On Thursday 8 January, 2015, my beloved Uncle Warwick Stanley Broadhead passed away (1944-2015) on Waiheke Island.
He was amazing. He was mother’s older brother, my Godfather, my teacher, my friend and fellow trouble-maker.
For over 30 years he followed the Tibetan Buddhist teachings in some form, alongside my aunty and mother. Tarchin Hearn and his partner Mary have been important teachers of his, and his siblings.
In the 90s he had a number of heart attacks (last count was 3 or 4), and a triple by-pass in the early 2000s. My understanding is that his diligence in exploring the dharma, and his health scares, meant Warwick (or Uncle Wow as we called him) was constantly contemplating the dynamic interplay of life, death, suffering and everyday beauty. He talked about this stuff all the time.
He once told me how exquisite his walk up a set of stairs was. At the time his foot gout was flaring up, which meant he was in a lot of pain. He talked about how this pain made him slow down, which was physically tiresome, but it made him acutely notice his body and each step he took. It was like a walking meditation.
Death scared him, and it offered him hope and wonder. It made him more human; the ripple effects made those around him more human too.When his time to depart this world into the great mystery came, he asked his immediate family and network of creatives to uphold his wishes:
Warwick Stanley Broadhead’s “Wishes For My Funeral”:
Treat my corpse gently.
Do not inject it with formaldehyde or other preservatives.
Perform as much of the funeral as you can dear able bodied ones.
Play only live music, songs or sounds.
Hire a professional mourner, wailer, keener.
Let descriptions be the photographs shown.
Wrap this body in a shroud.
Dress me in white.
Put the Egyptian Afterlife servant with me.
Bury this body no more than 2-3 feet underground.
Plant a Kauri tree on the site.
Wish me well into the deep mystery.”
Lots happened over the 5 days we were with him in his home on Waiheke Island. Meditating and observing his body decay was amazingly transformational. I will never experience the living or the dead in the same way. Ever. It has changed how I look at my living body and those around me. The microbes, and ecosystem of the body is amazing. When we die our body becomes a place for other things to live. Uncle Wow wanted us to observe this. He also wanted us to transform the attachment we had towards him. As the shock and grief oscillated inside me, I began to disassociate “his being” from his corpse. On another level, working through his wishes also meant my relationships with family and his close friends reached a new level of respect, reverence and appreciation. It was transformational.
I arrived with my wife Riria on day 2 of his passing. We (close family and friends) cared for his body by cleansing it with natural oils such as tea tree and coconut. We adorned his whole body with beautiful kawakawa leaf and dressed him in white. We lit incense and burnt oils. We read to him, laughed at him and rested next to him. We had the fans going non-stop. We couldn’t move his body too much, because if we did, things would get messy (if you get my drift).
I realised how industrial the West has become in dealing with the dead. Other than natural disasters, with no time to ‘clean up the mess’, I and those around me are insulated from the decay of humans, and the life it provides other insects.
No formaldehyde mixed with the heat of the Waiheke summer sun, resulted in his body decaying quickly. By day 3 it was only frankincense and myrrh that was most effective in addressing the odour of death.
Uncle Wow wanted his death to be one last offering to us; one last teaching about the impermanence of life and death.