If there is frustration at trying to get back to where you left off, this can be solved by entering into the search box ‘January’ for the beginning, or Part Two, Part Three etc.
Back to Kate’s story.
Not long after my mom left Kate and me in Moraira—in floods of tears, naturally—Peter and his mother Tinker arrived. A bit off I know to have one’s mother-in-law join her son on his first visit to his estranged wife and child, but there was nothing conventional about the way Peter and I conducted our lives, and nor did it feel awkward., Both Kate and I were pleased to see them. Peter and I shared a bed as if nothing had changed, and soon we set about looking for a better home for Kate and me. We found one surrounded by vineyards, a recurring theme in my life, near the village of Benitachell with a lovely view across the valley to Moraira and the sea. Hot water was only available in small quantities during the hours of sunshine so the bath was useless, and the only shower was outside. You accessed it by climbing over a low wall and walking along a narrow path, the vineyards falling away and down to the beautiful Mediterranean Sea in the distance. We could either shower in our bathing costumes or naked, and accept the distant onlook of strangers. The property owner, Lance Macklin, was an elderly and rather strange man who had been a Formula One driver. Coincidence, one of my favourite road signs, crops up again here. When we returned to the island many years later, and through our first architect, Rolph Blakstad, we met a lovely lady whose first husband was also a F1 racing driver and had known Lance well.
Our closest neighbour was our landlord who lived in a cave-like home he had built just around a bend in the track. After Tinker had returned to the UK we invited Lance to join us for supper. It turned out that Lance was a bit of a weirdo, and he definitely didn’t pick up on the hints that it was time to go home. Peter finally announced that he was off to bed, and still Lance hung on. As soon as Peter was out of the way he grabbed and tried to kiss me! It brought on an uncomfortable flashback to my teenage days of making excuses to boys you had never given any indication of being in the slightest bit romantically interested in, for fear of hurting their feelings. I finally persuaded Lance to go home. Peter had been waiting for me to come to bed, and it took some persuading to stop him from marching out into the night to knock his block off. The next day we found a thank-you gift on the seat of my little Renault 4—at least he realised he had overstepped the mark.
The time arrived for Peter to return to the UK, and Kate and I took him to Alicante airport. We both stood forlornly at the top of an escalator, Kate waving yet another goodbye to daddy as he slipped away from us with a final poignant backward glance. It was almost too much to bear. With a big thud to my heart, I knew that no amount of wanting to drop out of suburbia could justify the breakup of our family. Kate’s stoicism still haunts me to this day. I knew, as we watched him disappear, that we would get back together. Just the how and the when needed to be worked out. It needed to be done right and had to be forever.
The next arrival, a few days later, was Christina from South Africa, fresh from a very painful breakup. She had sent a telegram asking me to call her, which in those days required a phone box and lots of coins. We made plans to meet up, and after a few missed meetings, finally bumped into each other on a nearby track quite by chance. She still had the address of our original rental house.
For the first week Christina climbed under a duvet and that was where she stayed. When we finally talked she remarked on the irony of our situations. I had what she most wanted in life, a man who wanted to marry me and a child, and I was walking away from it, while I was telling her that I wanted to be independent and self-reliant, how her life looked to me.
Eventually, she perked up and we started getting out more. Soon after Peter had left, Lance left a pile of sex magazines on my table while I was out shopping. He had obviously decided that I had repressed my sexuality, and that it would benefit from some spicing up, even taking the trouble to mark specific pages. But once Christina arrived so soon after Peter’s departure, it was now obvious to him that she and I were lovers. Christina and I had a good laugh, and at least now I had a cover.
It was a magical time. Christina and I loved to sit by the big window in the evenings after putting Katie to bed, gazing out to sea. As soon my solar lights failed we’d light candles, and I’d read one of Isak Dineson’s short stories aloud, Babette’s Feast being a favourite. This three-week period changed the direction of both our lives as we read and examined Numerology and the I Ching and interpreted what we understood from the readings for each other. Then this would lead to further interesting conversations. When the time came for Christina to continue her travels around Europe, we both felt ready to pick our lives with a renewed outlook and our batteries fully charged.
Peter and I kept in contact mostly through letters. He was offered a position in Los Angeles with a music company via good friends of ours from our Hong Kong period. But it was hard to see how he could keep up his contact with Kate from there. Then a letter arrived from Peter saying we should be together and thinking about having another child, rather than breaking our family apart. In the meantime, I had been consulting the I Ching about how and when we should get back together. I didn’t want to rush back, find that I had made a mistake, and then put us through all this pain a second time. And now the I Ching, after weeks of telling me to stay still, was saying the time was right to initiate action. I wrote back saying I agreed, and wanted to come home and make our life together work, But my letter crossed with another from Peter saying that he now accepted that our marriage wasn’t going to work.
I called him from the same coin-guzzling phone box. ‘Come home,’ he said.
So I began to pack up our few possessions For some inexplicable reason, I decided to bath Kate while packing the car to leave—perhaps to keep her distracted with her bath toys. She was now three years and nine months old. I had said very clearly that she was not to stand up or try to get out before I returned, but I should have known better. Of course she decided to climb out, and slipped, splitting her face just beneath her eyebrow. It was awful—blood everywhere— and I felt like such a bad mother, I now had to find a doctor quickly before we could set out on our long journey home. But nothing could spoil the fact that she was going home to her daddy. Someone I knew kindly took us to a doctor where Kate was stitched up. Having spent a large proportion of the money I had for our return trip on a private doctor, I wasn’t sure whether we had enough to get us home. I didn’t have a credit card in those days. After three slow days on the road, we crossed the Channel and arrived back at our home in Walton-on-Thames, with literally pennies in my purse. Now I had to explain to Peter why Kate had a bandage around her head…
I am writing today at Greg’s home in my art studio. I paint adequately, but my main satisfaction comes from the meditative process of transposing what I see into strokes of shape and colour on canvas, and some may describe them as accomplished, but my completed canvases rarely give me pleasure. What is always missing is the true spark of creativity; the sense that the canvas has taken on a life of its own beyond the purely decorative. Only once, when the purpose was simply to try out colours and technique for a copy of ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’ (by Johannes Vermeer) that I wanted to attempt, did I achieve a painting that seemed to come alive. Maybe I should always do preliminary paintings and stop there! But for now, my intention is to enjoy the studio space for my writing.
I have settled well into my daily writing routine—perhaps a little too well. It could have been difficult to spend time in Greg’s home, as this is where Elle spent her last three nights on earth. But his home is so beautiful, and he is so wise and kind. She loved him and his home very much, so no, it feels good to be here. There are times when I can truly see and feel her here.
To begin with, being back with Peter in our old shared home was no easier than before we parted. Our intention was to rebuild our love, make our marriage work, and create a secure home for Kate, but rebuilding confidence and trust was the biggest struggle.
Peter’s family had always assumed I was responsible for the breakup, and that I had requested it, and as I said before, I did somehow feel responsible, so their judgment didn’t strike me as misplaced. Naturally protective of Peter, they mistrusted my reasons for returning. Peter, in turn, while wanting to save our marriage, was afraid of the pain of a second separation if it didn’t work out and was slow to trust and let down his guard. He also wondered whether I had come home more for the opportunity to move to California than the desire to rebuild our marriage. So I had to do all the accommodating and proving, but I was committed, and if this was what it took I felt I could do it. But not long after my return, and just a couple of months before our move to the US, Peter suffered a shattered disc. All he did was twist to reach a towel while standing in the bath. Severe pain and bed rest followed, and ultimately he had to have a serious operation to clear away the debris of the disc. Poor guy, he was greatly looking forward to switching from accountancy to the music business when this happened, and it began to look like this may no longer happen. But eventually we set off for a new life in the US about three months later than planned, having put our ground floor flat on the market. More importantly, we seemed to be building a new relationship that could last.
At four years old, Kate was moving to her fifth home, excluding our stay with Peter’s sister and brother-in-law before moving to Walton-on-Thames. This was to be our seventh home in almost as many years since our wedding in Hong Kong. Today I have trouble remembering how many houses and apartments we have called home. A friend once remarked that our family alone had filled all the spaces under the letter B in her address book! But for Kate this was life as she knew it, and today she operates much like me—home is wherever you unpack your suitcase. Elle, on the other hand, missed the continuity of ‘being known in the corner shop’ as she put it. Her way of dealing with it was to pick up her suitcase and follow. She never showed any interest in houses, décor, or the building work we did so much of. But in my defence, it wasn’t just because I found houses interchangeable: many of our moves were brought about by Peter’s place of work. For us a move was just another week’s work.
I don’t know why I am writing. I only know that writing keeps me busy. And keeping busy limits the amount of time I have to think about Elle. Her few possessions are under the bed I am sitting on, and at some point I need to engage with them.
On the wall where I am sitting writing is one of very few possessions I know she truly cared about. I looked it up on the Web, and was surprised to find that it is based on a famous painting called Guardian Angel by Wilhelm von Kaulbach (1805–1874), in which a radiant angel suspended in the air holds a sleeping child in her arms, and a spray of flowers with their roots still attached, in one hand. Remarkably, it closely resembles the spray of flowers on a little red vase that belonged to Elle’s grandmother, Tinker. Beneath the angel is a town with a river running down to the sea. It must be printed on a metal background with minute facets, because as the light strikes the image from different directions, different parts of the image light up. Sometimes it may be the angel’s body that shines, or it may be the wings of the angel and the sleeping child’s body, or it can change the full moon to a crescent. I have never seen anything quite like it. Did Elle buy it, receive it as a present, or just find it somewhere and decide to own it? She certainly had it for many years, and always in the room where she slept. When she first moved to the island, she left it with Kate for safekeeping, and I remember her asking Kate to bring it over. That is all I know of it. The other item she valued was the sheepskin rug she used for her meditation. She also took special care of her Butsudan, a personal Buddhist altar, which now lives with us.
But back to our life in the US.
On arrival in Los Angeles, we spent the first few days with my school friend Claudia and her husband Neil, and then moved into a typical single-storey Los Angeles home in Westwood that Claudia had helped set up for us. Claudia and I were happy to be living in the same city again, and only a few blocks apart. Peter started work straightaway, while I set about making us comfortable in our new home. Apart from Claudia and Neil we had a few other old friends living in LA, mostly South Africans. Peter, Kate and I settled back into family life, and began feeling more confident about making long-term plans.
It wasn’t long before I succumbed to my old ways of looking through the property pages! Normally I would look at the photos of houses for sale, but for some strange reason—or fate—a small classified advertisement caught my eye.
Stone house, took 27 years to build, in small friendly canyon near Pasadena. Interested parties only, private sale, call…
This did interest me because I was familiar with another stone house in Noordhoek, Cape Town, the home of friends I had first met in my teens, and whose parents had built it themselves. The children were all educated in a Rudolf Steiner school system—just the kind of schooling that would have suited me a lot better .
I persuaded Peter that we should go and have a look. We weren’t really looking to buy a house, but there was surely no harm in looking. We drove into this little canyon, Pasadena Glen, and something began to stir in both of us. The property was surrounded by beautiful stone walls, with an arched gateway leading us along a crooked stone path to the front door. It was on a corner plot with beautiful mature trees and magnificent old cacti, bougainvillea growing against the walls, and a cascade of very old green bottles hanging from a window and tinkling in the breeze. Peter and I were hooked before we reached the front door.
Our emotions were fuelled and ready to take charge, and our hearts had already told our heads what to do. Peter and I looked at each other and our fate was sealed. We made no due diligence checks. If we had spoken to the neighbours they would have told us that the owner was a weirdo, and also that the price was a hundred thousand dollars over the top! We asked the owner the price, and agreed to buy it, not knowing how we were going to afford it.
Gala, a neighbour in the Glen recently sent us the sales details of the stone house, Casa de Pajaros, that we got to take care of for a few years, and the agents describes it as:
Venerable as the California Missions, legend has it that Herman Koller carefully crafted his visionary home from salvaged materials stone by stone, and artefact by artefact from 1928 all through the depression years, and only laying his trowel down as World War 2 was ending in 1945. Hidden within a secret mountain glen where John Burroughs kept a summer cabin, and John Muir took his repast, one comes upon “the house of birds” as one might a Mayan Temple deep within the jungles of Central America. The sense of mystery and magic is pervasive. The property is offered with the understanding that the new owner will not find the house, but rather Casa de Pajaros will select its new owner.
Claudia did her best to point out the pitfalls—only two bedrooms, a kitchen like a yacht’s galley, a single bathroom, with the only bath being outdoors in the courtyard, albeit under cover. But the courtyard was magical, with a covered walkway on two sides—the mission bell tower was calling out to us. We could not hear a word against it. I cannot help wondering how things might have turned out had we taken a different turning at that point. But I also cannot deny that living in the Glen was one of the most charmed times in our family’s life. There is a strange duality that exists here too. It was a mistake regarding our financial security, and it took us years to recover financially. But equally it gifted us some of the happiest and most memorable years of our early family life. And to top it, Elle was brought home as a newborn to this mission style house in its idyllic setting.
Kate grew in confidence and loved her Steiner school just ten minutes down the road. It was the only school I was happy to enter, and I even got involved in their fundraising. The friendships we forged with our neighbours have lasted our lifetimes, and they have been by our sides during these last sad months.
Once we were settled into the stone house, our five-year-old Kate started telling us she wanted a sister. While having a second child was not something Peter and I felt driven to do, I told Peter that I wouldn’t be comfortable telling an older Kate that we had no good reason for not having another child. So we settled on welcoming another little soul into our lives soon. After a few false starts, about a year later a pregnancy held. We didn’t know whether we were expecting a boy or a girl, but for Kate a brother was never an option
Before we sold our stone house, every weekend over a hot summer, and while waiting for Elle’s arrival, Gala’s husband Mark helped Peter to build an outside bedroom, bathroom and utility area, and the next owner sensibly put a bath in the bathroom.
Since Elle’s death I have started to hear music in a different way, particularly the lyrics. I have always kept up to date with new bands, old bands and music in general, but with no strong emotional connection. I also feel I impacted on Peter’s life-long love of music because of my dislike of background music. I tended to listen to music on my own, and usually in the car. The iPod’s ability to bring together not only albums but also individual tracks allowed me to fine tune my listening, and favourite artists included Leonard Cohen, Anthony and the Johnsons, Jeff Buckley, and lately Paolo Nutini, Duffy and Amy Winehouse. But there was no deep engagement or joy involved.
Now I link my iPhone to my wireless speaker, and the music and I cook dinner. Peter does the same. Another odd thing about me and music is that I stopped singing at least twenty-five years ago—I didn’t have a good voice so why go there. Over time I lost the ability to hold a tune, and if I tried to sing, it was as if my voice had split in half. This concerned me enough to get a doctor to check if anything sinister was going on. Yet just days after Elle died, I started to sing. I felt compelled to—and the universe owed me its ear! Music seemed to be communicating with me, and I wanted it to know I could hear it—perhaps I also wanted Elle to know I was listening. My voice is still not sweet, but it has benefitted from daily use. Peter remarked last night that he’s not used to hearing me sing so much. I am no longer shy to use it and I don’t care who hears me. How technology has changed since I had to hop up and down to put on the next single or LP as a teenager. I had about ten albums, and the ones I remember best are The Moody Blues, Christine Perfect, PP Arnold’s Kafunta, Rodriguez, Gutbucket, Laura Nyro and Buffy St Marie. Another favourite I listened to every day after school was Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant. The anti-establishment tone and celebration of hippy freedom were what appealed. Throughout my life there have been those moments when lines from it have been the perfect response, and none more so than this one: ‘…and they all moved away from me on the bench there.’ Peter’s go-to for quotes has always been Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, so much so that one Christmas Elle made him a series of bookmarks with some of his favourite quotes.
I am tired and thoughtful today. I’m missing Kate.
Hello page. It was good to talk to Kate last night.
I have just spent an hour going through the Elle folder on my laptop, and my eye landed on a document titled Haiku Poems. If my memory serves me, Elle got a B for English Literature in her final A-Levels at Hurtwood House in Surrey, and A’s for Art and Textile Art. She had the talent to go on and study art, but there was no hunger for it. While Peter and I were keen for her to experience being a university student, she knew we didn’t need her to go on to university. All we had wanted for our girls was that they would find something to do that would fulfil them in their adult lives. University and student life held no attraction for her, but she seemed to feel she would be letting herself down in the eyes of those she looked up to, particularly her sister, if she turned her back on higher education.
In the end, she settled on studying English at Goldsmiths in London. For one who rarely read a book, and had a form of visual dyslexia (connected to hearing), I wasn’t sure she had made the best choice. Peter and I held back on our views because we understood fully the ramifications of applying pressure, and Kate had certainly ‘taught’ me in her early teens how destructive emotional blackmail can be. Maybe we did stand back a little too far. Our only stipulation was that if she started a course, she should at least finish the year.
Elle kept up with her studies and rarely reported to us on her achievements, but she told us in passing that her lecturer had entered one of her essays for the best first-year essay competition for 2008/09. I assume she didn’t win as we heard no more about it. She was seldom motivated to push herself to win or stand above others, but now and again she would look at her competition to see where she fitted in, or apply herself more than usual.
Perhaps this was one such time. She was asked to prepare a few haiku (Gwen, End Note explaining what a haiku is)for a seminar, and the following is what she wrote, verbatim:
These are 3 western haikus. I tried to capture an examination of nature by visiting Hyde Park, but was struck by the artificiality of London’s nature. Yet I observed a stunted, unattainable power that seemed to exceed the confinements of the park. I experimented a little with alliteration and sound, mainly in the second poem, trying to create a ‘k’-‘sss’ sound, imitating waves on a shore. I wanted the first line of the third haiku to create staccato pronunciation to give a sense of discomfort and prolonged emphasis.
Obscure miniscule creature
Little ugly bug
How often have you been seen?
Wind coins consistent current
Does Richard Wilson*?
Or study simply too still?
Moss coat concrete water-bed
Mask on mask on face
Mother’s hand grasping gasp
*Richard Wilson: Artist: Saatchi Gallery: Wilson’s 20:50. ‘The gallery is filled to waist height with recycled engine oil, from which the piece takes its name.’
For some reason Elle and I ended up talking about this assignment and I asked her to show me her haiku. I have always enjoyed them, as they seem to me to be more like an outbreath than poetry, or blowing a bubble, and as it bursts the words fall into some sort of natural order. They have always made sense to me. Each one is something approaching an aha moment, but gentler. I thought Elle’s were brilliant, and that hasn’t changed. I heard no more about them until February 2011, when she chose to play with them and her memories of that seminar.
She had just moved to Ibiza while Peter and I were on an extended visit to South Africa, and she was staying in our house with friends of ours who were looking after my beloved pug Oscar in exchange for having a larger space for their own family visitors over the Christmas period. Elle had decided to leave her job in London and build a new life on the island. She had yet to find work, and I am guessing she had time on her hands, and this is what she wrote in an email to us:
Subject: Just a bit of fun
A quick and first draft response of what I should have said in the seminar when my haikus weren’t voted the best! hahahaha Could have written a lot more and made better sense out of my thoughts but think there is a fun ironic point in there somewhere 🙂
And this is her attachment:
Everyone here is going to hate what I am about to say, but I think that my haikus are the best, and that no one has had the eye to hover over them long enough to realise it.
I wrote them as I sat in a moment of shallow and superficial despair, and in knowing that this work had to be done. I was able to escape the world by observing it. I watched a ‘bug’ long enough to begin to really see it; what is this creature? And who has taken the time to look at it? And then it hit me; I was probably the first and last person to see it, or at least to watch it for longer than a few seconds at the most. This ‘minuscule creature’, a mere ‘ugly little bug’, then became a metaphor for a larger world we live in; an ‘obscure’ world, foreign to our own individual little worlds that seem of such importance.
In the second haiku I continued with this trail of thought by creating an opposition between the natural world that has existed and been developed throughout time with the world that we ourselves have created and developed. Two detached worlds that capture the zeitgeist of our time. In referencing artist Richard Wilson, not only am I relating his own works to the subject of the poem, but I am referencing the currents, zeitgeists and interpretations of society that the arts have stimulated since their beginning. The reason for this being that we have created a literary world within a world within the world – ‘a mask on mask on a face’. The literary world is a reflection of our world, a world in which our currency is symbolic of nothing. Over the generations, humanity has created a world on a foundation without substance. It is all smoke and mirrors like Richard Wilson’s work. Unfortunately, we are so absorbed with our own problems that we rarely have the time to relate our own microcosmic perceptions with the larger macrocosm. And then furthermore lack the time or the ability to question the reality of that macrocosm. As a result, to our ignorance, the ‘ugly little bug’ goes unnoticed.
I could continue to discuss the relevance of our smoke and mirrors man-made world in a post-apocalyptic scenario, when civilisation ceases and all that remains is the endeavouring planet – a planet that has been so hospitable while we play and destroy. But I do not have the time or the inclination to preach to a room that did not have the time to observe a piece of writing that they deemed insignificant because they lacked the vision to see any value in the unfamiliar or unconventional. This exercise has proven the subject of these poems. If anyone thinks their work is better, I am open to persuasion.
I love how she chose to turn the traditional 5-7-5-syllable rule inside out. So typical of her! I always thought that she was pretty smart but it was while reading this email that I recognised just how capable she was of great intellectual discourse. She just wasn’t so inclined. I observe the ability too to have been a great writer!
This was my email response to her:
This brought tears to my eyes—you are so much more than you allow yourself to be—your writing is full of truth and above all humility, integrity and brilliance.
But what I also understand is that in seeing the world through your eyes, perhaps it is easier to ‘play away’—but not so—enjoy being here (in a positive way) for the most wonderful rides of your life—doing your best at all times, being kind, but ultimately not responsible for other people’s inadequacies.
You are better than most and that is what appears to make you ‘not good enough’.
Liquorice Allsorts was her nickname for me because they are my all-time favourite sweets, so I often signed myself off as LA.
Elle to me, unedited:
aw, thanks ma! I know you have total faith in me, problem is i dont know how to channel my pent up frustration over unfulfilled potential into something constructive, so i distract myself with my neurosis! Not v. satisfying and a v. demeaning pattern. any ideas? i have to admit, it is fun to remind myself that i have a brain and can offer something worthwhile from time to time.. wish I could be more than a Shakespearean fool though and have more than moments of wisdom in private…
Peter to Elle:
Don’t forget that the fool was also mankind’s conscience. Brilliant work, Elle
Elle to us:
isn’t it funny, i dont know if u know this but i used to feel a bit like mankind’s conscience but then i got so angry and sick of it i stopped letting myself have opinions on other people and then sorta lost a bit of my own strength, maybe to find a balance!
guess i’m a bit older now, wouldn’t bother me so much anymore..
I recently wrote my own and first haiku in response to one of hers. Hers is above and mine below.
Obscure miniscule creature
Little ugly bug
How often have you been seen?
Little bug I see you now
Oh the Bodhi tree
Fly away and on with me
Elle did decide to quit university at the end of her first year, having proved to herself that she could do it. Yet she never lost the feeling that she was letting herself down in other’s eyes by not completing a degree. She saw no reason to do it purely for the sake of others, yet would have liked to prove to those she admired most that she was capable of it. This feeling perplexed her, knowing that the perceptions of others were not important, and probably not even real. We had this discussion over and over.
My right hand is feeling the strain of typing every day. As I am left-handed it is not used to working this hard every day. But it will have to get used to it—I will not stop until the year is up.
Poring over that email conversation has really got to me. In 2011 she was here, and for a moment I was able to immerse myself in a block of time when she still lived and breathed. I could feel her presence and see her in full animation again, like she was just an email away. No matter how much I work to keep facing and moving forward, it just is so crazy that Elle is no longer with us. I feel a jolt through my whole body every time the reality of her death hits me. But there is so much more I can write about as I try to come to terms with her not being here. Her death was as complex as she was in life, and I shall reveal more reasons why I say that. Many extraordinary things happened over the months leading up to and following her death. I am going to have to look into all of these as I grapple to understand what happened, how, and why:
- a sense of Elle backing away from us in her final year and of retreating into greater privacy, while reassuring us constantly of her love
- increasing her contact with other people, including her cousins, friends and also her grandmother, who was coming to the end of her life
- rebuilding a broken little red vase she kept to remind her of her grandmother
- spending time in meditation and Wing Chun, a martial art practice she began early in 2016
- climbing a steep cliff to reach a tree, printing a photo of it and writing on it, which we found in the back of her car after she died
- taking such care over what she ate and how she prepared it, always bringing home fresh organic produce, politely declining what we prepared, and rarely, if ever, eating meat
- moving into a house beside a signpost to the island’s only crematorium
- the death of her dog Betty just months before she died, the dog who found Elle soon after her arrival on the island—both of whom died on the road
- her four days with Kate and Isaac when he was just four weeks old, and their conversation in which she discussed her future in Ibiza, the island she called home
- her opening up to love for the first time since her breakup with Graeme seven years earlier
- gifting the name Isaac to Kate’s little boy
- leaving her car spotless and virtually empty
- her state of mind in the week preceding her death
- her last conversation with me
- her conversation with Kate nine hours before she died
- descriptions of the events and conversations of her last days by Swo Boda, the man Elle let into her heart
- how her godmother Claudia came to be with us at the time of Elle’s death, and was able to help us return from Cantabria to Ibiza that day
- my state of higher consciousness in the six weeks following her death
- the dreams many of us experienced that still continue
- her age at death
No matter how much I accept the intended limits on our earthly existence, I cannot help glimpsing another world that lies beyond. Decades ago I reached a point where I could no longer put down to coincidence the overlocking of so many moments in my life—and now when seemingly disparate pieces of a puzzle (my ‘playbacks’) start to fit together and create a bigger picture that is recognisable of a life I have lived, I am convinced that something else is going on. Now I need to try and join up the remaining unconnected dots.
I am trying to nurse my right hand as much as I can. It is still playing up but at least not getting any worse.
A thought has lingered in my mind a lot lately. While we should perhaps accept our earthly limitations and get on with learning to be the best possible version of ourselves, I cannot accept these limits. I think it must be okay to probe the very limits of what our existence reveals to us, and then head even further into the unknown. As I have already alluded to, I learnt quite early that my talents like creativity and sporting abilities, such as ice skating, horse riding and skiing, had limits. I could achieve a mediocre level quite quickly, which led to disappointment as my progress stalled. Anything more than ‘quite good’ wasn’t mine for the asking. I am not equipped to be a businesswoman, although I understand the workings of the business world quite well, and generally, I lacked the incentive to be professional at anything. I accepted this, as my spiritual antenna was telling me that brilliance and exceptionality were not for me in this lifetime. One could say I gave up too soon, or baulked at practice, but I just felt that my reason for being here was something else. I have learnt to trust my antenna, and over the years it has opened my eyes to a deeper understanding of life and human behaviour.
I have just returned from walking our dogs. The evening sky is shrouded in fast-moving clouds, and the moon occasionally peeking from behind them drew me to her. It is just two days past her fullness. It is the fifth full moon now, and the full moon will always belong to Elle and me now. Tonight the tug on the heart is strong.
This is the other event I referred to, along with my unitive experiences, that reminds me of the bigger picture that I sometimes get a glimpse of beyond the veil. I return to our time in Hong Kong. Peter had found a bigger apartment for us on Castle Steps in Mid-Levels around the time we were putting our wedding plans together. We regularly returned angry after an evening out, arguing as we alighted from a taxi and made our way up or down those steps. This is probably quite normal when two young adults start to commit to a life together and need to establish the areas of compromise that will make their partnership work. I had been saying to Peter that it looked like he was constantly trying to manipulate events around him to ensure that the future would be taken care of. It was hard for him to relax and live in the moment, certainly for any length of time. This seemed to make him drink too much, which scared me, as his father had had issues with alcohol, and I didn’t want that to repeat in our marriage.
One night I woke up, and was instantly alert. Words cannot describe the primeval fear that started to course through my body. Someone was sitting on our bed on Peter’s side, facing him. I could see Peter’s form next to me, so it couldn’t be him. This person seemed to notice that I was awake and leant in my direction, gesticulating something akin to ‘it’s alright, don’t worry’. He looked like Peter, and it crossed my mind that Peter could be dying and was in the process of leaving his body. Literally paralysed with fear, the only thing I could think to do was to close my eyes, and if he was still there when I opened them, there would be no doubt that he was really there. I opened my eyes and there he was. I could think of nothing else to do, so I repeated the process, and to my relief, this time he was gone. Still feeling paralysed and disbelieving, I heard a knocking on the base of our wooden bed. It wasn’t possible that the sound came from outside because there was another room on the other side of the wall. Again I went through the same process of denying what I was hearing, and the same pattern followed. I was still unable to move. Moments later, Peter sat bolt upright in bed and facing ahead, without checking if I was awake, he launched into a description of his nightmare:
He was lying in a double bed with his father, in a large room in an old colonial-style Victorian hotel with three sets of doors opening onto a veranda. On the veranda stood soldiers with AK47s, and he asked his father, ‘Are they there to protect us, or to harm us?’ ‘It doesn’t matter either way, son,’ his father responded. ‘They are just there.’ The dream then seemed to move on a bit, and next he saw his father in the corner of the room, with one of the soldiers thrusting a bayonet into his stomach.
I said nothing then about my experience, but gave Peter some comfort, and we both took our time to fall asleep.
The next day we talked about our experiences. I had an idea about what Peter’s dream meant. Peter had told me a number of times that he felt let down by his father for not ‘appearing’ to him as he had to others around the time of his death. He had secretly hoped he would show himself when he visited the Himalayas on his way to Hong Kong. I only learnt a few years ago that he also felt generally let down by his father and even thought his father didn’t like him much. My interpretation of what we had experienced was that his dad had wanted to communicate an important life lesson to him, and what it appeared to say was that there is no point worrying about something you can’t change—the future will only manifest according to what you set in place today. Be the best version of yourself you can in the present, and if you have good intentions and some vision of where you are headed, the future will take care of itself. This way you give the future a chance of working out well. It could also be that he wanted to reach out to his son to tell him that he did care and was looking out for him.
The independent experiences we both had were hugely helpful, and I believe Peter did his best to take it on board, although he was not always able to overcome his fear of what might lie in his future. I was probably meant to wake up to help Peter understand the dream, or at least to witness it so it wouldn’t become just another nightmare. Now I understand on a deeper level what that moment has meant to me. It was like another lifejacket when I found myself drifting out into a sea of doubts and impossibilities. Not a shred of that memory has faded, and it has helped me hold onto my faith. We have recalled this experience many times during our life together, and on a lighter note it provided me with my very own ‘ghost story’ to tell around the campfire. Some have most likely believed my story because they know I don’t lie about such things and it fitted with their own thinking, while others may well have decided to dismiss it.
Yesterday I again experienced a feeling of love for those around me, albeit a lesser version than during my altered state after Elle’s death. I have felt strengthened by my daily writing, but sometimes it also feels like being on a knife edge. I am afraid that if I don’t hold tight I will flip up and over and end up facing backwards again—a very scary thought when balancing on a knife’s edge!
The reason I chose to write about these three experiences is that they have always helped to ground me. They provide three pillars—I like anything that groups in a threesome—against which I can lean when all else feels shaky. I remember starting on my spiritual journey in much the same way as many of my generation, through reading ‘The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge’ by Carlos Castaneda, which was doing the rounds. There was a global media highway even then—it was just more analogue than digital. The book opened my eyes to a magical world of mystery and shamanism, and it was the first book to change the course of my life. I had my own sense of God’s existence because, even as a small child, it seemed unlikely that every time I did something wrong and was ‘found out’ that it could be put down to coincidence. I said my prayers every night without prompting and it felt comfortable. But I wonder what sets some of us on a spiritual path while others head down the path of atheism. It is not bound to rational thinking alone because I regard myself as pragmatic in the way I live my life, and I certainly have always challenged my faith. Can there really be such a thing as a God gene, with atheism just the absence of this gene? And if so, are atheists meant to work all the harder to live a meaningful life—a life that isn’t brought down by their suffering, without a higher being to shine a guiding light?
I don’t know what bound Christina and me to each other in the early years of our friendship, but I am glad we have each other today. Perhaps we had a subconscious memory of each other from another lifetime. There were not many common childhood experiences to bind us together, yet circumstances ensured that we met, and something inspired us to bond. Initially I needed her more than she needed me, or that is how I felt. I would even say that she scared me a little. She certainly provided a positive role model with her no-nonsense attitude to life. Perhaps it was also something in my openness and lack of judgement of others that helped to get our friendship off the ground. I never cared about the race, creed or nationality of others. This makes me smile, because my mother, a gentle uncomplicated soul, had a wide variety of remarkably eccentric lady friends, all single, who were drawn to her probably because they felt free to be themselves in her company, although much about her manner was as conservative as they were odd. My dad was always kind towards, and happy to help, all these women who found themselves in hard times.
When Kate came into my life, my spiritual journey continued to develop apace, and it was often she who pressed the nudge button. She was born with a natural spiritual awareness. I have always thought of her as my ‘angel girl’, while I called Elle my ‘golden girl’, again for a good reason. I am certain that neither Peter nor I, like my parents, overtly influenced our daughters’ spiritual paths. That makes me happy.
After Peter returned to the UK from our bolthole in Moraira, Spain, and Kate was a few months short of her fourth birthday, she and I went for a drive into a beautiful valley. In those days seatbelts weren’t compulsory, and a child of any age was allowed on the front passenger seat. We had been talking about all sorts of things, and knowing her, probably quite complex ideas. She told me she was going to be an angel when she grows up, and that when she visits God she will hang her wings on a hook by the door. Her ideas were very much her own, and I would try to answer her questions responsibly. Following her stated intent and a little contemplation, she said she wanted to pray to God. I suggested she put her hands together and go ahead. Her prayer was silent and lasted quite a while, and then she burst into tears. I asked her why she was crying, and her answer was that she didn’t know because she felt happy.
While Faith always featured in my life, it never took centre stage. It just quietly ran through all the choices Peter and I made and how we lived our lives. But as time went on and my interest in the sciences grew and I found myself becoming more and more sceptical about the existence of God. I could not find a bridge between science and God. I was never without conflict on this issue. I doubted because my imagination could not find God in the reductionist and materialist scientific world that seemed to predominate in every sphere of life, while in my heart I still believed. I only had to think back to my ‘three pillars’ to know there was more to the story than met the eye.
This to-ing and fro-ing continued until about a year before Elle died, and had a lot to do with my sense of stagnating and even ossifying. My neighbour Val, who was a few years older than me, had encouraged me to join her weekly meditation group, and this led me to an ‘aha’ moment. I acknowledged within myself that it is not necessary to understand and be able to explain how everything came to be or how it all fits together. It is good enough to say, ‘I don’t need to understand all the how’s and why’s, but accept wholeheartedly that there is a spiritual realm.’ I still remember the moment and where I was when I told Elle this—her face lit up. I can not emphasise enough the peace of mind this gives me now, because I know I didn’t fall back into faith to find hope and meaning in her death, and to somehow keep her in my life. I also know that Elle had gone far beyond my own spiritual explorations. She had even deepened her spiritual practice beyond that of her sister, but Kate still has time. In the later part of Kate’s growing up cycle, she turned her attention to her studies, her relationship with Alex and her circle of friends, but has still kept her spiritual sensitivity alive.
Last night I received a WhatsApp message from somebody we met only a couple of times in Galicia—a lovely person who helped us find a holiday rental for the two months we were there, and guided us to some beautiful sites, including Santiago de Compostela. She contacted me to say she is thinking of us and hoping we are doing a little better. I felt strangely angry. I will never feel better and I certainly won’t ever be doing better either! It would mean that I have stopped missing her. But I do know what she meant, and yes, I will learn to live without Elle in my life. I will laugh again with friends and family. I know that I reacted unreasonably, but I think what made me angry is the kind hope that your pain is diminishing. While I know that will never happen, I can imagine that one finds a suitable container to pack it away in for periods of time. Sometimes I find a safe place, like taking a bath, set up my Elle playlist, light all the candles I can find, and then gently open the box that holds my suffering.
Shortly before Christmas a lady we had never met before reached out to us from Caritas, a Catholic charity based in Spain. At the beginning of last winter Elle told us she had visited their headquarters in Ibiza with a view to doing volunteer work. She animatedly recalled her introductory tour of the organisation, and thought I should look in particular at their work with the elderly. She was going to do a few hours a week with children, and while we knew she had made a start, we never heard any more about her regular winter handicraft sessions with the children, and reading stories to them in English. Unaware of her continued involvement, we didn’t know to invite them to the celebration of Elle’s life.
This morning we met the young lady Araceli in a coffee bar near where we live. She had moved to Ibiza from Salamanca about fifteen years ago. She told us that coming here as a shy young girl, having left all her family and friends back home, had changed her life. She met her husband here, and now works full time for Caritas. As is my wont these days, I looked up the meaning of her name, which is ‘altar of heaven’. Her parents got that right.
Interestingly, when Peter’s mom got seriously ill while visiting India, she ended up having life-saving surgery and was well cared for in a Caritas hospital in Kerala.
Araceli told us that Elle had worked right through her last winter (2015/16) and some of the summer, but had apologised about not having enough time available to continue through the summer. Araceli told her not to worry, she could come back again in the winter. Within a moment of sitting down with us, this serious intelligent young lady told us that she saw something special in Elle from the moment they met. As she grappled with the English language, she said there was something pure about her and that she believed she was an angel. This was not the first time the words Elle and angel had met in the same sentence, but the first time I heard it from someone with more conventional Christian views. It may well be just the talk of a grieving mother, but there truly was something ‘white’ about Elle in the last year of her life. Instinctively, and without any thought as to why, I reached out for the colour white within twenty-four hours of her death. But before her death, I called her playfully ‘my golden girl’ because of something my sister Marion said when she first met Elle. Marion is my half-sister from my dad’s first marriage, and was raised by her mother in England.
We had just returned to England after three years in the United States. Marion had her first child, a son, not long after she married, but had a problem with conceiving again. After about twelve years and an operation, she gave up hope, and fourteen years after her first child, she gave birth to another son. Marion had yearned for a daughter for a long time, and the first time she saw baby Elle asleep in her cot, she said softly, ‘What a golden girl!’ I never forgot those words, and we couldn’t really, because nine months later Marion gave birth at the age forty-three, to a beautiful baby girl. Many times Marion and I joked that gazing on Elle had caused a seismic shift in her hormones! Now we say that this was Elle’s first known gift, although her first real gift was her arrival, for us and her sister, Kate.
Araceli continued to tell us of Elle’s empathy for all around her, and how the children responded to her. She said that on one occasion she sensed Elle needed a big hug, and that Elle had cried but she never said why. She wondered what had caused Elle so much pain, and sensed some sadness in her past that she was working through. She spoke of her as being a very shy and special person, and of her own sadness that she didn’t get the opportunity to say goodbye to her. I think she meant she would have liked to attend her funeral, but there hadn’t been one. I don’t like the word. I am not sure why—the etymology of the word, going back to its Latin derivation, is burial, death, corpse until the early fourteenth century when it evolved into the rights around burials. I don’t have a problem with words like death and cremation so it must be something other than avoidance. Elle was cremated with only the family and a few very close friends in attendance. We then had a celebration of her life five days after she died.
I am afraid to look at photos of Elle. All I can do is steal a glance now and then. One day I hope to be able to linger longer.
I am currently reading Joan Didion’s book ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’. Two things in her writing struck me profoundly: her ability to expose the heart of grief, and her style of writing. My experience of grief so often feels trapped in a box labelled ‘no words’. It is exhausting sometimes to find words I can mould and fold together in ways that bring pictures and feelings to life, and sometimes when I reread my words they too seem dead. Here is a quote so resonant of my own experience of grief:
Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be ‘healing’. A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral, we wonder about failing to ‘get through it’, rise to the occasion, exhibit the ‘strength’ that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.
Her comment on the question of self-pity also struck a very familiar chord:
People in grief think a great deal about self-pity. We worry it, dread it, scourge our things for signs of it. We fear that our actions will reveal the condition tellingly described as ‘dwelling on it’. We understand the aversion most of us have to ‘dwelling on it’. Visible mourning reminds us of death, which is construed as unnatural, a failure to manage the situation.
I remember feeling, after my six-week ‘out of body’ period was over, that people were looking at me as if I were disabled. I felt disabled. I still do—as though a limb that I didn’t even know I had, has been amputated. I think I hear them whispering, ‘See that sad woman walking her dogs through the village. She lost her daughter a few months ago.’ They aren’t, of course, but that is how I feel. When would people get bored with my sorrow, how long is it acceptable that I cry for her? When do I need to ‘stop dwelling on it’? And the words ‘lost her daughter’ make me sound careless. I am haunted by so many regrets and ‘if only’s’. I wallow in this place of regret and self-pity as I pour over her notebooks and artwork, trying to touch her. I recently decided to organise all our photos of her from different sources and created a book called ELLE 2016. I made one for Kate and one for us, but none of us want to open it. And now I write. It helps more than I expected.
How come, if the death of a child came so easily to us, it does not happen to more parents? How come more people haven’t had first-hand experience of this awful loneliness we are left with? I remember being plagued with this question for a while. It has passed, but obviously not been answered. I can remember thinking and saying many times to Peter, the girls and to friends that an accident that is thwarted is only a hair’s breadth apart from the tragedy of death. Perhaps that is the simple answer. Little did I think then that we would be the ones to breach that tiny divide.
Last night, when I mulled over my writings of the day, I had a thought that I should try to let go of this fear, the fear of looking at her and thinking about her for more than just a few seconds. I should let her be with me—perhaps I am even pushing her away. I looked at one of the beautiful photos we have of her and Kate, taken at Kate´s London registry wedding. I stayed with it, and it hit me so hard in my solar plexus, my soft spot, just as I knew it would. The sense of her presence here in this space, in earthly form, is so powerful that I cannot believe she is no longer with us. I have gone from resenting time to also resenting the writing for making it easier to ‘keep moving forward’. I don’t want it to get easier, and I don’t want to ‘not dwell on it’. It feels like a betrayal—that I am just walking away from my child, deserting her again, especially in those times when I am with friends and family, and having a light-hearted moment.
That’s how my broken heart feels, but my soul tells me something different.
Fear comes from looking back. Error comes from doubt. Keep moving forward.
About three weeks after Elle died, our friend Zoe was looking to buy a car and asked what we wanted to do with Elle’s blue Seat Ibiza. We didn’t want to pass the car to a stranger, so here was a perfect outcome. It was still standing outside Greg’s house where she had last parked it. Finger-written into the dust on the back window were the words ´fly high my angel´. They were already on the window when we arrived on the island twenty-four hours after her death. It is also a mystery how her car came to be there, as I thought she had been taken to Greg’s home by the person whose retreat centre she worked in. She also arrived at Greg’s without her mobile phone, but seemed to have it back the next day. So many details that haven’t settled yet.
We would first take the car to our mechanic to check that all was in good order, and Zoe would pay to mend the many scratches and ‘dings’ Elle had put into the bodywork. Elle preferred her car not to look too shiny and new. When she was thinking of buying it in 2011, she said it was too good for her. She didn’t like to give any indication of where she stood in the materialistic pecking order. Other than the car, which she needed for her work, I can’t think of anything she had bought for herself that cost much money.
When the day arrived to collect the car from Greg’s, I was keen to know that it would start. I felt nervous and vulnerable at the thought of driving her car. Peter and I were both so invested in this sad moment. Many times we had passed Elle on our track or come to her aid when she’d had car problems or been in a minor accident. Thankfully the car started straightaway. I gave it a good rev up, then switched off the engine. As I climbed out I noticed how spotlessly clean the car was. This was extremely unusual for Elle. I nervously suggested that we check the boot. There we found an A4 size photo of a tree growing out of a cliff, and under the photo was a bag of sticks and an old straw hat. The sticks, I think, were for a children’s handicraft workshop she was going to do the day after she died. But the photo! I knew immediately what it was about.
In May 2016 Elle had been living in our little guesthouse casita for around eight months in order to save money while studying through the Open University. (Today her excellent results arrived for her first modules in psychology and philosophy.) One day as she was about to go off to work at the retreat, I noticed she was barefoot. She couldn’t find her shoes, she said, so I offered to get her some Havaianas flip-flops when I went into town. She thanked me and reminded me to get the ‘plainest’ ones I could find. I knew what she liked, and managed to find her a white pair.
A few days later, she entered the kitchen barefoot again just before leaving for work. In a light-hearted way I asked what had happened to her Havaianas. Her response was, ‘Oh mom, dad, yesterday I nearly died. I was sitting on a beach, and I looked up and saw a tree growing near the top of the cliff behind me. I felt drawn to the tree and decided to climb to it. About halfway up I felt myself slipping so I left my flip-flops there, to get them on the way down. When I got to the tree and looked down, I couldn’t believe what I’d done. I knew it was too dangerous to try to go down the same way so I continued climbing to the top.’ Peter’s immediate response was to put his hand on his heart and say to Elle, ‘Promise me you will never do something like that again.‘ A few days later I bought her another pair of Havaianas! If I hadn’t seen her barefoot and offered to pick up some shoes for her, then asked why they were missing, we might have had no context for this photo! There have been so many happenings, moments, and things said that cannot be relegated solely to coincidence. I would say this was a deliberate moment of synchronicity where two acausal events came together, and in combination they illuminate a deeper meaning beyond just finding a random photo with three sentences in Elle’s distinctive handwriting across the top. ‘Fear comes from looking back. Error comes from doubt. Keep moving forward.’
Elle’s notebooks, which were amongst her things in her shared house, are full of what can only be described as ‘notes to self’—what she wanted to work on, notes of encouragement to overcome the obstacles blocking her happiness, and how to reach for her higher self. While the writing above the photo can be seen as further self-guidance, these three sentences have provided us with so much comfort and direction that it feels equally feasible that there may have been a divine hand involved in it too. I do not think she knew she was writing those three sentences for us, but it is worth considering that at a subconscious level she did leave the photo there for us to find. I have often noticed that I am given a linked but separate affirmation of the important synchronicities in my life, and we got a clear one here. The ex-husband of Roseline, Elle’s mentor, is the owner of the boat in the photo, and he died shortly after Elle.
I had a tough moment while driving today, listening to the song ‘Hold Back the River’ by James Bay, which is on our Elle playlist.
Tried to keep you close to me
But life got in between
Tried to square not being there
But think that I should have been
I found this first verse hard to hear because I felt that if I had been with her, she may not have died. The more I have listened to the song, the more meaningful the line—but life got in between—became, as if the memory of Elle would forevermore be torn in two as life continued to push all forward, as though nothing had happened. Elle was now a ‘before and after’. Something also around music happened in August 2015, a year before Elle died. She was unusually motivated to send a video of the song ‘Courage’ by Villagers to Peter, Greg, Kate, me, my younger sister Heather, and maybe others too. You may say it is purely coincidental, but again I think it was her subconscious at work. Any other song than this one would have gone unnoticed but a song so personal to her, and about courage—we couldn’t ignore it. At the time, only Greg and Heather listened to it, but Heather reminded us of it the week after Elle died. When I finally found the courageto listen to it, I noticed immediately that the video was released on her birthday in 2015. I often wonder how or why she came across it. Perhaps I do know now.
Took a little time to get where I wanted
It took a little time to get free
It took a little time to be honest
It took a little time to be me
I took a little lover but then we parted
I took a little time to get over this
From time to time, I get heavyhearted
Thinking of how you used to kiss
It’s a feeling like no other
Let me tell you, yeah
In harmony with something other than your ego
The sweet relief of knowing nothing comes for free
Do you really wanna know
About these lines on my face?
Well, each and every one is testament to
All the mistakes I’ve had to make
To find courage
It’s a feeling like no other
Let me tell you, yeah
In harmony with something other than your ego
The sweet relief of knowing nothing comes for free
It’s a feeling like no other
Let me tell you, yeah
And harmony with something other than your ego
The sweet relief of knowing nothing comes for free
Courage, Villagers (written by Conor O’Brian)
Every line fits with where we find ourselves now. We hear her voice encouraging us in search of our reticent courage, and whenever it comes up on my iPod, I sing along as loud as I dare! Three lines that resonate particularly with me are: ‘Do you really wanna know about these lines on my face’, ‘all the mistakes I have had to make’ and ‘in harmony with something other than your ego’.
Looking up the derivation of the word ‘courage,’ I found this quote by Brene Brown:
Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart’. Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognise the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences—good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage’.
Elle knows that I understand the importance of carrying on. While I learn how to turn grief into mourning, and mourning into full membership of life, albeit it with a piece missing from my heart, it is for Kate that I ache so much more. I am in the autumn of my life, but Kate still has a lot of life to live.
I don’t feel like writing more today. This is the day of Trump’s inauguration. According to the Oxford Life Dictionary, this is a simple definition of the verb ‘to augur’.
(of an event or circumstance) – portend a good or bad outcome: ‘the end of the cold war seemed to augur well’
[with object] – portend or bode (a specified outcome):
‘they feared that these happenings augured a neo-Nazi revival’
Wow, let’s hope this is not prophetic! In my view, it doesn’t augur well, however I look at it.
I have just watched a programme on TV, Secret Britain, and it featured Devon and Dartmoor. They showed a remote babbling river, and one of the many famous rocks of the region which has a perfectly round hole in it, called the Tolmen Stone. The name is thought to derive from the Celtic tol, meaning hole, and maen meaning stone. Of the many myths attached to the stone, the one that caught my attention is that the Druids used it for purification. Those needing purifying would be lowered through it into the water for ‘lustration’, a purifying rite of ceremonial or baptismal washing.
It immediately made me think of a dream I had more than twenty years ago, which I wrote down straightaway but could never forget anyway. I have often thought about it because unlike most dreams that float illogically and ethereally around time, place and subjects, this one played like a movie in full colour, and I have come to think of it as allegorical. It took years though before I began to understand what it might mean.
It begins with a mass abduction of young people, of which I am one. We are kept in a series of cell-like caves inside a mountain, and our needs are silently catered for. I share a cell with a young man and nobody in the dream is familiar to me. We are taken daily down the mountain slope to a place with many water channels, and forced, with the help of fast flowing water, through holes in large stones that look similar to the Tolmen Stone. Passing through the holes is not comfortable. There are guards, whose essence is feminine, and while they seem benign, I distrust their motivation—is this some kind of sexual aberration? I am resistant, angry and afraid.
One night, back in my cell, I tell the young man, with great conviction, that I will not be kept a prisoner. I will attempt an escape, and ask if he wants to come with me. He says no.
In the next scene I have been led to a clifftop looking out to sea, and told I don’t have to stay. If I want to leave I just have to stand on the cliff top with a red rose in my mouth, and a boat will come by and take me away. I am sure that the young man has betrayed me.
The guard accompanying me explains that if I choose this option I need to be aware that on board the ship there are no rules or morality. Anything and everything is permitted, in other words, it sounds like a world of chaos. As this is being explained to me I ‘receive’ a vision of life on this ship—total mayhem, anarchy, bloodshed and sexual deviance. Also, if I choose to leave, there is no coming back ever. Ever since seeing Pirates of the Caribbean, my image of the ship is something like The Black Pearl, but obviously much worse. The guard then leaves me with a red rose on the clifftop to make my decision.
I choose not to go, but lack the will or strength to move, and lie on the cold ground for what feels like days, with a deep sorrow in my heart and my face in the mud, probably caused by my tears. After what feels like an eternity the young man who shared my cell lifts my head, gives me sustenance, and supports me as we return ‘home’. Later we make a family together and live happily ever after, or something like that. I had this dream when Elle was around six years old and Kate about thirteen.
I have been thinking about love and my experience of it for a few days now, and Kate’s email to me this morning has prompted my writing for today. I cannot help but quiver with anticipation while waiting for her emails to open when the subject is ‘an Elle dream’. She has had quite a few, and I think they are helping her.
21/22 January 2017
Elle, Graeme and I were standing together looking at a view. I remember thinking how Elle and Graeme were truly in love. I was cuddling Elle from behind and gave her a kiss on the cheek and she leaned into me. Elle’s voice came loudly, ‘I love you. We are not together anymore but I love you.’ I woke up and knew she was talking to me as she said that really clearly, loudly, and it cut through the dream.
After I responded to Kate’s email, a beautiful message arrived from somebody I knew a long time ago in South Africa, who lost his son in 2014. The first thing I saw was the butterfly. I love it when moments like this happen. It warms my heart. (Fig.3)
I have been thinking of this very notion over the last few weeks—that the moment is coming when Elle will recede in people’s memories, and I don’t for a moment think this is unnatural, but it still hurts. Receiving this message today was just what I needed, and yes, we, her close family and friends, will always guard her memory—we are her ‘rememberers’.
On 9 January I was at Greg’s intending to do some writing. His house competes with Grand Central Station sometimes, and shortly after I arrived two women stopped by. I joined them for a cup of tea, and we chatted about life in Ibiza. The younger one had met Greg for the first time the previous evening, and he had apparently invited her to call in when she was passing. She was new to the island and keen to learn more. They didn’t know who Elle was, and I had no intention of mentioning her. But I sensed an unusual energy coming from the older lady as soon as she walked through the door. I talked to the younger woman for a while and she mentioned her two young children. Then she asked me, ‘Do you have children?’ This was the first time I had been asked this question since Elle died. What should I say? Do I have one or two daughters? My initial response was to avoid bringing up Elle’s death, but then she asked where they lived. I couldn’t stop myself saying that one lived in London, and my daughter who had been living with us on the island had recently died.
The lady with the intense eyes, who had been silent until now, suddenly engaged. But rather than asking me questions she started to tell me things as if she knew Elle. I turned to her, and she told me she was a medium and Elle was speaking to her. Elle wanted me to know that she was happy, and that ‘we are never alone, I am here with everyone’. She repeated this, and said it was coming through insistently. I remember thinking, ‘well, Elle, I didn’t think you would be there alone’. Elle was very busy, she said. This surprised me. I hadn’t thought of there being a lot of work to do up in heaven! Hadn’t there been enough to do down here? Elle loved her family very much, she went on to say, and she was also saying that she loved me, her mum, very much too, and that I mustn’t turn away help. She added that I am inclined to be stubborn, and this made me smile. Oddly, I had never thought of myself as stubborn but now it sounded truthful. She added that writing was a very good thing for me to do and would benefit me greatly. (I had not mentioned my writing.) She said we would be fine, but that her dad was still raw, which is true. Elle wanted us to know that she had not suffered at all, that death had been instant, and that her soul had left her body before impact. I had not said anything about an accident or how Elle died to the two ladies. By this point, the hairs from my legs to my shoulders were standing up. Elle was also saying through the medium that Kate was an artist, that she would re-evaluate her life, and would do something amazing with her art. She said she would have success. I have chosen not to pass this on to Kate for the moment because I don’t want to influence any thoughts and decisions she is considering about her future. The lady finally repeated a few times that Elle wanted me to know that, yes, the dreams are important, and that they are a time of soul communications.
Bless you, my darling Elle.
Peter posed a question to me on the way home in the car the next day. He had obviously been thinking a lot about what I had told him of the surprise meeting at Greg’s. ‘If her soul did leave her body before impact then she wouldn’t have been sentient at the time of impact.’ I said that was how I understood it. I had felt so strongly, particularly during my altered state, that there was something joyous around Elle’s death, even though it was hard for me to see what that could be. I also had a strong image of her flying up into the air at the time of death. This also seemed strange to me, and while it was a beautiful and powerful image, I didn’t mention it to anyone at the time. I am sure it would have caused great concern about my state of mind, and naturally I was aware that there was a macabre element to it too.
I feel a bit flat today. Maybe a case of Trumpitus, or the constant rain that has fallen off and on since late September. I must not be ungrateful, as there has been a five-year decline in rainfall, and last summer saw our springs and wells at an all-time low. But I see the sky has switched to blue. I feel brighter already. What a difference light makes!
Doubt seems to be the order of the day, which usually leads to second-guessing and self-flagellation. What will I do with all these pages when I stop writing? Could they be of any benefit to others? Or do I just have an overwhelming desire for people to know Elle and love her like I do? I think, though, that I also have a desire to encourage people to view our lives as more than the day-to-day tasks, followed by some downtime to alleviate the mundane, and rather to see value in regarding each day, whatever we’re doing, as an opportunity to gather insights that give life greater meaning. I know I stopped actively practising ‘noticing and learning’ because as an adult I thought I was suitably qualified to do life. It took a catastrophic event to get me back to being a student of life once more.
Last night I couldn’t focus on what I was reading. I kept questioning how I spend my time. Why am I using Facebook to vent my anger at President Trump and his voters? Why are so many of us caught up in this pointless behaviour? While I don’t understand how the US ended up with this narcissistic idiotic for a president, I also believe that the planet needs a high voltage wake-up call to herald in a better way of living both for humans and for nature. I have been banging on about this for years now, and perhaps this is it—I just wish it wasn’t so frightening. As I berate myself for falling into the trap of indignation, outrage and arguments like everyone else on Facebook, I hear Elle saying to me, ‘Enough with all the fussing, Ma—it doesn’t change anything.’ I have undertaken to stay away from all this drama, but I wonder how long before some headline or comment lures me back into its tit-for-tat lair.
This morning, when I finally broke out of sleep, there was a word in my head, Dukakis! It wouldn’t go away—around and around it went as if on a carousel in my mind. I have had a few of these moments lately, and as I move from sleep through semi-lucidity to being fully awake, it keeps revolving until I take note of it. Usually it turns out to be meaningful, even if initially it seems random.
It took a while to even remember why I was familiar with the name. Then it came to me—he was an American presidential candidate going back a long way. When I checked on good old Wikipedia, it turns out he was a Democratic candidate for the 1988 elections and lost to George Bush Senior. The first thing I noticed was his birthday—November 3—the day my mother died—only relevant because I love watching numbers. I embrace numbers and dates as possible road signs.
If ours was a dream
The phantom a sacred scheme
Then how did it end so quick
My darling arithmetic
Darling Arithmetic, Villagers (written by Conor O’Brian)
I was pregnant with Elle during that election, and very aware of the presidential campaign. Electioneering in the US seems to go on forever and is all they talk about on the news for at least a year leading up to it.
His campaign platform couldn’t have been more different from The Donald’s onslaught against immigrants and that wall. And back then even a hint of psychological disorder was enough to put voters off. Not anymore, it would seem! It is odd to think that we may be moving towards a darker, less kind and more ignorant way of being and thinking. I hope it is rather the death throes of humankind’s childhood. I can’t say though that I am any clearer as to why Dukakis warranted a place on my carousel!
There has been way too much ‘chatter’ for a few nights now, led by the monkeys that live inside my brain. I don’t mind so much during the day because they help me navigate down all sorts of rabbit holes, and sometimes I may even surface with something juicy I can get my teeth into. But I don’t like missing out on sleep and good dreams at night. I may need to break this cycle with a tablet for a few nights.
It’s 4.53 am and no sleep for me. I really need to get back to meditating. I could do with stilling the chatter that sometimes seems to invade my mind. I need more sleep!
Last night (it is officially the next day) I went to the study to find a book to read. The first book that caught my attention was ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’. There wasn’t much in Elle’s handbag when we went through it, unlike most women’s bags, but there was a short list of things she needed to buy, and in a corner of the paper were the words, ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’. I will never know why she wrote these words just days before she died. Again it feels otherworldly that she did. I will get around to reading it in time. Then another book came into view amongst Elle’s belongings, ‘A Journey to Oneness’ by a woman who writes as Rasha.
In my teens I developed a habit of reading every night before going to sleep, and it became one that I couldn’t break. I remember telling Peter that my one condition for a happy coexistence was that he never moaned about my need to read before going to sleep, sex or no sex, whatever time of night. And to his credit he never did. Only rarely would I get a ‘Come on now, enough,’ from him. I always read until my eyes started closing, the book slipped onto the bedside table, light off, and within moments I was asleep. Those were the days when I slept straight through to the morning. Nightly perfection! Over the past years, prior to Elle’s death, I seemed to lose interest in reading and started doing Sudoku, and playing games on my iPad and mobile phone instead. I wondered if these futile, time-wasting pastimes were to blame for my increasingly erratic sleeping habits. It disappointed me that I was choosing to ‘blow off’ time, and I also knew I was stagnating. I had lost interest in learning anything new unless it hit me in the face. From time to time I saw little flashes of disappointment cross Elle’s face when she caught me at it. After the shock of her death I never again played mindless games, or even felt tempted to. I thought I was addicted, but it was no problem letting go of this behaviour once I comprehended its futility and banality. It is not that playing occasional games with others or by oneself is wrong but just that I was using it to avoid living. This makes me rethink addiction. Once again I am reading endlessly, not just at night, but sadly it no longer always works as an elixir for sleep as it once did.
A short way into ‘A Journey to Oneness’, I was reminded of a beautiful holiday when only Elle accompanied us—perhaps Kate was on her gap year. The author writes that she is leaving her home in Asheville, North Carolina, after living there for five years. We had visited Asheville in early 2002 on our way to a ski resort, and happened upon a picture-perfect timber mountain hotel, with a big room for the three of us, tea facilities, a large fireplace that was lit each evening, and a veranda looking across to the mountains. Absolute bliss. Peter doesn’t ski because of a life-long back problem (which has finally been alleviated by Pilates), so he dropped Elle and me at the ski centre every day.
I love the idea of skiing more than the actuality of doing it because I have a fear of falling. But watching Elle skiing was a dream. She floated, never wobbled, and I really don’t recall how she learnt to ski. There was no way I could hold her back on the nursery slopes and blue runs, so each day she went off on her own, and we usually all met for lunch. On our second last evening we visited the ice rink. I had been quite good at ice-skating in my youth—there’s that word ‘quite’ again. Determined to give it a go, Elle and I went out onto the ice, but my fear got in the way again, and after a few rounds clinging to the barrier, I told Elle that because the next day was our last, I didn’t want to risk a broken arm.
Elle decided to stay with me on the blue runs the next morning which I appreciated. She made skiing look effortless and watching her duck and dive around me was such fun. Then we stopped as usual for lunch, deposited our poles and skis, and I chose a shortcut to the restaurant. It took only one step, and as I went down on the icy grass, I heard a bone crack in my wrist. It was not my first broken bone, but the first time I needed a plaster of paris splint. This caused me a lot of awkward moments after our return home, such as being unable to drive, but I knew in my heart that I had been overdoing things for a while, and this was nature’s way of slowing me down. I know this memory was a bit of a deviation, but I enjoyed recalling it.
It didn’t take me long to get into Elle’s book, hence not being able to get to sleep. I am also finding passages that Elle has underlined. Bittersweet.
Rasha writes about a conflict with her ‘denial of the precious Divine’:
Maybe it was actually time to stop hedging my bets… My mind continued its monologue without missing a beat. Maybe it was time to stop trying to appear ‘normal’, by whitewashing the spiritual identity that was trying so desperately to come out of hiding. Maybe it was time to give up on the idea of fitting into a world I honestly couldn’t relate to. Maybe it was time to own up to the truth of what was really going on with me.
It struck a nerve with me. I often feel a need to keep silent regarding my beliefs. I am learning how to conduct myself—when I can speak up and when to keep quiet.
Too tired to think, and the cocks are crowing. Now this will always be Elle’s time of the day, the full moon her time of the month, April her birth month, and August will always be the month when I shall immerse myself in her death.