BRIAN COLLESS (husband) New Year’s Eve 2014/15

Looking it you lying so still in your casket, I still think you are something out of the box. But you have always been so active and dynamic that this restful pose does not suit you.










I came on my bike to be with you today, as I used to do 60 years ago (riding from Balmain to Croydon Park). So you’ll be saying, as you did then: “You’re sweaty, and smelly”.

   Notice I am wearing the suit I had for our wedding 56 years ago (prime quality Australian merino wool, which has lasted, like our marriage). And I picked the necktie with the frolicking bears, to go with your collection of bears (including your travel-companion, Paddington) who are all here today.

   Presumably we are expected to be playing (sorry, I should say working in your case) by the rules laid down long ago by our children, in their concern for our mental health: when dealing with people, we don’t need to tell our life story in the process.

   But I do! (Where have I heard those words before? And a promise “to have and to hold”, “in sickness and in health”.) I do want to tell our story, because our life story is a wondrous love story.

   In 1953 I saw you in a classroom at your school. We were doing French dictation exercises on Wednesday afternoons. In the following two years we were both at Sydney Teachers College, as was Gwen Anderson, who is here today, but we did not notice one another then.

    But you and I finally met in 1956, at a Christian Endeavour youth camp, on a Blackheath road, on Good Friday (it was a very good Friday). You emerged from the mist, with your sister Laurel and friend Lillian. The first part of you that I saw was the backs of your shapely legs, protruding from your stylish raincoat. They have put you in your box the wrong way round for my purposes today.  I don’t suppose you could turn over? Never mind.

   On that occasion, my most striking feature was the bright blue jumper that my mother Irene had lovingly knitted for me. Unfortunately it had been in hot water in the copper cauldron, and it had shrunk this way and stretched that way, so that it was more like a poncho than a pullover (but ponchos were not in fashion then); it made me look a bit of a drack (unattractive). I was with two other guys; one worked at the chocolate factory, and the other was my lifelong friend Brian Taylor, and you know that he has been in many of the stories about us, before and after this meeting.

   You wanted to read our name-tags, but I covered mine up. You seemed such a vivacious woman, and from then on I followed your every movement till the camp was over, and we got into the steam train together, and contrived to sit next to each other, for ever and ever. Amen!

   You remember the Beatitudes (the “Blesseds”) in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. We learned them off by heart in Sunday School, and got rewards: cards to collect. Let’s see how you have lived up to them.

   “Blessed are you poor, for the Kingdom of Heaven is yours”

Yes, we were both poor, but I won’t start a contest over whose family was poorer, because yours had more children, and I would lose.

   “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.”

Indeed, and you worked hard (like the perfect wife in the Bible reading, Proverbs 31) to raise our standard of living and obtain good nutritious food for us.

   “Blessed are you when they slander and persecute you, and accuse you of wrongdoing.

It is hard to imagine, but you have had this cruel experience in one of your teaching positions in this city. “Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in Heaven.” But it took its toll on you.

   “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

Quite so, but you have always had so much compassion that you have been reluctant to read newspapers, because of all the suffering that is reported.

   “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

In all your family relationships you have been the one at the centre to whom all could turn for counsel and comfort. You have actively worked for reconciliation among your people.

   “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

You have been with me all these years when I have been playing with Syriac Christian mysticism; my research shows that those Syrian monks took this literally: purify your heart and you will have a blissful vision of God in it, the beatific vision, a beatitude.

  Such pure innocence came naturally to you. “I’m not that kind of girl” is what you said to anyone who tried to get fresh with you (excepting, eventually, me).

   You did not know any swearwords, till your daughter brought them home from Palmerston North Girls High School.

   You do not need a priest to absolve you from sin: you have nothing to be ashamed of.

   “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Well, it has been a great consolation to me, reading so many sincere tributes about you as a person. As I have often said to you: at times like these we can’t take the old misery line, “I haven’t got any friends”.

   Those who mourn: in my case it involves keeping a nice balance of sadness and gladness, mingling joy with sorrow.

   “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Is this applicable to you? MEEK  means humble, patient, gentle, but NOT WEAK.

“Strong lady” is what they are saying about you.

   And now I want to speak to you personally. I have never used a pet name for you, have I? Your father (Frederick Flack, a Gallipoli ANZAC) called you Wigiwu (origin obscure, butyou did wear a wig for a while, seen in the photographs of our fiftieth wedding anniversary).

   However, I have sometimes applied a pair of rhyming words to you.

   The first word can mean a number of things: (1) a plump bird (as you were when we married; (2) a grumbler (not like you at all); (3) beautiful and excellent (in my dialect, and that is my choice for it when it refers to you). Grouse.

   The second word, which I use affectionately to describe my relationship with you, comes from the Latin sponsus/sponsa, meaning ‘betrothed’. Spouse.

   You are my grouse spouse.

    But spouse is a word you have never liked. You OBJÉCT to it; it makes you feel like an ÓBJECT; but if you rose up now and said “I OBJÉCT”, I would certainly not OBJÉCT!

   And I call upon these people here present (as we did 56 years ago) to witness that I Brian Edric Colless took you Helen Christine Flack to be my lawfully wedded spouse (or wife, or life’s partner) in a marriage that was expected to last, and it did, till death do us part.

   So, I wish to affirm, that in spite of any evidence seemingly to the contrary, Helen, you have always been the supreme ÓBJECT of my affection, and that opinion is not merely SUBJECTIVE but also OBJECTIVE.

Where does that leave me? Am I the HOUSE LOUSE (a despicable blood sucking insect) or the HOUSE MOUSE (a pet, or a pest)?. No, I am still the man about the house. But our house is a big place to look after by myself. Worst of all, if you are not in it, it is just a HOUSE, not a HOME.

    Towards the end, in the week leading up to the night before Christmas, when no mouse would be stirring in the house, you had to work hard to communicate in silence. You were raising your eyebrows, but hardly ever opening your eyes. You did it for me once, on request, and others received this boon; none more so than the big brown man who came into your room to repair the fan. Your eyes were wide open, and you watched him WORK, as you always do with your tradesmen. I imagined you would be saying: I want to get out of here and go home to my work; the place will be a mess, with newspapers piled up to the ceiling. (Actually, it is sympathy cards and flowers that are filling up the space.)

   In recent days you have been enjoying massages at home and in the hospice, to assist your damaged lymphatic system; they were trying to reduce the fluid in your limbs, and to bring back some of your wrinkles. (I see you have got them back now.) You have been lapping up the attention and the touching: “It’s nice”, you said. I refrained when others were doing to you, in case you got too excited.

    It has to be said that in all of the countless consultations you had with medical specialists you were never asked the vital question, and so I blurted out the answer once (and got the thumbs up from the nurse in attendance): She has not lost her libído.

    In our intimate times you would always say: “You have a turn now”. But that was about pleasure; pain is what I am being offered now.

   I know that your lovely hands have done so many kind things for so many grateful people.

   You are beautiful in every way: good and kind, lovely and lovable, loving and loved, my grouse spouse.



Hi, I’m Michael, Helen’s son, sometimes known, erroneously, as the younger brother. Hi Mum.

   I originally intended to say a lot, then nothing, but my sister Laurel encouraged me to tell one anecdote, which I will end with. Laurel mentioned our mother’s trips to America, to visit her and the two granddaughters (Olivia and Julia). When Mum arrived in Los Angeles she signed an immigration document, stating that she was not carrying anything she had not packed and carried onto the plane herself. When her luggage was searched a small complimentary tube of Qantas toothpaste was discovered. Consequently she was placed on a terrorist watch list, and she was strip-searched.

    I hope you’ll be able to subvert these restrictions on your travels now, Mum.

    My mother was a very strong woman. while she was in remission, she and I and my uncle Les (her brother) spent a month, three years in a row, traveling on every train (private and government) in Queensland. On the last trip I invited her, early one morning, to come and climb a mountain in Townsville. I had climbed it the year before, going straight up the side. This time we went up the road; it was long, steep, tough, and hot. Despite weakened lungs, from past illnesses and the lymphoma, she persevered, with many breaks. She was so proud when she got to the top, as was I.

   In August of this year I spent a month with Mum and Dad at home in Palmerston North. Mum and I did something together every day: we had lunches, and also walks, including a long one on Himatangi Beach.

   A few days after I had returned to Sydney, I received a text from Mum, saying (in part): “I’ve been looking for you everywhere, but can’t find you anywhere”. Now that I am staying at the house again: “I’ve been looking for you everywhere, but can’t find you anywhere”.

   Goodbye Mum. I love you.

AMANDA COLLESS (grandaughter)

My journey with Nana:

Today I am not going to share the journey or the battle that my nana had faced with cancer because I want to share about the wonderful person that she was and the lovely memories that we shared.

   Nana Helen was always generous and always supportive. Nana you always believed in us and always had faith in us with any journey that we wanted to take. There are so many special memories that I could go on and on about and share with you but I don't need to tell all of them because they will always be my memories of what we shared as a family and the special times that will always be around.

But I will share one particular memory that I can remember so clearly from when I was younger it may not be a spectacular memory but it symbolizes  what we shared together.

Ice cream was symbolic of special times we shared. we would buy a ice cream were ever  we would go. At Pukera Park in New Plymouth we would go to the Festival of Lights and at the end Popa and Nana would buy us an ice cream. This was so special, like a prize to Adam and myself.

   Nana would look after us when my mum and dad would go away for work and we would go after school and buy ice creams from the supermarket and it would be our little secret and dad nor mum never knew about it.

   Nana was such an amazing nana and she was a fighter right till the end. Near the end of Nana'a journey I would never say goodbye to nana I would only say hello in the end because hello means 'hello to a new journey and new part of her life. '

   I love you nana... I will miss you... But you are in our hearts always...


My mother, Helen grew up as a Christian, alongside her brother Les and sister Laurel, known better as Lock, with the modeling and influence of her elder sisters Betty and Barbara.  Not all her siblings invested in the church like Helen Christine Flack. But it was church activities that led her to Brian Edric Colless.  Growing up in Croydon Park, Sydney, in a large family, Helen must have found a caring community and sense of belonging in the Croydon Park Methodist Church.

I feel my mother was a real Christian, in that:

   The church was about people, an organisation that cares for others

   A weekly opportunity to reflect on yourself and what you had achieved, the work you have done to make life better for those around you; to be organised and have jobs done, a work ethic.

   She did not judge others, or discriminate against those who did not live in a pious way.

   She was never self-righteous, and did not put herself above others.  Although occasionally she would suggest to those close to her that they might want to lose a bit of weight.

  She cared and worried about others:

    The starving children of Africa. 

     Oppressed women in the Middle East, or anywhere.

     Women suffering at the hands of men, domestic violence in NZ.

     Children who were mistreated and not given the opportunities to learn or grow up in families where they are loved and valued.

   She was gifted a strength in talking and I have it too.  A strong desire to share with others, connect and belong. A family trait that shows our care for you, by describing our own situation in great Flack story-telling fashion. Let's reference the wooly sheep story here. Ask any Flack relative here today about that one. Telling stories explained our place in the world. 

   We have been there. We have done things.  We share ourselves because we want you to share back.  We want to know what you have done. We want to share our experiences as a story and explain in an indirect way, with dubious links to other stories, who we are. A  desire to share the experience of life, It's exhilaration and fun. A love of living and play.  I think her grandson Adam will share more about play.

   To talk to with us, my mother especially, was to share her sympathy, her concern, her encouragement, her Christian belief in the good of others. And the importance of giving and being kind. We share our life story so you can see we have lived and we value others.  You listen respectfully, so we share more. But  conversely we want you to share as we are more concerned for you. We model talking because we want you to tell us so we can understand you. The talker really wants to listen.  

   Mum would always ask, after sharing her recent experiences.  What's happening for you?  You can share your difficulties your fight your struggle and celebrate your successes with me.  She would be disappointed when we reported nothing important seemed to be happening in our lives.

   She wanted to tell everybody of her worth, that she was a good person, what she had achieved so far that day. What she had done around the home. Emails written to update friends and relatives. Cards and presents sent. 

   Mum would commiserate when life was hard. And celebrate every success. Adam and Amanda can attest to cards with enclosed cheques.  

   Mum we love you for your concern for the human condition, and your eternal belief in the goodness of others. You were rewarded for this in the way the staff at Arohanui Hospice managed your graceful end, and the start of a new journey, with such respect and dignity for you in the middle of the night. As we lay in the dark. Extracting the last bit of living from your life and less willing body. They would talk calmly using your name Helen I'm just going to. This should help. You're worrying your boys. Your mouth is dry. 

   They gave to you the care and generosity you have shown to others. And then offered me a cup of tea. Their support for us, familiy and friends,  as we attempted to negotiate death gracefully and with purpose, was everything we needed.

   I am who I am am, academically, socially, and professionally, because of my parents  It is no coincidence that my career involves teaching and learning. Talking,  listening, questioning and encouraging.

   The values of my mother and father, and the modeling of my mother, defined my career path.  Like her a teacher, then special educator, an educational psychologist, and currently a school counsellor, parenting facilitator, and brainwave educator.  Caring for others and supporting children, families, teachers and the community to do things differently, and be successful in their relationships with each other.

   My sister Laurel told you in the Hospice, via Skype, that she was the person she was because of you, Mum. And she had tried to make you perfect. When in fact you already were  perfect and wonderful as a parent, and grandparent.

   We love you, Mum. It won't be the same. But your influence will continue through the generations to come. Adam and Amanda, Olivia and Julia.

   As you have shown us, the only thing to do, is to just keep swimming.


Remarks on Helen Colless from her only daughter: Laurel Colless

Dear friends and family of Helen. Thank you all so much for coming here today to celebrate my kind and lovely one and only mother Helen. My name’s Laurel and I’m the favourite daughter .

   I would begin by extending my warmest greetings from the snowy far north on behalf of my husband Pekka and our two daughters Olivia and Julia, who were not able to make the long trip to be with you today.

   Earlier this week when I left Finland to begin my own 40-hour journey to be here, I asked my husband, a professional diplomat and public speaker how I could farewell someone like my mother. How could I encapsulate 51 years of memories into one set of fleeting remarks? My husband’s advice as I was heading towards passport control was to try to put in some humour.

   “Helen would appreciate it,” he said.

    “I don’t know any funeral jokes, I replied glumly.

   “What about the funeral quote from Yogi Bear?” he suggested.

   Suddenly I was interested because bears are on theme – as you can see from the number of bears here at the church today. There were a lot of cuddly bears at Helen’s hospice departure too, mostly supplied by my brother Michael. Paddington Bear, Mum’s train traveling partner, was also there, and is here with us today.

   But I realise my husband’s not talking about Yogi the cartoon Bear from Jellystone Park but the American former Major League Baseball catcher, "Yogi" Berra from the mid-1900s.

   I googled Berra and funerals when I got to Palmerston North and found Yogi Berra’s famous funeral line:

   “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”

   Another helpful piece of advice from Yogi Berra is: “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

   Moving on from bears to dogs, I would like to share something that, for me, goes some way to presenting Mum in her true light. The following anecdote, if misunderstood, may be interpreted as a supreme breach of funeral etiquette. I said this to my father last night then asked. “Do I have your support anyway?”

   Dad said “No, but I’ll let you know how it went afterwards.” Then Dawn, my sister in law told me she and Dad would develop a secret signal involving neck crossing and gurgling sounds if it wasn’t going well.

   So here goes. My Finnish husband, Pekka, was fond of Helen and her of him, so much so that like any good mother-in-law, Mum didn’t get upset when Pekka began insisting that Helen bore a resemblance to our dog, Doris the wiry-haired dachshund – already a great friend of Mum’s. 

   Some son-in-laws would have been cast off from favour for this travesty of likening one’s mother in law to the family dog. But Mum seemed to enjoy the joke. And of course Mum (speak directly to casket) you know that I mean no disrespect by mentioning this, because anyone can see if we pull up a picture of both you and Doris that it simply is true. (Show pictures one after the other.)

   Alright, Pekka would concede that Doris did have a little more facial hair than Mum…. But as you can see, both Mum and Doris have lovely noses and kind shining eyes.

   Of course joking aside, the likeness comes not so much from any real physical resemblance but rather from their similarity of spirit. Mum’s spirit shone through from the unwaveringly kind and loyal way that she had with people. In the same way, Doris’s basket is the go-to place in our home for unconditional love and loyalty – for all of us – except the family cat.

   Whenever there’s an argument or trouble at home, we all take turns visiting with Doris for some non-judgemental comfort. And this is something that my mother Helen was also always ready to offer the world.

   Even Doris the dachshund, now 13 years old, got to take advantage of Mum’s kind nature. One day in Washington DC when Mum arrives for a visit, she is greeted by Doris, who trots over and rolls straight onto her back for a tummy rub. While I’m taking mum’s suitcase to her room and attending to a few things, Mum, who has just flown across the world, continues rubbing Doris’s belly. About 20 minutes pass. I come back and she is still working hard at giving Doris her belly pats. My endlessly kind mother famously asks “Do you think Doris would mind if I stopped patting her for a while.”

A good traveller

As Helen continues her journey without us, the people who knew her well will tell you that she was a good traveller. She was good at transitions and removals, always well prepared. Good at packing and unpacking boxes and good at reminding Dad about how often she had had to do it during their many moves.  She was a champion suitcase packer and whenever I came to stay she would pack for my return trip carefully, and double the capacity of my suitcase.

   When each of my daughters was born Mum travelled great distances alone to meet the babies and share the experience with me: to Helsinki in minus 30 degrees for Olivia, my first born, and to Washington DC in plus 40 degrees for Julia, my second. 

   She quickly adapted in both cases, particularly to Finland, the country where baby prams require winter tyres. Mum gave me a lot of practical lessons and advice with my babies but there is one thing from that time that has always stuck with me.

    “When you and your brothers were babies,” Mum told me, “no matter how tired I was, no matter how many times I’d been woken in the night, the one thing I always tried to give you when I looked over into your cot was …… a smile. It wasn’t always easy. But I always tried to smile at my children.”

   Mum always had a kind smile for everyone, and a kind word. Sometimes a few too many kind words if we were in a hurry to get somewhere. But that was just Mum. She was verbose, we might even say famously verbose, but always kind and never judgemental in her unsparing comments about others.

   Certainly she always had a smile for her family, for the many close people around her, for the thousands of school children whose lives she touched so positively, and of course for any stranger anywhere who was lucky enough to come her way.

Good things Flowed from her

Good things flowed from my mother from babyhood to now: warm hugs and loving smiles with the mother’s milk. Then as a child, I remember fruit – so much fruit. Even in hard economic times, Mum used to say that she would always find the money to buy fruit.

   When I was a teenager, the loving smiles often had to double as forgiving smiles and later when I moved away there were parcels of vitamin tablets (probably to replace the fruit) as well as shipments of warm clothes that would go some way towards replacing the warm hugs.

    Other good things flowed from her across the oceans, money, air tickets, gifts and cards. Mum never missed sending me something for my birthday or Christmas, wherever I was. In the last years of her life, emails and loving and hopeful text messages also flowed regularly from her too.

   There were also many more journeys. I remember her arrival in Tokyo for my wedding carrying a multi-tiered homemade cake, cradling it like a baby. She also brought with her a flood of relatives, some of whom are here today.

   Together Mum and I walked the Cinque Terre in Italy on the Ligurian Sea, we travelled in Finland, the US, and Japan, even in the North of New Zealand. Dad, Michael and Nigel have also travelled with her on many continents.

Caring for strangers

I would like to recall today, our last trip together, in the US. Mum had flown alone to San Francisco from New Zealand and I across the continent from Washington with my girls to meet her. We were bound for the avenue of the Giant Redwoods then onto Monterey, but the trip quickly became a disaster. My au pair in Washington had borrowed the navigator the night before and lost the memory chip (I discovered this only after we’d set off in our rental car together), so we were lost before we even get out of San Francisco Bay.

    Mum didn’t mind because she wanted only to sit beside me in the passenger seat and talk at length about the woman from beside her on the plane and this woman’s manifold problems. I was hot tired and quickly crumbled into old patterns. “I don’t want to hear about some person I’ve never met, I want to hear something about you!” I snapped.

   The conversation deteriorated into me shouting at my lovely mother who had just flown across the world to be with us.  This continued until Julia my then 5 year old asked from the back seat, “Mum why are you shouting at Nanna Helen?”

Helen was getting tearful and I was feeling sorry, and on top of that, we were still very very lost.

   It was only when I was able to remind myself that Mum was talking about the lady from the plane because she cared deeply about everyone she met, wherever she found them, that we could calm down and move forward – and even start to find our way again.

Perfect all along

But now I’ve spoken enough and it’s time to say goodbye.

   I have a memory from years ago of myself leaving on a train somewhere. Mum has taken me to the station to say goodbye. She’s waving from the platform and I from the window. As the train pulls out, Mum begins to run down the platform.  She’s running, really running, along the platform, handbag flying behind her, pumping her arms, lifting her knees, to keep level with the train window. She runs the length of the platform. We’re both happy to get one more look at each other, one last wave. Then the train gathers speed and I am gone.

    In Mum’s last days at the hospice it is hard for me to accept that I, or we, are the ones now standing on the platform, being left behind. Although Mum is breathing like a runner from her sick bed, she is leaving, and we have no choice but to let her go on without us.

   As a teenager, I was always trying to fix you, your appearance, your behaviour – don’t talk too much don’t stand too close to people. I also had occasion to tell you more than once that you knew nothing about anything.

   I went away to find it all out for myself, but it didn’t really take me that long to figure out that everything I ever needed to know about life, and life values, I had learnt from you by the time I was five. Even more importantly, I have now finally discovered that you didn’t need fixing after all, because you were just perfect all along.

I am Audrey Jarvis and I am privileged to stand here as a friend of Helen  and her family for 44 years. We met Helen and Brian and their three children less than a week after they arrived in Palmerston North in 1970, having been told about this family which had been at the Congregational church but really wanted to find the Methodist church - just put off by the strange spire! With three children of similar ages, we became linked in a strong friendship.

   We have heard how Helen loved her children and grandchildren. Helen’s generous love extended beyond her family to her friends, and no-one was more faithful at remembering birthdays and recognizing the arrival of other people’s children and grandchildren. Several of our children and grandchildren have visited and stayed with Helen and family, and been so well cared for in the process.

   Helen and Brian quickly became involved in the life of our church, Helen teaching Sunday School for many years, and the family being involved in lots of the fun activities, family camps at Waikanae, walking at Coppermine Creek and The Skyline Walk at Whanganui, a snowy weekend at Mount Egmont, or Mount Taranaki, and many other events. Helen and Brian faithfully attended our monthly discussion group for more than 30 years, and this was a group with which Helen shared not only her ideas but showed her support and caring for other people.

   Helen was proud of her Australian origins and I remember the Colless family dressed up to sing Once a Jolly Swagman at a church concert. I also have a special memory of a camping holiday north of Coramandel with Helen, Brian, and Nigel, plus my husband Brion and daughter Sharon and myself. It was  a very basic camp and so much fun!

   Brian, Michael, Laurel, Nigel, Dawn,  and all Helen's family, our love and sympathy is with you. Thank  you for sharing Helen with us. Thank you particularly for the privilege of being with Helen and you all on her last journey. 

   Helen, you have been such a special friend to so many people. You will be greatly missed by your church family and you will not be forgotten.  It is hard to let you go, and we do so with love and gratitude.   


So sad to return to New Zealand so soon after my visit in October. An amazing job by my cousins, Nigel Colless and his wife Dawn, Laurel Colless and Michael Colless at their mother’s funeral; their presentations were a real tribute to Aunty Helen Colless as a mother. Uncle Brian Colless’s speech was as entertaining as always and very poignant.


RIP my Aunty Helen Colless. Much loved and will be sadly missed. A strong generous and reliable woman whose loyalty was always with her family. Her mastery of English was used with machine gun like effect on anyone who was lucky enough to engage in conversation with her, and had a few hours to spare. Thank you for sharing parts of your life with me. Love you lots, and God bless your kind and caring heart. XXXX


In memory of my dear friend, Helen Colless, who was lost a few days ago. She is being farewelled in Palmy North in a few minutes time and I really wish I could be there. Brian Colless, please know that you and your family are being though of. With much love. Trina X

(Trina’s parents, John and Felicity, were present,)