5th March 2018
I was pleased so many of you contacted me about the piece I wrote about Peter. I promised some of you that I would write about my meeting with Gabriel in a cemetery. This story is so intriguing that I could not possibly make up anything this good.
Coming home late from a church meeting in the 1970’s, one of my best friends Ken was killed when a drunk driver drove sideways into his car. Ken had married Francie only two years earlier and our small circle of friends was devastated.
Ken had been an awkward sort of guy, loving, kind but who found it desperately hard to form strong friendships with people. Francie somehow came into our circle like some heavenly gift. So different and yet somehow alike, they became inseparable.
Over the next forty years, I lost track of Francie as she put her life back together and moved out of Auckland. One of her friends called me after she died to invite me to attend her internment at Purewa Cemetery in Auckland. During some terrible family squabble and rejection that no-one there could fathom, Ken had been buried there without Francie’s knowledge or permission, causing her pain that took a long time to heal.
Many of our old circle of friends were there. Ken and now Francie had been cremated and we stood near the small hole that the Purewa staff had dug beside Ken’s newly-discovered grave. One of our group had done some clever detective work and found that he had been interred with an incorrect name in the graveyard’s registry.
The plot was down in one of the lowest valleys towards the back of Purewa, shaded by trees. As we talked, not quite sure what the order of service was going to be, a young man in a white shirt walked over the brow of the hill carrying a basket. Smiling, he mingled with the guests, greeting them one by one.
When he got to my small group, I asked if he knew Francie. “No” he replied.
“My name is Gabriel but I am not an angel” he laughed and I noticed that everyone had stopped talking to listen.
“I work up at the crematorium here. I absolutely love my job but I noticed that people often do not know what to do to inter someone here. They also often regret not having petals to scatter over the grave. So, when I see groups like you, I take my basket and gather flower petals that have fallen on my way here. I love helping people like you.”
Sure to his word, Gabriel stayed while we sang hymns acapella and he shared his basket of flower petals as we each sprinkled soil onto Ken and Francie’s shared grave. United finally, it seemed like the perfect finish to a love story that had been sundered by such tragedy.
At the end, Gabriel used a trowel to put the grass sod back onto the gravesite. He shook people’s hands and quietly walked back over the hill.
I tapped my friend John on the shoulder laughing: “I saw you looking as Gabriel left. Were you expecting him to disappear in a flash of sunlight like I was?”
His wife Janet was nodding, obviously thinking the same thing.
“I really did…” said John. “I wondered if he really was the Angel Gabriel, in-spite of what he said.”
Like Peter from my previous reflection, Gabriel seemed to be a man who had found his perfect calling, helping people to celebrate the end of someone’s journey. People who love their jobs like that cannot help but make a difference.