Celebration for the life of Zoe Michelle Wilson

Te Mahurehure Marae, Point Chevalier Auckland, Thursday 4th October 2012

“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”
― A.A. Milne

Karanga (welcoming Zoe onto the marae)

“Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder

Dearly beloved, our gathering here today serves a threefold purpose:
• To honour the life of Zoe Wilson and to gather up the memories she leaves us.
• To take the time to say our own goodbyes to Zoe.
• And to comfort and support one another as each of us experiences grief in a different way.

My name is Dr Kim Jewel Elliott, Celebrant, and I am honoured to officiate at this ceremony, which honours beautiful Zoe today.

Zoe passed away on Saturday 29th September at home in the arms of her mother Kiri and father Stu.  I know that all gathered here today offer their deepest condolences to Zoe’s parents and her extended family.  We make special mention of Zoe’s grandmothers. Who have lost their first grandchild, and balance their own personal grief  with love and support of their children, Zoe’s parents.  We also acknowledge those of you who have travelled to share in this ceremony and send our special love and care to all the children who are gathered here today.  If at anytime anyone, child or adult, wishes to write Zoe a message or draw her a picture, please do so.  There is a space and materials on the mezzanine area at the back For those who could not be at this gathering, but send us their wishes of love and support, we accept with grace their good thoughts.  Whether here with us in body or spirit, we thank you.

It is spring now, the nights are warmer and the new blossoms are blooming.  It has been said that when we die it is as though a vase of flowers has been removed from a room.  The flowers have gone, but the fragrance remains.  Zoe’s life has ended, and the body she inhabited in this life is no more.  But the memories she leaves us are like the continuing fragrance of flowers.

So this afternoon, we gather in this quiet place, the beautiful Te Mahurehure Marae that Zoe recognised as part of her community and had said she wanted to visit.  We remember and celebrate the life of Zoe, along with all those we have loved and who have gone before.  Some have passed at great age, their faces in our memories are lined with the passage of age.  Some, like dear Zoe, passed before they must endure the struggles and limits of adulthood and aging.  All their faces are before us at this very moment and we remember them and treasure them.  There are all the things we should have said and never did, all that we said and should never have said.  We may have even missed saying good-bye.  Yet, our departed beloveds are still with us.  They are with us at the sparkle of dawn and flash of the setting sun, the scent of lavender, jasmine and rosemary.  In the unexpected moment, they are there.

Zoe was a rich flower on her family’s tree.  She is survived by her mother Kiri and her father Stu, her grandmothers Chris and Nola, Aunts and uncles, Karen and Paul, Craig and Jill and five younger cousins, Jesse, Samantha, Bianca, Kaylee and Sarah.  Such a tender flower as Zoe will never fade in her family’s hearts.  All of us gathered here, have our own memories and experiences of Zoe.  We come here today, each with our own feelings, all of those feelings are valid and important.  As we reflect upon Zoe’s life, it is not possible in the time we have to say all that could be said about her.  She gave and contributed so much to life in her six years, and to those she loved and cared for.  We can but highlight some of the main happenings and events in her life, and by doing so, attempt to capture her essence.

On Sunday I was fortunate to spend some time with Zoe’s parents, Kiri and Stu.  We gathered in Zoe’s Point Chevalier home, while Stu’s mum Chris worked outside in the garden.  Zoe’s home is the best kind of home, the kind where you walk in and feel comfortable straight away, where you know that you are welcome and you can feel the love and shared laughter held in the walls.  The sun was shining that day, and a monarch butterfly flew past me as I walked up the driveway.  Sitting in the lounge, seeing how tenderly and lovingly Kiri and Stu spoke of Zoe, I felt very lucky to witness the great and enduring love inspired by this wee girl.  It even felt like Zoe was there with us a little.  Her books and DVD’s were on the coffee table, her some of her many toy dogs in a basket on the floor.  Zoe’s Barbie doll with it’s pretty purple skirt, sat there in the corner, her purple painted handprints, school awards and paintings shined colour and joy on us as we sat together and talked about her life.

Zoe died dearly loved and admired, by her school friends and caregivers and well as her parents and her extended family.  Zoe’s character, personality, beautiful spirit, love of life and of people, has left a lasting impression on many.  Her memory will live on for the rest of our earthly lives, and with those memories the caring, honest and responsible qualities she held.  At the age of six, death came to Zoe in the spring years of her life, and today, this spring afternoon,, as the new leaves come to the trees and the earth turns to face the sun, we wish to rejoice and give thanks for the loves that Zoe experienced in her lifetime, and for the lessons that she taught us.

Zoe was born in Auckland on 4th April 2006.  She was an only child, and a much cherished one.  She was fun, caring and responsible.  Zoe was also a great one for ‘the rules’.  But sometimes she made up the rules.  Zoe wanted to be a vet, a fireman, a farmer and fly an aeroplane.  Life was no small experience for Zoe, in almost every minute of her six and a half years she was there, present and in the moment.  She threw herself into everything, taking her swimming, dancing and drama very seriously.

At three years old Zoe was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare cancer.  She had nine months treatment, which she handled  amazingly.  At three years old Zoe had the stoicism and emotional strength of many three times her age.  During this time she earned over 500 beads of courage, each one representing a surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, a needle, all of the procedures that she went through.  It was also during this stage of her illness, that Zoe became obsessed with Dr Harry, the Australian vet on TV, who himself had an experience with cancer.  Zoe made a vet’s office in the lounge and her parents or granddad Ron would play the role of the animals, even so far as to be led around the room on a leash.  Zoe was usually in charge and did all the operations.  Or if she decided to play the role of the animal, she’d still instruct her ‘vet’ on what they were supposed to be doing.  If they didn’t do it exactly as she said, Zoe would get upset.  It was her game, her rules.

After the treatment ended Zoe had two and a half years remission, at which time she returned to Daycare, and the two special friends she had made there as a baby, Jade and Manaia.  She also had some life-long friends in Isobel, Eloise, Patrice and Hera. These little girls helped make Zoe’s life very special.
In 2010 the Make A Wish Foundation organised a very special trip for Zoe to meet her hero Dr Harry, which was a dream come true for her.
As she grew Zoe progressed to Point Chevalier Primary School, where she had lots of little buddies on the walking school bus and in her classes and more recently some especially close friends in Genna and Iris. Zoe loved  learning, especially reading, her only frustration being that she liked to be good at everything, the first time she tried it. She was an expert at “interpretive dance” and extremely confident.  Last year on CanTeen Bandanna day Zoe got her mum to tie bandannas on her wrists and all over her clothes.  Then she went to school, stood up in front of her class and spoke about her experience with cancer.  She hadn’t even told Kiri she was doing this , let alone ask for help, Zoe just stood up and did it.  Zoe was an old soul, with wisdom and confidence well beyond her earthly years.
In January this year she joined over 100 other kids living with cancer at Camp Quality. This was an amazing experience for her, participating in so many activities with a peer group who understand each other’s challenges Her adult camp companion Anna became a family friend and they also had a weekend together at mini camp in June.
Earlier this year she was very proud to have her Dad teach her to ride her bike without trainer wheels.

Zoe enjoyed fairly good health over those two and a half years until August this year.  One week she was tired, the next week it seemed she had a virus, the next it was found she was terminal.  On the 20th of that month, five weeks before Zoe’s death, Kiri and Stu were told that Zoe’s cancer was back and was sent home under the care of Starship’s palliative care team.  For the first three weeks after that Zoe was well enough to go out and do things.  Zoe went behind the scenes at the Auckland Zoo, which is a joy for a six year old vet, and she met the Burma the elephant and the seals and sealions up close.  She also visited Butterfly Creek, Kiwi Valley Farm Park and had a fairy party at the fairy shop.  

The palliative care team who saw her chest x-rays at that time said that Zoe was surviving on willpower and love.  Zoe was a spirit, far greater and stronger than her small body.  When she no longer had the strength for outings Zoe stayed at home, cared for by family and the ministrations of the palliative care team..  Zoe’s parents acknowledge all the wonderful caregivers Zoe had over the period of her illness.  In particular they remember Mark, Janet and Jess and all the many nurses who cared for Zoe.  To these great people and all the others who cared for Zoe, you are thanked, respected and appreciated, from the bottom of the Wilson and Speirs family’s hearts.  They are indebted to your care and tenderness, which supported Zoe to live as long as she did.

However, for even the best of us, the most extraordinary, the most beautiful, the most loved, most cherished, our time comes.  Last Saturday, in the very early spirit hours of the morning, Zoe passed away in her home, with her parents on each side.  This end to life, held and cherished in the arms of those who care most for us, is a gift for anyone, the most any of us could ever ask or wish for.

Kiri has provided a wonderful children’s story for this ceremony, which I will read to you now.  It’s called 

“Waterbugs and Dragonflies” (by Doris Stickney)

Down below the surface of a quiet pond lived a little colony of water bugs. They were a happy colony, living far away from the sun. For many months they were very busy, scurrying over the soft mud on the bottom of the pond. They did notice that every once in awhile one of their colony seemed to lose interest in going
about. Clinging to the stem of a pond lily it gradually moved out of sight and was seen no more.

“Look!” said one of the water bugs to another. “One of our colony is climbing up the lily stalk. Where do you think she is going?” Up, up, up it slowly went….Even as they watched, the water bug disappeared from sight. Its friends waited and waited but it didn’t return…
“That’s funny!” said one water bug to another. “Wasn’t she happy here?” asked a second…. “Where do you suppose she went?” wondered a third.

No one had an answer. They were greatly puzzled. Finally one of the water bugs, a leader in the colony, gathered its friends together. “I have an idea”. The next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk must promise to come back and tell us where he or she went and why.”
“We promise”, they said solemnly.

One spring day, not long after, the very water bug who had suggested the plan found himself climbing up the lily stalk. Up, up, up, he went. Before he knew what was happening, he had broken through the surface of the water and fallen onto the broad, green lily pad above. When he awoke, he looked about with surprise. He couldn’t believe what he saw. A startling change had come to his old body. His movement revealed four silver wings and a long tail. Even as he struggled, he felt an impulse to move his wings…The warmth of the sun soon dried the moisture from the new body. He moved his wings again and suddenly found himself up above the water. He had become a dragonfly!!

Swooping and dipping in great curves, he flew through the air. He felt exhilarated in the new atmosphere. By and by the new dragonfly lighted happily on a lily pad to rest. Then it was that he chanced to look below to the bottom of the pond. Why, he was right above his old friends, the water bugs! There they were scurrying around, just as he had been doing some time before.
The dragonfly remembered the promise: “The next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk will come back and tell where he or she went and why.”
Without thinking, the dragonfly darted down. Suddenly he hit the surface of the water and bounced away. Now that he was a dragonfly, he could no longer go into the water….

“I can’t return!” he said in dismay. “At least, I tried. But I can’t keep my promise. Even if I could go back, not one of the water bugs would know me in my new body. I guess I’ll just have to wait until they become dragonflies too. Then they’ll understand what has happened to me, and where I went.”
And the dragonfly winged off happily into its wonderful new world of sun and air……..

This parable speaks to us about the mystery of death, about how we cannot know for certain what will happen after we pass from this world, but we can have faith.  Kiri told me that Zoe’s faith in God and the afterlife was very simple, she did not have the complicated doubts and contradictions that many of us struggle with as adults.  But the Bible reassures us that entry to God’s Kingdom does not require a full understanding of the mysteries of God or the universe, only the simple faith of a child.  And Zoe had all the faith she needed.
From the Holy Gospel according to Mark (10:13:16)
Jesus  said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it”. Then he put his arms around them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.

The time has come for memories or tributes to Zoe from those who knew her best.  To begin this time of personal remembrance I will read a beautiful piece from Zoe’s mum Kiri, and then something on behalf of Zoe’s dad Stu.  After that the following people will come forward and speak their own memories of dear Zoe.

Jess from the Moa Road Movers walking school bus will read a poem she wrote about Zoe.
Zoe’s teacher Joanne Hobson will read out her student awards
Luke Neilson will speak on behalf of the School’s Out holiday programme and Topkids daycare centre.
Jess Jamieson, will read a story on behalf of the Starship Palliative Care team.
Janine Harvey from Camp Quality will say a few words

To begin this process I start with a beautiful piece from Zoe’s mum Kiri.

Not very long ago Zoe asked me “Mum, before I was born, did you want me?” I was horrified at this question.
“Of course we wanted you darling” I replied.
“But how did you know I would be me?” She said.
Of course we didn’t quite know she would be herself, but over time she revealed her Zoe-ness to us.

Stu and I chose the name Zoe because it means Life in Greek and I thought that was a real get up and go-girl name, which she has definitely lived up to.  I also thought it could not easily be a nickname, but she was soon Zo, Zozo, Zozimo and Zo-didi-momo. Sometimes she would call me Mooomy and I would call her Zooooe.
Some of her Zoe-ness included a very strong will, which held her in good stead through her illness, an ability to articulate complex thoughts from quite a young age and determination to reach the high standards she set herself.

Her personality was inevitably shaped by her experience with cancer and she developed a maturity and wisdom far beyond her years. Zoe had huge empathy, and a strong sense of what was right and wrong and fair.

When Zoe was having treatment in 2009 her and I used to lie in bed at night and ask each other what our best thing that day was. No matter how bad the day was, and we had some bad ones, Zoe could almost always find a “best thing.” In this way she taught me to take each day for what it is and to notice the small good things each day holds, even the worst ones.

I think all mums and daughters are close, and with Zoe being an only child and through our experiences in the last few years we regarded ourselves as a little team of two.  For quite a while Zoe carried out a concerted campaign for a sibling, although more recently she had switched to lobbying for a puppy. However in many ways I am extremely grateful that she was my only baby, that I could give her my full attention and care.  I will never forget the Mothers’ Day card she made me when she was 4.  It said “Mum is my friend, she takes me everywhere.”

As with all little girls, the first man to steal Zoe’s heart was her Dad (or Dadda as she often called him). The many photos we have of them laughing and giggling together is testament to this. Stu and I separated when Zoe was three and as for all separated parents, when our own relationship changed, the way we parented changed too.  Recently Stu has been living in Christchurch so via Skype Zoe and he had regular chats, ate their dinner together and he helped Zoe with her homework. When Zoe became ill this last time, Stu immediately flew to Auckland to be by her side and, he was able to make and fulfil to her the very special promise that he would never leave her again.  I know this fulfilled her most heartfelt wish.  I think the puppy came second.

Zoe had wonderful relationships with all of her extended family, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. As my parents looked after her during the day through her first illness so I could work, she became especially close to them. She was Nan’s Buttercup, if you were wondering why we played that song earlier and Pop’s Sweetpea.  Her beloved Pop died early last year and I am so relieved to know that when she left us he was waiting to take his Sweetpea in his arms, as was Stu’s dad.

Over the last year and a half Zoe developed a special relationship with Kevin.  Wary of each other at first, they slowly developed their own relationship and became very special buddies.  She once in a very grown up way, walked into the kitchen and explained to Kevin that she sometimes “acted out” when he was around because she was jealous.  Kevin spent hours helping Zoe swim, practice her bike riding  teaching her headstands, playing and chatting with her and generally gaining insight into the world of little girls, which includes a lot of pink, purple, singing and dancing and Barbie movies. She wrote him a very special birthday card about how much he meant to her and I know he’s going to miss his little buddy.

I could probably write for hours telling you stories about Zoe, about how she loved singing and dancing in front of the mirror in various costumes she put together, about how she was my fashion stylist, telling me what shoes I should wear with what and what was “uncool.” About how she threw herself wholeheartedly into anything she did, about her funny sayings and exploits.  About the strong sense of duty that prompted her to start a book of thoughts with the line “A princess should always be responsible.” But if I started, I would not know where to stop.

The other day a friend told me she is a better mum from knowing Zoe. In this life we may never understand why such a caring, funny, beautiful smart, girl was given to us and then taken from us, but if she has touched hearts and changed the way people think about their lives, and that may be our clue.

Zoe came into the world at 3.40am on 4th April 2006 with Stu and me to greet her. When she left it, at 3.27am last Saturday, it was with Stu and I holding her hands, touching her face and telling her how loved she is.
Zoe I am absolutely honoured and blessed to be your mother; you were  my best six years.

And now for some words from Zoe’s father Stu.  Zoe wrote a note to Stu once, and this is what is says, “I love you daddy.  You will shine one day.  It is good to have you in my life.”  On Sunday when I visited Kiri and Stu, Stu showed me this note, handwritten in pencil that he carries every day in his wallet.  Then he showed me something even closer.  He has had these beautiful words of his only child tattooed in colour across his chest, along with Zoe’s name. Zoe is indelibly written on Stu’s skin, as well as forever in his heart.

(Other speakers)

Thank you all.

We will now view a Slideshow of some of the highlights of Zoe’s life, which takes about seven minutes.  After this we’ll see a short video, of Zoe’s visit to Dr Harry the vet.  This video takes about three minutes.  Please take this time to make your own silent reflections about Zoe.

Blessing for the deceased
Zoe, on behalf of all those gathered here, and those who send their support from far away, we honour you, we give thanks for your wisdom, your gentle kindness, your humour, strength and compassion.  You were, and are, a daughter, a granddaughter, a niece, a cousin, a friend, and a role model.  Your family were first, last and always, and you have given them the greatest gift any person can give another; your laughter, your love, and your devotion.  We send you our respect, our admiration and our love, that you may be surrounded by peace and happiness in the afterlife.

Words of Committal
In grief at her death, but in gratitude for her life, we now say farewell to Zoe, and to thank her for the privilege of being numbered amongst those who grieve.  If those of us who loved and were loved by Zoe can learn from her example, if our lives are a little richer through having known her, then through each of us, Zoe will have a continuing stake in making the world a better and happier place.  Each of us may have different beliefs about life and death.  I believe, that the love we share with someone doesn’t die.  The body of the person will pass, as all human bodies pass, but the spirit and the love of that person remains with us, always.  Zoe will still be with those she loved, every minute of every day.

Zoe had a good life and the legacy she has left us is countless.  Her family have benefited in numerous ways from her kindness, care and laughter.  And her family have also been left with a wonderful sense of love, and being loved, that they will hold with them forever.  Zoe will always live most tenderly in the hearts of those who loved her.

CS Lewis wrote, “You don’t have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body.”  We here commit the body of Zoe. to be cremated: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. She is now free from all worldly attachments.  She has transcended the suffering of her body and achieved the liberation of her soul.  May her courage, her dignity, and her love stay with us, and may her spirit continue to dance with love and adventure, along with those she leaves behind.

Blessing for the living
Family and friends of Zoe, you who helped make her life as full and beautiful as it was, may you find comfort, richness and example in your many memories.  May you find strength and support in your love for one another, and may you find peace in your hearts.  Remember that this ceremony is only one moment in the grieving process.  Letting go of someone so beloved does not happen in days.  It is important that as the inevitable moving of time shifts the calendar from weeks to months to a year to more, that those most affected are still cherished.  Remember too that each of us may grieve differently.  Some of us will cry, some of us will talk, some like to be alone on the hillside with the wind on our faces, or to walk in the stillness of the forest.  Whichever way you grieve, be gentle, care for yourself and others, and hold on to the love and memories that Zoe left with you.  Look after yourself, be kind to yourself, be kind to others.

If there is only one thing we take away from this experience today, perhaps it is the sense of vibrancy and joy with which Zoe lived her life.  Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife. The first question was, “Did you bring joy?” The second question was, “Did you find joy?”

Zoe did those things.  She brought great joy to many people and she found great joy in her own life.  These two questions to ask ourselves, did you bring joy and did you find joy, are part of Zoe’s gift to us.

Of all her many legacies, that is perhaps the most treasured.  Each of us will come to our own passing.  It is not something we can stop, or control.  What we can do, is live, each precious day.  To find the beauty where it does not at first seem to exist, to give more than we take, to tell those we love, that we do, to follow our bliss, to do the simple things that make us happy, and to share that happiness generously with others.  To all those gathered here, and those who send their support from far away, may the memories and the example Zoe leaves behind, be like the continuing fragrance of flowers, ever with us.

Family and friends please now stand for the final blessing.  I ask you to please share with me in the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,
In earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.

Family and friends this ceremony is now complete.  Please stay standing.  Shortly the family would like you all to share in refreshments with them here at Te Mahurehure MaraeWhen I finish speaking, I ask that the four pallbearers, Stu, Karen, Craig and Kevin please come forward.  As Zoe is carried out, we will listen to the song ‘”Starship Lullaby” by Tiki Taane.  Please follow Zoe to the hearse and place a flower on her casket as a symbol of devotion and rememberance.  Once all are outside, a balloon release will also take place to symbolise the release of Zoe’s spirit.  Remember that as Zoe is free, so too Zoe is with us.  May she go well, and go in peace.  So it be, bless it be, bless us all.

“Starship Lullaby” by Tiki Taane

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.” Rabindranath Tagore

© Kim Jewel Elliot
Prepared with much aroha for those who have passed and those who are left behind.

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