Death Before Dishonour, Nothing Before Coffee

March 14, 2007

So inscribed in Latin on your casket by your brother Tom, and a touch that everyone enjoyed. Everyone – maybe 400 or so. I did a quick headcount in the service. Sorry. But I know you would understand. We all loved the fact that we were all here for you today. What a great testimony to the impact you have had on our lives. What a diverse collection of people you touched. Plumbers mixed with AMs. The former DG of the Secret Service stood in the same crowd as the law clerk you recently helped with accommodation when she was getting settled into a new town. Smart suits mixed with the bohemian – mainly a little grizzled nowadays. You would have enjoyed the fact that all your Army mates and ex Army mates stood out like, well Army types, only underscoring how atypical a military type you once were.

Part of that was explained today as your parents revealed your gypsy roots – travelling as a kid in a horse drawn caravan across NSW and QLD. The photo here of you as a boy was taken in those years. It is you in all your studious seriousness with a hint of the rogue. The later photo, below, captures more rogue but hints at your love of toys (check the watch), nice clothes (silk tie) and dining out (photo taken in a restaurant).

As I drove to Monsalvat I thought it was a perfect day for flying. You would have loved it. A clear Australian, brilliant, hot, lucid sky. As I thought of that, the knot in my stomach tightened and I found myself getting more and more emotional as I got closer to the front gate. As I pulled in, an old blue heeler wandered out and scratched himself. Somehow that tattered beast was what I needed and I laughed out loud and instantly felt better for that. In part because it was the sort of mongrel you loved.

All the gang are here mate. All those grown men who have done amazing things around the world, now mixing laughter and tears over you and with each other. All united at this artist’s retreat which is so appropriate a setting for your farewell. Your Dad and Mum made us laugh and cry – gave us all insights we never had but which were true to what we knew of you. Shauna did a sterling job. You would be proud of your “gorgeous girl”. We all are. Of course Mark was necessarily irreverent at spots and we thank him for that, for making the bitter a little sweet.

We saw you out to a trumpet solo then drifted in suspended disbelief to the Great Hall where we were treated to a collection of video and photos which brought more tears and laughs and lots of affectionate “Damn you JD”s.
I am sitting on an old stump, in the shade of a veranda jotting these notes, and finding myself enjoying the scene while I try and capture something of the essence of the day. Down the hill is the Great Hall, a stone and timber structure in which a number of folk are still catching up, watching the AV display and shedding a tear or two. A few dozen mingle on the paved courtyard outside and their chatter and laughter drifts up, punctuated by the soft warbles of a magpie and the distant sound of a light aircraft. It drones out of airshot but the magpie continues its consoling lament.

It’s been a strange day JD. A part of me still hopes you have staged all this and run off to Peru. Another part simply fails to make the connection. There is a surreal, unreal sensation to all this. Your mates share the sentiment with me. It is not right. It is not happening. But we were all confronted by the reality of the place, the occasion, the grief of family, of the casket, and there was the raw and painful truth of it all. You would have loved the casket by the way. Not just because Dad and friends made it but because the routered and mitred joints were perfect and its lines square and clean. In fact you would have loved the whole occasion and therein lies the rub.

You should know that through all this there have been some reconnections of friendships that too idly have been allowed to slip away over the years. And that there have been some reconciliations today by some of us confronted so dramatically by your unholy accident.

The day was a day of love and affection and you were the catalyst for it all. By mates, by mates of mates, by your mates. You made us all an extended family and we all felt that today. Thanks.

By the way your favourite tie made it there today. You left it at home seven years ago and it has hung in my office for the last couple of years. You always promised to pick it up but never did. I am glad you didn’t – I wore it today.

So this is my farewell. The last two weeks have been turgid, weighed down, surreal and hollow. I need to move on. To pull myself out of this dark cloud. Farewelled but not forgotten. Farewelled but forever engraved on our hearts and lives. On my heart and in my life. A part of the sum of me, my beautiful friend. I love you still.


8 Responses to “Death Before Dishonour, Nothing Before Coffee”

  1. ab on March 14th, 2007 16:10

    So sad for you to experience such loss. Wishing for you to find peace soon.

  2. Anonymous on March 15th, 2007 18:07

    Dear Dave,

    I am Shauna’s younger sister… far off in Canada… falling asleep each night and waking each morning wondering how she is coping with such a great loss of love and companionship.

    Your mourning and musings have made me laugh through the tears and leave my mind at ease that Shauna has such “good” people around her at this difficult time.

    I thank you for your sweet memories and prose.

    Best Regards,
    LJ Beard

  3. Pickled Eel on March 16th, 2007 01:32

    Hi LJ,

    Nice to “meet” you even if only through this blog. Shauna mentioned on Wednesday a wonderful trip home to Canada recently. Amazing thing about JD was the way be brought so many people together – and this note from you is further testimony to that.


  4. Anonymous on July 4th, 2007 15:39

    Dear Bruce,

    I have known and loved Jonathan since the Hedland days. I only very recently found out about his death from his parents, living in the NT one only tends to hear about crocodiles and the cane toad invasion in the news..

    I have read all your blogs on Jonathan. So much of what you have written echoes my memories of him as well. The first time I met Jonathan was in the family restaurant. He had just put in his order and was sitting alone waiting. I was chatting to my sister and you could almost see his ears waving about like little satellite dishes listening in on our conversation before boldly joining in uninvited. From anyone else this would have been a rude interruption, but he joined in seamlessly.. a complete charming stranger who became a best friend.

    On another occasion, being young and silly in Hedland, my sister and I who were houseminding at the time decided we were going to have a ‘teddy bears picnic’ complete with fairy bread and other goodies on the lounge room floor. Jonathan unexpectedly brought a sense of formality to the occasion by turning up in a tuxedo jacket, shirt and bowtie.. and boxer shorts!

    I wanted to thank you for your blog on his funeral. It has been difficult to find out much about what happened and your account of how his life was celebrated has done much in helping me come to grips with this devastating loss.

    Like you, he has a permanent place in my heart and my life has been all the richer for having him in it.

    Thank you again,

  5. Pickled Eel on July 4th, 2007 22:30

    Hi Marie,

    If you are able to forward an email via JDs family I can send you some more comprehensive notes on JD. I will be at the Cockatoo Cafe on the 14th – Saturday week.

  6. A Letter to Jonathan Ashton : PickledEel on February 22nd, 2008 23:49

    […] gem shone through the boiling froth of the year.  It should not have caught our hearts so but the funeral was a highlight through which old friendships were restitched and even broken ones repaired. For one in particular […]

  7. Chum Creek Fire : PickledEel on February 9th, 2009 01:57

    […] one of the news items had mentioned Chum Creek Rd, an address where friends lived. Relatives of JD no less. I imagined the worst and the impact that would have on the wider family. At one point I […]

  8. DrClyde on September 5th, 2010 11:48

    Like a big baby I am sitting here crying after reading this again and again

    I say to myself “why” and I think Stephen Hawking, the Buddha, the writer of the Tao – all have the right idea; whatever created us, they left us to our own devices (thanks to the lyrics of the Eagles)

    But dammit why in the name of all that is holy does Jonathan Ashton not get to live among us any more – what the fuck did he do – what the fuck did we do – what the fuck

    If I believed in Jesus, I would say a prayer except that prayer is statistically over-rated

    So all I have is my sorrow; as it says in the Tao te Ching, “Rejoice in the way things are” – sometimes I ask my self, are you shitting me; rejoice in loosing a gift like Jonathan?

    I am an old fart, as everyone well knows, but I can’t make sense of some of the stuff that happens; Forrest Gump posed the question, is it random or is there some design – unfortunately for us to continue, we must take it as an act of randomness – otherwise we have pissed off someone who is really powerful

    Take Jonathan from us – OK what next motherfucker

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