Robert’s Eulogy for Hazel

I MET HAZEL in 1984, and some of the qualities you’ve already heard of were things that struck me — her height, her smile, her serenity, her red hair — at the time she was affecting a henna dye. Within a year we were talking about plans she had to buy land to build a house. I recommended against it then, because I thought that building a house was something that was fraught with difficulty and the possibility of great anguish. Hazel, however, went ahead and later I become part of the scheme and I had to admit I was wrong.

Robert We didn’t have many holidays together, but in 1987, before Joshua was born, we went down to Victoria and skied for a week. On the way back from Falls Creek we took a back road and I began to realise that Hazel really wasn’t very comfortable in the bush when we were driving through the Snowy River valley at night on the way back to Canberra, and a single car some mile or so behind us conjured up, for Hazel, visions of the movie, Deliverance. So we didn’t spend much time dallying in that beautiful valley in the bush. (She later came to love bushwalking, especially from our eyrie in the Blue Mountains at Dargan.)

In 1989 Joshua was born, and twenty months later, Zoë, and I see Josh and Zoë as the main legacy of Hazel’s time on earth. Two beautiful children, and when I think of Hazel in the future, I will look at Joshua and I’ll look at Zoë, and I’ll see their mother in them.

The cancer was first diagnosed over four years ago and was treated, and for a while we hoped that the cancer had been banished from her body. But just over three years ago the diagnosis of the secondary cancer was confirmed. Hazel underwent treatment, and for almost eighteen months had what we didn’t dare at the time — but which we now see as remission, and continued with her life.

She had taken medical retirement from the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department, and she set about doing things, exploring parts of her which she hadn’t previously known about. In the last few months, she and I had been taping her life story — in five-and-a-half hours not complete, but one thing I learnt from this which was very interesting. In her early years, as she talked about them, it was very much for me like an itinerary — where she was, whom she was with, what she did — but there wasn’t much of her inner life, and I would press her to tell me, what she thought, what she felt, and I found this hard going. Had she forgotten? We talked about it off-tape and she said, well, in her early life up until the mid ’eighties, she said that she was really quite placid and moved by others, and even her emigration to Australia, which was encouraged by a friend — a godmother to Joshua and to Zoë who can’t be here today because she’s in Israel — even that, she said, was something where she found herself being influenced by others.

Robert A digression. One of the parts of her that Hazel explored and uncovered, really, after the cancer was diagnosed was her talent for painting. She had an extraordinary talent, passed on I am pleased to say to the children — not from me! Those of you who come back to the house after the brief service at the Northern Suburbs Crematorium will see some of her paintings on the wall. Her art teacher, Graeme Inson, who only needed two hours of her in the studio to recognise her talent, asked her in the first months only to paint in black and white. The monochromes are magnificent, even the very first one. Only after she’d mastered the ability and techniques of black and white would he encourage her to move to polychrome, to colour, which she moved to with equal success.

But in a way I see that as a reflection of her emotional life, which she described to me in the last weeks, it was really when she met me and particularly when she had Joshua and Zoë that her life and her passion become polychrome, become coloured, in the way that her later paintings were.

Her greatest sorrow at dying early was not being able to see Joshua and Zoë develop. But from this experience of hers I think we can take a moral and it’s one I’m sure she would want the children to understand — that all of us have talents that we may not be aware of. In her case it took a life crisis for her to recognise her ability to paint, and if can we learn from this we should all consider what talents we might have which we have yet undiscovered, and not wait for a life crisis to find them.

Hazel focussed very much on the children and me in the last few months. She was extraordinarily brave in the face of the hideous disease.

You may not realise this, but every so often I would appear at Uni and people would commend me on my haircut. Hazel was for the last ten years of her life my only hairdresser. Most recently she cut my hair in July when I heard at short notice that the School wanted some publicity photos of a lecture I was due to give the next day and so I asked Hazel, knowing that it would be painful for her because of the cancer, whether she would cut my hair. She did, and I got the same complements the next day, and I hope the publicity photos — which I haven’t seen — have come out well.

Robert Hazel, a few days later, suggested that I ask our neighbour, Henri Szeps, where he got his hair cut because she understood that from now on I would be having to pay to have my hair cut. Actually, it’s Angelo’s, in Darling Street, although I haven’t had the opportunity to go down there, as you can see. It’s pretty obvious.

I’ve recently heard unfortunately of many people who suffered the loss of a parent at a young age, and many have few memories and very little tangible to remember the dead parent by. This won’t be the case for Joshua and Zoë. In the last weeks of her life Hazel wrote letters for the children — short letters to be delivered after today, and longer letters to be given at the end of childhood and the beginning of adolescence when they are no longer the person that she knew. She, as I say, was also taping her life story. She gave the children momentos of herself while she was alive, rather than leaving it to me to tell them, “This is what Mummy wanted you to have,” after she died, and Zoë’s wearing one today. And then she has you, kind friends and caring family, to help share Hazel’s memory with the children. (I am asking friends of Hazel’s to write their recollections, reflections, and anecdotes of Hazel for the children when they’re older.)

I think when a person dies that their image shatters into as many brilliant pieces as there are people who knew and loved them. Each of these shards is slightly different, as our memories and perceptions of the dead person are different. But I see us here today as bringing together our memories of Hazel and remembering her together.

Hazel never said once, “Why me?” in the face of the cancer. She never fell into self pity. Although from time to time we both fell to wondering, “If only ... we had done something sooner,” but this was only a couple of times and there was no point in dwelling on what might have been. She had amazing attitude.

As well as amazing visual skills — it was not only painting that she excelled at — there was also design and decoration — Hazel was musical. She’d never learnt an instrument when she was young, but as a thirty-year-old in Canberra she started to learn the piano. She was determined that her children would not have the same experience she’d had and would make full use of their musical talents — singing, recorder, piano.

Robert Two years ago she invited Jenyne, who’s been conducting the choir, to rehearse a small group in our front room on Monday evenings. The small group would sing madrigals, for our own enjoyment. At the end of the service today you’ll hear one madrigal that Hazel used to sing. She’d also rehearsed at least the Byrd that you heard the choir sing earlier, and today’s choir is made up of some of the people who used to come to our front room last year before the cancer returned, and also others, and I’d like to thank you very much. (I should also thank Christine, a great friend of Hazel’s, for the Elgar song — Hazel had asked her to sing too.)

What choice do we have in the person that we are? We would all choose to be passionate and yet decisive; compassionate without being sentimental; loving without being cloying. Although she may not have chosen to be this person, Hazel I believe was nonetheless all of these things and more. Her courage in the face of the cruel disease that stalked her for years and now has claimed its quarry was inspirational. In the end she did not cling to a curtailed and circumscribed existence of the advanced cancer patient. Instead, she accepted death, and she used that word because she was more positive than resigned to death — she accepted the inevitable.

In the end, as she lay dying in my arms last Monday, the candlelight revealing her gaunt yet beautiful face, with the scent of daphne, and surrounded by flowers, I could only wish her goodbye with the fervent hope: “Farewell, Hazel. Peace, lovely lady.”

Robert Marks
21 September 1998