her BMW. She’d been gardening. And you will find you very own “J” to cut out, on the back page of your order of service.
Doris had an impact wherever she went. She was a Venturer Scout Leader at the Latrobe Park Group in Deakin. I think I’ve spotted every single one of the young people she worked with here today, with the exception of those who have passed on their apologies. I recall running into Jon Stanhope in Civic on the night before he was elected, while we were waiting for the Venturers to finish their activity. We wished him well for tomorrow & mentioned our plans for moving to Seattle. Also in Civic one day, Doris was approached by a very dirty, smelly man who engaged her in conversation for several minutes, while I looked on. After he left, I said, “Client of yours?” She replied, “Uh huh, he used to be a senior Public Servant before his wife left him & he fell apart.” When Doris was around, everyone got their ten cents’ worth.
Many of you will be asking why someone so young should be taken from us, at the age of just 49. My mum, who died at the age of 67, always used to say, “Only the good die young”. My dad, on other hand, is well into his third marriage at the age of 87, so perhaps we shouldn’t draw any conclusions from that. I’d like to throw in some theories of my own, in the hope that they may comfort you.
I’m going to draw an analogy from the Baha’i writings, which talks about a baby in the womb. It has no idea where its next life is. The reality is that its next life is literally all around it. From time to time, it can actually hear it & be touched by it. This baby also grows various appendages, like arms & legs, for which it has absolutely no use in its current life, there in the womb. But it’s going to be seriously disadvantaged when it’s born into that new life, if it hasn’t grown them properly. So let’s step forward to this life. The next life is all around us, so close you could touch it & sometimes it can touch you. And sometimes you can hear it as well. I believe the purpose of this life is to grow spiritual arms & legs, to learn the lessons we need to learn, to acquire the values & attitudes that we need to acquire & to do whatever spiritual jobs that we came here to do, so that we’re not spiritually stunted when we move on. I have a feeling that Doris will be as big in that life as she was here.
I recall Doris mentioning exit points, & I think it comes from Carolyn Myss & her work on Sacred Contracts. It seems we are given 6 exit points in this lifetime. The spirit chooses which one it will take. Sometimes it gets onto the turnoff & decides it’s the wrong one, because its work is not finished yet. Spend a moment to think back on your life, think back to where perhaps you had a close shave. That’s an exit point. I’ve nearly drowned twice, so they’re pretty easy to identify. We’ve been driving on the freeways in America over the last 4 months & picking the correct exit has often been quite “interesting”. So when it comes to this particular exit point, Doris my love, I just think your timing is simply atrocious. But then I look back & think that perhaps Doris had indeed grown her spiritual arms & legs, that she had learned her lessons & had done whatever it was that she came here to do. And she certainly touched all of us along the way.
Even in her death, Doris touched people. I received huge amounts of support from both my Australian & my American colleagues in Seattle. One of the people whose association with Doris was through the apartment block in which we live over there, prefaced her comments at the bedside farewell with, “I never speak at things like this, but Doris has touched me so much that today I’ll speak out”. We heard from the volunteer organisations that Doris had already worked her way into, the local Thrift Shop & the Woodland Park Zoo. In fact, one of the few pieces of memorabilia that I brought with me, which you can see later on in the hall, is a name card from the zoo that describes her as a “Volunteer in Training”. I also need to very publicly thank my work colleagues here in Deakin. They passed the hat around & their contributions enabled me to pay for the funeral service in Seattle. Thank you, all of you.
For those of you who don’t the details surrounding Doris’s last few days in this lifetime, here they are. She had been taking the opportunity of really looking after herself – getting her hair done, getting some nice nails put on, always wearing bright nail polish, she was even receiving some stuff in the mail to help keep her skin looking beautiful, and she was exercising regularly. Unfortunately, exercise & a brain aneurism don’t go well together. An aneurism is like a balloon in a blood vessel & when it bursts, it bleeds profusely into the brain. The brain goes into shock, you collapse unconscious & we think that in Doris’s case, it also triggered a mild heart attack, which deprived her of oxygen & added to the trauma to the brain. By the time the ambulance arrived, the damage was already done. All this was Monday morning, 2 weeks ago. She was taken to Intensive Care at a local hospital, which just happens to be one of the best in the entire Pacific North West region. Early on the Tuesday morning, her condition deteriorated & by the time I went back home to wake Stewart up, she had already gone & her body was being kept alive by the respirator. Stewart & I made the decision to honour Doris’s wishes that her organs be donated & we signed her up for all of her major organs. For those who have been through that process, you know that it tends to drag out towards the end & it was 1:30 am before they wheeled her away to the Operating Room. It was the toughest way for both of us, but we were determined to stay with her until the end.
One piece of good news is that there are some parts of Doris that live on. Unfortunately, her lungs were too damaged by the trauma surrounding her death. Her liver & pancreas were unsuitable as well, probably damaged by the mature onset diabetes that she had been struggling with. Her heart also suffered some trauma, but it was suitable for the valves to be used. Both of her kidneys went to male recipients aged 41 & 44. One of them had been experiencing a lot of trouble finding a match. It seems Doris was his perfect match.
I’ll also share with you a message that my American manager passed on to me from his wife. Her brother died around this time last year from liver disease. Like many others, he spent his last days & months wearing a pager, hoping against hope that the pager would go off, knowing that when it did, someone was dying & he would have a chance to live. For 2 men somewhere in the Seattle area, their pager went off. Sam’s message to me was our pain was someone else’s hope. I fully intend to contact those 2 men in due course & let them know that their kidneys came from a truly remarkable woman.
What’s next? Doris’s wish was that her ashes be scattered at sea, so that she could be with the whales & dolphins. Stewart & I intend to do that, & more. We’ll have a private ceremony on Friday 8th August on our block of land at Hervey Bay, to transfer the ashes from the sealed plastic bag inside the urn, into the velvet bag from the funeral home. At 6 am the next day, as the tide turns, accompanied by Doris’s brother Tom, we’ll take her scuba diving on the Roy Rufus Reef, which is half way between Hervey Bay & Fraser Island, close to where the humpback whales are migrating now, & we’ll scatter her ashes underwater. We’ve already booked the boat & I’m hoping that by the time we get to the bottom, the tide will be running strongly enough that the ashes will simply drift away on the tide.
In the meantime, while the ashes are still with us, and knowing how much of a touchy feely person Doris was, I encourage you to touch the urn, which, by the way, is a one of a kind (of course), and if you feel comfortable doing so, pick it up & hold it & feel the texture. Don’t be afraid to feel whatever it is that you feel. If a thought pops into your head, just accept it. I’ve done at lot of that lately & it’s very comforting.
I talked earlier about the little things. May I please ask each one of you, that when you get home tonight, to do this for Doris: please make a pact with one you love, that you will both treasure the little things in life. And to make that easier, over in the hall, you’ll find a huge basket of individually wrapped chocolates. They’re not for eating now. They’re to take home to the ones you love, as a gift from Doris & me.
Thank you for listening to my ramblings. And thank you for sharing this time together.