I recently published ‘Death, a love project, a guide to exploring the life in death and finding the way together.’ Feels like a good time to re-publish the post that started it all! I published this post back in April 2016 and the idea of ‘love projects’ struck a chord with readers. It went from there! So here’s the post …

All the sadness in love and loss. We can only experience it. And yet there’s also a pull to make sense of it. The journey to make loss meaningful can be painfully long. Somehow  memorials play a role in this. Then as time passes, there’s something left, something to refer to, a special place to go and find something of that lost love again. We don’t want to lose what’s precious.

I was in Gippsland recently and I stepped into a wonderful restaurant, Catinalla’s. The owner Deanna is seventh generation Australian. When she married a second generation Italian, a big part of her learning was about food. What they’d eaten at home was different. Great food but so different!

Cantinallas, a love project

Food is a love project

Deanna learned cooking from her mother-in-law, Catinalla. Sugos, stocks, fritattas. This experience lives on in the restaurant. Deanna qualified as a chef in 2015 to formalise her knowledge of cooking. Running beneath the outward effort has been a concern that real family grown food traditions don’t get lost.

That’s a memorial isn’t it? Her mother-in- law passed away in 2014. And in Traralgon, Deanna can keep the traditions going. When Catinalla was still alive, Deanna registered the business name and ran ideas past her, checked things with her. She found out the story behind the unique spelling of her name.

Intent for a love project, the vision and the will

I was a guest at the public event held in 2015 at Hamer Hall to celebrate Neilma Gantner’s rich and generous life. The program was packed with admiring speakers. One was a Parks Victoria employee who had got to know here very very well in the late 60s. Neilma had approached the government about building a hut in the Alpine National Park in memory of her son Vallejo.

Vallejo had died very young, and she was determined to create a fitting memorial that reflected his love of the mountains. She wanted it to be a beautiful place that would benefit all comers. What seemed an impossibility – putting an aesthetically extraordinary hut into the high country – became a reality, the MacAlister Springs Hut. The hut is deeply loved by bushwalkers. Designed by architect David McGlashan, with a copper roof, it is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Mountain hut, love project

Buried, cremated or turned to goodness?

My friend Uncle Fletcher Roberts, a Bundjalung elder in Lismore, NSW, once questioned me about where I planned to be when I died. He was old and rarely left Lismore, in case he died while he was away. He asked me if it bothered me that I wouldn’t be in the same place as my parents since I’d moved to Australia.

Where were they buried?

No, they were cremated.

Where are their ashes?

When I said that we’d scattered them in our garden, and that we’d sold the property, he was shocked. On reflection I think he was spot on. What might I have learned by going back to visit the place where we’d let their remains go? How would those owners react if they knew that along with being proud owners of a modernist Johannesburg home, they are caretakers of my parents’ bodily remains?

I now know that loss can be thoughtfully marked in ways that are far from a marble dark cemetery. Through one’s own life. As a physical memorial. The memorial might be a venture like Catinalla’s, immediate and personal. It might be a lasting public legacy like the Gantner hut.

Now I can’t help thinking of all the goodness that’s been created in the world through people dreaming up plans not to lose the legacy of important people.