Memorial Service held for Michael White

Adelaide, 18th April 08

Reflections from a participant - Geraldine Slattery, Psychologist and Family Therapist - long term friend of Michael.

The Memorial Service will remain a wonderful tribute to Michael’s humanity, intellect and humour. We were gently guided through the spirited and beautiful service by Shona Russell and Rob Hall.

The memorial opened with a Welcome to Country by the Aboriginal Elder, Josie Agius. On behalf of the Kuarna nation she welcomed us all to her country.

The Place:
Michael’s family and friends stated that they chose this place as it reflects many aspects of his work. It is part of a community service organization and over the years it has been the basis for many meetings on political and justice issues. People from different cultures and heritage gather there.

The People:
Around five hundred people filled the church and throughout the service created an intimate connection between Michael’s family, close colleagues and those that have known him and his work over twenty-five years. People came from near and far to honour and acknowledge Michael and we were aware of the many memorials being held around the world to mark his life and his passing.

Maggie Carey

David Epson

Sue Park and Paul White

Tim Aguis

The Spoken Words:

Michael’s siblings Paul White and Sue Park brought tears and laughter to us all as they recalled rich incidents of growing up with Michael and as they honoured their mother Joan’s major contribution to their lives. Many of these incidents contained elements of the ‘wilder’ side of Michael’s nature and there was no end to the adventures of Paul and Michael with sling shots, bikes and free falling through their large pine tree. There was also the political side of Sue and Michael at the 1960s anti Vietnam demonstrations. Sue spoke of how this history of protest came to a sense of full circle for her recently when Michael and she shared the holding of a banner in a local celebration of diverse sexualities.

More words from Sue Park and Paul White

Paul's choice of music was Maria Callas singing Mamma Morta and this filled the building. It is a modern circular church hall with lots of light and with a 'folded' wooden ceiling and the acoustics are excellent.

David Epston engaged us with his personal trauma on receiving the news in Bogota of Michael’s death and the loss of a ‘brother’ and colleague. Many of us recalled their close collaboration of ideas in the formation of the theories and practices of Narrative Therapy over two decades.

A section of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) was then played. David told us that this was a piece that has special significance for himself and his partner Ann Epston. Ann had who shared with Michael a sense of transport or movement through this composition and Michael sometimes played it when he had heard stories that were so draining of a sense of hope for humanity that he needed to revive hope in some way and that this music was able to do that.

Tim Agius spoke on behalf of the Indigenous communities with whom Michael had had close contact going back to the first community 'gathering' at Camp Coorong. They both knew little of each other’s worlds and Michael and his team’s focus was to find ways for the families to tell their stories of the impact of Black Deaths in Custody. Tim’s heartfelt descriptions shared how this meeting was just the beginning of his personal relationship with Michael and a collaboration with Aboriginal people and communities that was the beginning of the journey of using narrative practice with many communities.

More words from Tim Agius

Maggie Carey paid tribute to Michael’s work and its legacy. She engaged us in the practice of Narrative Therapy by focusing on the needs of groups such as very young children or young women concerned with images of their bodies. Maggie took us into the heart of Michael’s practice with people and how their sense of agency was restored and enhanced.

Maggie spoke as an Associate of the new centre that Michael had founded on January 15th 2008 as he moved into a new phase of his work and his personal life, and of some of the hopes and intentions that Michael had for this new centre. She evoked some of the profound contribution of Michael’s work to the field of therapy, and spoke of what Michael has given us and what will go on. She also spoke with a sense of connection to people in many parts of the world who will go on teaching and engaging with narrative practice and who will keep on exploring new ideas in a way that could fit with the ethos of the narrative approach.

More words from Maggie Carey

Shona Russel shared the following thoughts:
As we begin to draw this service to a close we would like to highlight some words and ideas that Michael brought to all of us. These words relate to a metaphor which is appropriate in circumstances where there is potential for stories of loss to override stories of connection. In 1988 Michael prepared a paper for the “Loss and the Family” International Colloquium held in County Cork, Ireland. In this paper Michael introduced a concept, the “saying hullo” metaphor which is relevant to all of us here and in other places who gather to remember Michael.

“I would argue that every experience of loss is unique, as are the steps that are necessary for the resolution of every loss... I believe the process of grief is a “saying goodbye and then saying hullo” phenomenon.”

Michael’s long term close friend Rob Hall shared the following:
“When Michael and I and our friend Alan would go riding together. The day was always the best day for riding, and the view was the best ever view, and when the weather became terrible, it was a "fantastic adventure" that we were on. At half way in the ride we would stop at the Lobethal Deli. Sit, talk, drink a sports drink and eat some sweat donuts. Other cyclists often rode by as we sat and suddenly a voice would shout loudly "Michael". It was always a surprise, but a regular event. We never found out who shouted and they never stopped. But it became a little ritual we took up - of suddenly shouting "Michael". Michael even got a ring tone that shouted “Michael!” On the day he died I was riding the path we used to take when I got the news. It was very very sad ride. I rang Alan who road across to join me and when we saw each other - it was irresistible - we both shouted "Michael".

As people prepared to leave they were invited to consider ways the saying hullo metaphor may help them to hold onto or reclaim the relationship they had with Michael and his ideas. How it might sustain and bring comfort and support over the coming weeks and months. The hope was expressed that people continue to find ways to maintain connection with others who have also been drawn to the ideas and practices that Michael so willingly shared.

Finally Alan Jenkins’s invocation with a moving love poem brought a lightness and connectedness. This was followed by Alan’s engaging introduction to the Rolling Stones ‘Salt of the Earth’.

A significant ritual within the service was the procession of the community of who were guided by Rob Hall to light candles and take time for our own reflections. I found this slow movement of the mourners up the main aisle to plant their candle on the altar very moving and at the end the Church was filled with this candlelight at a time when the day light was fading.

Geraldine Slattery
April, 2008.