Retirement in 2005 from leading a busy city parish was approaching, just as grandchildren kept appearing. ‘I could write a book for grandparents’, I thought ‘something about the ritu-als that give children a sense of identity and belonging’. So that was the plan.
Three months after my church farewell, my husband was diagnosed with melanoma. He died a year later. The book idea persisted, even as I reinvented my life. On a U3A trip I met an older man just completing his BA Hons. degree and immediately thought ‘That’s what I want to do’. Next morning an 80yr old man on Radio NZ said ‘If you are thinking of going to university, don’t let age put you off. It’s got nothing to do with it.’ That was all the confirmation I needed!
A Google look at the university calendar revealed that an-thropology was about family, identity, rituals. Just what fascinated me, so in 2007 I enrolled as a ‘mature’ student. Three fascinating years as an undergraduate followed, so that, supplemented by various previous studies, I was able to complete my BA in 2009. To my astonishment, I was awarded a scholarship to do Hons. so was signed up for 2010.
God was not finished with surprises. Early in 2010 a man I had first known 50 years before visited Christchurch from Australia. We fell in love and were married mid-year. Study understandably took a back foot but I completed half the course, with the research on 5yr olds’ birthday parties.
2011 dawned with plans to move into a lovely hillside house and to complete the honours course. My sister had invited me to go with her in February to visit family in Qatar. At our housewarming the night before our flight out, one of my daughters gave me a card to open on the plane. This announced that she was pregnant with twins. I was completely discombobulated. ‘I am an old woman. WHY am I continuing to study when my daughter will need much more support? BUT I have a scholarship to complete’ etc. etc. ad nauseum. I’d almost decided to give university away and put energy into the Christchurch Cathedral chapter-approved project for a children’s chapel at the base of the Cathedral tower.
Three days before we flew home from the Middle East, my niece, phone pinned to her ear, announced ‘Auntie Pat, there has been a terrible earth-quake in Christchurch’. We compulsively watched the TV coverage, in horror seeing the Cathedral tower disintegrate, with my friend Sue Spigel caught in the window. I heard mayor Bob Parker say ‘We will rebuild this stone by stone’. I experienced what I can only call a Spirit-guided moment. ‘There will be so many arguments about that. I want to do a PhD on what happens’.
Returning to devastation in Christchurch, life began to shape as a new ‘normal’. Our house had broken crockery and a few cracks but so did everyone elses. University clas-ses restarted in tents on the campus front lawns. Then an-other God-inspired surprise. I was one of 43 students who were funded by the universities of Canterbury and Oxford to study for the Trinity term in Oxford. What an incredible gift! This enabled me to get a much better feel for the prec-edents of our Christchurch history as well as completing my BA (Hons). A week before finishing the term and just before my husband was due to join me for a trip to look at Germa-ny’s reconstructed cathedrals, the June earthquakes hit Christchurch. This time our new home was ‘munted’, uninhabitable. We returned as earthquake refugees, staying with my daughter when her twins were born!
In 2012 I returned to the University of Can-terbury and began MA studies and the fol-lowing year converted to PhD research and writing my thesis ‘The Once and Future Ca-thedral’. Thus in December 2017 I got to wearing the floppy hat which had been my goal in the tough times and graduated with PhD in Anthropology.