Celebrating a Life
Gaywyn (Gabrielle) Christine Robinson
Eulogy written and delivered by Rachel Stevenson at Gaywyn's funeral, January 7 2002.
Gaywyn (Gabrielle) Christine Robinson
Died 9:07am, 4 January 2002, Auckland, New Zealand
We are gathered here to celebrate the life, and help each other to mourn the death, of Gabrielle (Gaywyn) Robinson - a woman we all loved dearly.
In thinking about what I would say today I tried to find something which would serve as an emblem of what she has meant to so many diverse people, each of whom knew Gabrielle in very different ways; each of whom feels her death as a special and personal loss.
What first came to mind was Gabrielle as a builder of bridges, someone who helped to create links between people who would otherwise not have shared time or thoughts, someone who made connections between ways of seeing the world that others do not see. These bridges were built in our minds and our hearts, and will continue on in our thoughts and relationships.
And this is a good time to honour some of those bridges, those connections, because they are not broken by her death. She was herself the first of those bridges as the fruit of the union between Colleen and Clarence - her mother and father. Our deepest sympathy is with these parents today as they sorrow for the loss of their beloved child.
And that she was the child of both of them is unmistakable. One has only to see Clarrie’s smile and experience his warm and gentle charm to know where that part of Gaywyn’s presence was born. And Colleen’s enjoyment of the physical arts - of music and dance - were clearly inherited by her daughter. Much later in life Gaywyn painted a very special tribute to this connection, and to her appreciation of her mother at that time. This delightful painting of a curly haired young Colleen holding the hand of her curly haired child will forever remind those who see it of the special nature of that bond.
Gabrielle was very fond of gardens and flowers - another special bond with her mother which has been honoured over the past few weeks as Colleen took special pains to fill Gabrielle’s last home with carefully and beautifully arranged flowers.
As a sometime gardener, Gabrielle was aware that just as some plants need to be divided to grow and flourish, her own nuclear family had to be divided for a new blossoming - the birth of her beloved sisters. Colleen and Robbie Sherson gave her Shona and Alene for sisters and Clarrie and Elaine Robinson gave her Melayne and Nerilee-Ann. All children are caused pain by their parents separation, but Gabrielle said that her sisters, who gave her so much joy, were the blessing that came from that painful experience. These pairs of sisters are not related to each other by blood at all, so Gabrielle has been the living bridge which has brought these very special women together. And in the past months, and especially the past few weeks, Gabrielle has been the mortar for what she hoped would be a permanent bridge of love.
Gabrielle loved the concept of family as perhaps only the only child of separated parents can. So when this fertile plant divided again, and Robbie Sherson’s marriage to Mandi resulted in the births of Ravi, Shanti, Tuscan and Alanya, Gabrielle formed new bonds of love which she made special efforts to maintain. She has also mentioned to me her great affection for Colleen’s step-daughter Dianne.
When Gabrielle met and married Bill (William Pauly), this family network expanded again, for Bill already had a family from his previous marriage. This cannot have been an easy situation for any of these people, and it is a mark of Gabrielle’s great skill at forming loving connections, that the Pauly children - Barbara, Kathleen, Suzanne, Bill Jnr, Virginia and Stephanie - have all sent their love to her through the years and are with us in spirit (and some in body) on this day. Barbara’s son George has also had a special connection with her, especially in the last few years.
The marriage of Gabrielle and Bill gave her one of the greatest gifts of this lifetime - her dearly beloved son Rob (Robinson William Pauly). If one believes, as many here do, that the spirit is guided to choose the right parents for the lessons of this lifetime, Rob’s spirit chose wisely when he was born to Gabrielle. She was a loving mother who weathered the storms of Rob’s life and death with dignity, grace and enormous loving compassion.
We may not be able to understand the nature of some of the storms which buffeted them both - perhaps they did not understand them completely either - but Gabrielle left us with a very clear picture of the essence of that relationship in her series of paintings about the 21 years of Rob’s life. These paintings were both the fruit of her carefully developed artistic skills and talents, and the fruit of her hard-won acceptance of her own grief and pain at Rob’s death.
The very special bond that Nerilee had with Gaywyn and Rob at that time is, Gaywyn told me, also reflected in her arrangements for the future of these and her other paintings - for these paintings are in a sense also her children. Nerilee will be a wise guardian of this precious legacy.
Another special bond formed at this time was with Rob’s friend Rachel (affectionately known as "Little Rachel" ). That bond is also celebrated in a beautiful painting in the Rob series. Gabrielle has been much comforted in the past months to know Rachel and her lovely baby Keegan are well cared for by her partner Mike.
As Gabrielle gave birth to and raised Rob, three of her sisters also had children and she tried to make time for forming some connection with each of them. She was very proud of Shona’s burgeoning brood - Destiny, Eyenta, Niranya, Liam, Jovan, Jesse, Mahdijahn, Arthur, and Grace. It would please her to know that the older of these lovely young people have played a very special part in the care of body since her death, and in the arrangements for this celebration of her life. She also had a very special place in her heart for Alene’s children - Leila and Leo, and Melayne’s children - Joshua, Natasha, Cheyenne and Jai. It is said Cheyenne is most like Gabrielle physically, which suggests she will grow into a woman of great beauty.
As well as her own relationship with these children, Gabrielle made special efforts to ensure that Rob could spend time with, and enjoy, his cousins. She also ensured he met his much older half-siblings from the Pauly family.
I first met Gabrielle through Rob - at the Steiner school which both Rob and my son Sacha attended. Gabrielle invited me and my then partner Harry Parke (who sends his love today) for lunch one weekend with her and Nick. When Gabrielle told the story of this event she used to say that we came for Saturday lunch and stayed for Sunday brunch, but my own memory is that Harry & I went home at sun-rise. Whatever the truth really was, Gabrielle and I recognised each other and a friendship was formed that has lasted for the rest of her life, and which will comfort and inspire me for the rest of mine.
But despite this being a long friendship - twenty years - I am by no means Gabrielle’s oldest friend. Two friends of much longer duration who come to mind are today celebrating her life in other countries - Arian St Clair in Canada and David Harris among the still-burning fires of Sydney. These friendships both date back to her life as a young and somewhat frightened teenager in the big smoke of Auckland City, and both these people have given her enormous comfort (and shared lots of fun) throughout the years. Their hearts are with us today, as ours are with them.
And while I’m on the international connection, two very new friends are also celebrating Gabrielle’s life in other parts of the globe today. Louise Longdin, who shares a birthday with Gabrielle and David Harris is in Sydney while, as we sit here, Louise’s daughter Kirsten is casting flowers into New York City’s Hudson River.
Another friendship of twenty years duration is that formed with Monique Knight, who is with us today. Monique said to me the other day (and I hope it’s okay to share this) that her relationship with Gabrielle was formed in talk, and that everything else was just an extra. Sue Leader, another long-standing friend, has said a similar thing. For Gabrielle loved to talk and, rather rarely, was also a superb listener.
Those of us who have spent may hundreds of hours in conversation with Gabrielle have been very privileged, because she never talked about trivia. The talk she shared was always meaningful - full of meaning - at many different levels. Our memories of these long talk-fests will nourish us for years to come.
As well as being imbued with love, these conversations were also enhanced by Gabrielle’s skill and training as a psychotherapist. Her patients (she liked that word because she said they all had shown great patience in their lives) were very lucky to find her as their guide in times of need. Her skills in this area were greatly respected by her professional colleagues, and were further recognised when she became President of the Psychotherapist and Hypnotherapist Institute of New Zealand (Inc) only a few years ago. Last year, at a time when she was very ill, I had the privilege of escorting her to the AGM of this professional body, and I was touched and impressed by the esteem in which she was clearly held.
In the last few years Gabrielle has been very focussed on her painting, much of which has centred on the creation of her two visual story-cycles: Rob’s story and her series about breast cancer. Although neither of these have yet been published in book form - a task she left for her trustees - both story-cycles are already helping to pass on her hard-won understandings of the meaning of her experiences. Slides of the Rob series are used by Dr Ann O’Callahan to teach medical professionals an holistic view of the processes of dying. Slides of her breast cancer series are also used by Judy Forsyth of the Cancer Society in professional training programmes. The two public exhibitions of the Rob series have brought insight and comfort to thousands of people, many of whom have taken the trouble to let Gabrielle know how much her paintings have meant to them. Her old friendship with Jill Anholt was a special comfort to her during this time of loss, as Jill knew first-hand the pain of the death of one’s child - a pain others in this room share. New friendships also blossomed at this time, especially with women she met through the hospice: Ann and Judy, Claudie Caldwell, Jan Nichols and Julie Reid. Over these past weeks the care and attention provided by the St Jo’s nurses was deeply appreciated by her, and a special bond was formed with Nurse Jane Mallinson, who was such a support to us all at the end.
Just because Gabrielle didn’t like trivia didn’t mean she didn’t like details. Quite the opposite. Like the great architect Mies van der Rohe, she believed that "God is in the details", and she spent a lot of her time and energy trying to get the details of life right. Her clothes and her home, her work as a psychotherapist and as an artist, her relationships and her spiritual life all bore the marks of her attention to detail. She cared deeply about the rightness of form and symbolism in everything she did.
So I’m sure that she would have been deeply touched by the way her family and friends have paid tribute to those concerns in the days leading up to her death and since. This has not been an easy process, as Gabrielle did not speak openly, at least in the last months, of her impending death, and so gave few specific instructions. She talked only of life and of living.
When Rob was in St Joseph’s Hospice Gabrielle said to several of us that "people keep thinking of Rob as dying, but to me he is still living his life". Gabrielle too went on living her life to almost the very day of her death. The things she loved - clothes, shoes, painting, music, dancing, food, company, talk - stayed a part of her life for as long as possible.
For Gabrielle loved life. She loved music and dancing, and I have had the privilege of spending hundreds of hours watching her dance. Her body knew how to celebrate life.
Gabrielle loved women, and had deep and intimate relationships with a wide range of women friends as well as with her blood sisters. She thought deeply about breast cancer as a personal experience for her and for the women close to her, believing that this modern epidemic was in some way related to the abuse of women and of mother earth that is so prevalent in our world. She did what she could to heal this abuse, and wanted others to see this connection. The women who have cared for Gabrielle during her times of grieving and illness have all been important to her. And she has been very grateful to the women who supported them, particularly Colleen’s friend Doris, Nerilee’s partner Rose, Shona’s friend Kay, and Alene’s sister-in-law Irene.
Gabrielle also loved men and male energy. Some men have been privileged to share intimate parts of her life - most notably her husbands (the late) Bill Pauly and Nick O’Connor and her partner for some years Brian Maunder. Other men have shared her life in different ways. Her son was central to her life but in the last few years Brian’s beautiful son James has been a great comfort to her. Her friendships with Pete Maricich (and his partner Paula), and with David Harris have been lovingly maintained. In recent years the loving care and support Gerald Plimmer has shown for her mother has been much appreciated. Gabrielle has often spoken to me of her great admiration of Melayne’s partner Robin Rusling, and her gratitude for the care he takes of her beloved sister. And the love Alene’s husband Ben van der Laan has shown in making Gabrielle’s coffin knows no bounds. It was also no accident that when Gabrielle needed a live-in caregiver and companion that it was a man, Melvin Webb, who was available to fill that need. Melvin’s love has taken many forms but one of them is very visible here today in his paintings on her coffin.
Gabrielle shared some of her understandings of the meaning of life and death with each of us, but each of us was only shown a part of her whole picture. It seems, though, that many people had thoughts of angels during the last part of her life and at her death. These paintings of angels, which will soon be consigned to the flames, remind us of our limited human understanding of the mysteries of life and death. Gabrielle’s own deep knowledge of mysticism, explored over very many years, meant that she was aware of very many ways to approach the realm of the spirit.
She clearly named herself as Christian and many in this room have spoken to me of experiencing the presence of Christ around her in recent weeks.
But Gabrielle was also comfortable with the feminine aspect of the Great Spirit, in the forms of the Madonna (which appear in many of her paintings) and as the Goddess. The Kabbalistic tradition names this feminine aspect the Shekinah, one English translation of which is "Glory" - a term that some here may prefer. This mystical tradition has it that this aspect of God’s presence was shattered when it reached the earthly plane, and that it is our human task to help the creator to heal that brokenness through acts of loving-kindness.
From that perspective, Gabrielle has done more than most to heal the soul of the world. But the glitter on the coffin before us is a reminder that much remains to be healed in us and in our world. Our best tribute to Gabrielle, who has finished her earthly work, is to live our lives well and to fill them with acts of loving-kindness too. As a reminder of that task, and of her on-going presence in our lives, we could look to the glittering, colourful bridge that is formed in the heavens after rain. After tears, the rainbow.
Thank you Gabrielle, Gaywyn, for sharing your life with us.
God-speed beloved friend.