Another beautiful Wednesday afternoon in Muriwai, another funeral for a fireman killed by a landslide when Cyclone Gabrielle arrived on February 13.
Last week Dave van Zwanenberg was farewelled at a hilltop venue which usually hosts weddings.
Craig Stevens followed him this Wednesday.
Two funerals, and a Lemmy: There were photos of Stevens through the years, including a portrait of him in his teenage years wearing a T-shirt of Lemmy Kilmister’s great hard rock group Motorhead.
He looked happy. He looked like he meant business in the sense that his business was to live life loud.
There were other photos of him with a bleeding face. He looked even happier.
Stevens had been a professional BMX rider, dividing his time between Florida and Germany, breaking his bones for fun and money. He produced a film about his life and BMX exploits in 2020.
It played on a big screen at the Muriwai hilltop. It was very WOAH WTF, which is to say that guy really could ride a bike. He performed sensational stunts, airborne as much as on land.
But his farewell had to conform to the sedate pace of a funeral procession. His casket was brought in on the same old antique fire truck that brought in van Zwanenberg last Wednesday.
It trundled slowly, slowly along, crunching on the gravel road. A guard of honour was acted out by guys holding surfboards. Sunlight sparkled on the ocean.
There was a wreath of proteas and toetoe. Stevens died a hero’s death, and so private grief had to allow for public ceremonial staging.
Over 500 people came to pay their respects during the 90-minute ceremony, which included a set from a live band.
It was a very young crowd. There were plenty of hipster beards, and blondes in straw hats; Lucy Stevens wore a little blue dress.
It’s challenging to be able speak at all at a funeral for someone you love. It’s nothing short of amazing to speak well.
Amy van Zwanenberg did that last Wednesday and Lucy Stevens, too, said the most important things in a clear voice: “You were the most incredible Dad and husband and we felt so loved.”
She also had the poise to tell funny stories, like the time he was thwarted in an attempt to propose to her.
“Craig suggested having a romantic picnic on the beach. That failed, as a dead body had washed up on the beach.”
They married. They have two little boys. They were living happily ever after until Gabrielle broke down the doors. Funeral celebrant Julia Cameron told the guests that Stevens was recovered from the landslide, and taken to Auckland Hospital, where Lucy works on the trauma ward; the next day he was transferred to Middlemore.
He was there for two nights but did not regain consciousness. His son Tai sat at his bedside, and sang: “Rain, rain, go away. Come back another day”.
“You left us,” said his mate Peter Marselle, “in the most Craig way possible.”
Much was said about his service as a firefighter. Lucy Stevens said it best.
“You were our boys’ ultimate hero. They loved visiting the fire station when you were doing your duties, and sitting in the fire engines and riding around the cones you would set up for them. We definitely have two future firemen in the family.”
Much more was said about his love for his wife, his kids, and the sheer crazy joy he got from surfing, BMX, and mountain bike riding.
Craig Stevens said it best. His smiling open face loomed on the big screen. He was a picture of happiness, a believer that a life lived best is a life lived outdoors.
“This doesn’t go on forever,” he said. “Life is short.” Craig Stevens was 39.