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.
Peter and I are having amazing and deep talks about how we are each dealing with Elle’s death. I better understand now where his difficulties lie. He is struggling to face forward, and has felt a need to erect a wall to protect himself from certain details. It has also raised his own fear of death.
Elle told me some years ago that she was an ‘empath’, and I have been thinking a lot about this. I wish I had looked it up online back then. I am fully aware that some will pooh-pooh this construct and disagree with my conclusions. One could say that we all have the potential to be empaths to varying degrees, and it is the spiritual context of the following that resonates deeply with me. Someone who knew Elle could have written the following description which I found on an online site called Psychology Today:
The trademark of an empath is feeling and absorbing other people’s emotions and/or physical symptoms because of their high sensitivities. These people filter the world through their intuition and have a difficult time intellectualizing their feelings. As a psychiatrist and empath myself, I know the challenges of being a highly sensitive person. When overwhelmed with the impact of stressful emotions, empaths may experience panic attacks, depression, chronic fatigue, food, sex, and drug binges, or exhibit many other physical symptoms that defy traditional diagnosis.
But empaths can also learn how to centre themselves so that they don‘t feel too much or become overloaded. The first step is to acknowledge that you are an empath. Here are the top 10 traits of an empath, from my book on how to achieve emotional freedom. See if you can relate:
- Empaths are highly sensitive.
Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually open, and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, these world-class nurturers will be there for you. But they can easily have their feelings hurt, too: Empaths are often told that they are ‘too sensitive’ and need to ‘toughen up.’
- Empaths absorb other people’s emotions.
Empaths are highly attuned to other people’s moods, good and bad. They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme. They take on negativity such as anger or anxiety, which can be exhausting for them. If they are around peace and love, though, their bodies take these on and flourish.
- Many empaths are introverted.
Empaths become overwhelmed in crowds, which can amplify their empathy. They tend to be introverted and prefer one-to-one contact or small groups. Even if an empath is more extroverted, they may prefer to limit how much time they spend in a crowd or at a party.
- Empaths are highly intuitive.
Empaths experience the world through their intuition. It is important for them to develop their intuition and listen to their gut feelings about people. This helps empaths find positive relationships and avoid energy vampires.
- Empaths need alone time.
As super-responders, empaths find being around people can be draining, so they periodically need time alone to recharge. Even a brief escape prevents emotional overload. For example, empaths like to take their own cars when they go places so they can leave when they please.
- Empaths can become overwhelmed in intimate relationships.
Too much togetherness can be difficult for an empath so they may avoid intimate relationships. Deep down they are afraid of being engulfed and losing their identity. For empaths to be at ease in a relationship, the traditional paradigm for being a couple must be redefined.
- Empaths are targets for energy vampires.
An empath’s sensitivity makes them particularly easy marks for energy vampires, whose fear or rage can sap their energy and peace of mind. These vampires may do more than drain an empath’s physical energy. Especially dangerous ones such as narcissists (who lack empathy and are only concerned with themselves) can make empaths believe they’re unworthy and unlovable. Other vampires include The Victim, The Chronic Talker, The Drama Queen and more.
- Empaths become replenished in nature.
The busyness of everyday life can be too much for an empath. The natural world nourishes and restores them. It helps them release their burdens and they can take refuge in the presence of green wild things, the ocean, or other bodies of water.
- Empaths have highly tuned senses.
An empath’s nerves can get frayed by noise, smells, or excessive talking.
- Empaths have huge hearts but sometimes give too much.
Empaths are big-hearted people and try to relieve the pain of others: a homeless person holding a cardboard ‘I’m hungry’ sign at a busy intersection, a hurt child, a distraught friend. It’s natural to want to reach out to these people and ease their pain. But empaths don’t stop there. Instead, they take it on—suddenly they’re the one feeling drained or upset when they felt fine before.
As an empath myself, I use many strategies to protect my sensitivities, such as fierce time management, setting limits and boundaries with draining people, meditation to calm and centre myself, and going out into nature. I find being an empath a gift, but I had to learn to take care of myself. Empaths have special needs. If you’re one of us, it’s important to honour your needs and communicate them to your loved ones.
By Judith Orloff M.D.
It would have made a difference in how I supported her during her meltdowns had I been familiar with this passage. I have already covered some of the points, like chronic fatigue, in earlier passages. She often needed a break from herself and others, and would regularly go for long walks, find a quiet place in the countryside or spend time by the ocean. Her breaks also involved doing things like scuba diving and painting, where she could lose some of the noise in her head for a time. I had already noticed that when she went travelling, leaving her normal routine behind, she could be a different person, and it would last a while after returning home. She was able to let her hair down and give herself over to spontaneity. I wished she could access that Elle more often. But her elation would be short-lived on her return. She was also able to find short periods of relief from her extreme mental activity with certain friends and sometimes with artificial stimulants like alcohol and cannabis. Ultimately, though, they gave her no long-term solution and often led to self-recrimination, and finally they didn’t feature much in the last year of her life. She also said that without her love for Kate and us, and our love for her, she might well have given herself over to addictions and worse.
I deeply regret saying to Elle a couple of years before she died that she was overly sensitive, and spent too much time thinking about herself. I was feeling exasperated, and unable to be of any use to her. But thank goodness I quickly corrected my words, and I told her that she should take all the time she needed to discover who she was, her needs and her power. Yet I had said it, and I know it will have been hurtful to hear coming from me! I was perfectly aware even then that you are of little use to anyone else until you have conquered your own fears and strengthened your self-belief—only then do you have something of yourself to give to others. Words can be powerful tools for good if authentic but also damaging weapons, and often we say things we don’t really mean when we’re depressed, under a great deal of stress, or have lost our temper. Not enough of us realise the importance of the words we use. If we did, we would surely speak with greater temperance.
Elle met, or at least, noticed Graeme on her first day at Hurtwood House. It took a few months before they worked out their ‘battle plans’, or terms of engagement, but once they committed to each other it quickly became the start of a beautiful and close relationship. They went through so much of their growing up together. I loved their uncomplicated and playful love for each other. They could talk to each other all night and probably often did. I never worried about Elle when she was with Graeme. While they certainly had a lot of fun, both wholesome and naughty, he always knew how to keep them both safe.
At the heart of their breakup, about four years later, was that he could not understand the spiritual and troubled side of her nature. Perhaps he sensed her fragility, and therefore rejected this side of her, and desperately wanted to protect her from herself and her pain. She told me later that she was afraid she was losing her sense of self by staying with him. She also wanted him to get excited about backpacking around the world with her, perhaps because she already sensed the respite this gave her. It is possible that her concern about his continuing to live at home with his family was based around her own fear of moving away from us, and she needed Graeme to strike out for them both. It is not that Elle lived in our pockets, or was trying to please us all the time. She led an independent life actually from quite an early age. But she liked to know we were not far away, and perhaps this even had something to do with her moving to Ibiza.
After Graeme, apart from a few brief liaisons, she seemed unable to open her heart to love. She acknowledged this to me a few times, and she read this as being rooted in fear. I only remember two occasions when she said she felt lonely, and longed for the touch of someone she loved and who loved her. In the last months (or perhaps just weeks) of her life, she told her friends she was in love with someone. Whether she opened her heart to him completely I cannot know but I believe she did. Perhaps she didn’t know how to quieten the anxiety it brought, or something about it didn’t feel right. None of us will ever know.
I am tired now—so much to think about. More tomorrow.
It has mostly been a good day with beautiful sunshine—that always helps.
I am doing well except for those moments when I look back towards the time of Elle. Sometimes I am drawn irresistibly in that direction.
Elle’s toughest years were 2011 to 2015. We both grappled to cope in her bleak moments of frustration as she searched for answers. She had been seeing a therapist while still living in London (2009–2010) for a period of about a year and until she moved to the island. Initially we had not known about it, but we were glad that she had taken the initiative, after all she was an adult now. That was encouraging. I learnt later that she had been given a list of coping strategies which helped ease her inner pain. But what use are coping strategies when healing is not forthcoming? Sometimes I wonder whether therapists ever manage to bring about healing, or whether patients eventually find their own—or not. She first started exhibiting anger around the age of twelve or thirteen years, and when we tried to elicit from her what was making her so angry, she usually couldn’t answer, and at other times probably didn’t want to. It is possible that she didn’t feel she could tell us why she was angry, and thinking this makes me sad. I also think she couldn’t isolate exactly what was making her angry. Out of a heartfelt desire to ease her pain, I think I sometimes talked too much or tried too hard to explain what she could do to help herself. As a young child she would cover her ears and say, ‘Don’t talk, don’t talk’. Wrongly or rightly, I would usually back off. I now understand this reaction better in the context of the pain caused by noise for an empath.
The anger grew worse over time. It would sometimes follow a conversation with me, her father or her sister, but occasionally it also seemed to come from nowhere. It wasn’t there all the time but was powerful when it took control of her. She would sometimes walk determinedly around the kitchen or garden, and I suspect this was again a coping strategy to ease it away. I find this hard to say, but in her last year, I sensed anger towards me for something I said, did or didn’t do. It would be there, and sometimes we would acknowledge it. We would occasionally try to identify its source, but more often than not, nothing was forthcoming. Mostly we would acknowledge the anger and reassure each other of our love. In these tense moments we would discuss our close bond, and the need for her to develop away from me in particular, and her family in general. She was already keeping her personal life away from us, and we were only allowed to know what she told us. I viewed this period as her holding up a gentle, invisible hand to keep Peter and particularly me back. I took it as a good sign: Elle was becoming her own woman.
I wondered, even before she died, if some of her anger toward me was triggered at a deep level of preservation. I was her mother, and I should be able to heal her or, at the very least, understand her needs better. She would seek me out when she was having a meltdown, but especially in the last year, I found I was no longer able to offer advice that made life any easier for her, or even made any sense to her. There were fewer times that she reached out to me. I learnt later that she was still speaking to others, particularly her sister, and I think also her cousin Caroline, and a few others on the island who she thought might be able to help her. I dealt with this by believing that it was as it should be. She needed to talk more to her peer group than her parents.
I tell so much of our story in the hope that there is something familiar or informative that could help a reader in his or her ongoing relationship with a child or young adult displaying similar behaviour. Naturally, I am aware of the condition called borderline personality disorder. While much that I have read about this disorder sounds familiar, I am wary of accepting that anyone understands enough about the root causes of the multitude of disorders we hear about today. Almost without fail, the list of possible causes will first state that ‘we do not know for sure what causes or triggers this disorder’.
The Mayo Clinic lists these possible causes:
As with other mental health disorders, the causes of borderline personality disorder aren’t fully understood. In addition to environmental factors—such as a history of child abuse or neglect—borderline personality disorder may be linked to:
- Some studies of twins and families suggest that personality disorders may be inherited or strongly associated with other mental health disorders among family members.
- Brain abnormalities. Some research has shown changes in certain areas of the brain involved in emotion regulation, impulsivity and aggression. In addition, certain brain chemicals that help regulate mood, such as serotonin, may not function properly.
We are living through an epidemic of mental illness in most of the First World countries today, and nobody seems to be keen on discussing why this is. Let’s just keep on rolling out the medication. I don’t see this ending well.
It is my dad’s birthday today. He left our earthly plane in 1987.
I had a soothing massage this morning because my shoulders have been so tense lately. It could be to do with sitting hunched over my laptop! Lots of time, though, to think about what I want to write today, and sure enough, up popped some past recollections and a few more road signs.
As my shoulders were being massaged and moved around this morning on a table with a hole for my face, I started recalling how at age fifteen I was chosen to dance Faust’s visitation by a spirit heralding the arrival of Mephistopheles. I was thrilled with my role in the play. I improvised the dance in a classical Greek style for which I had had some training in junior school, on top of ballet lessons from around the age of six. On the day of the first performance I went out riding on a horse that had only recently come into my life, a promotion from my pony. Until that day I had only ridden him around the stable yard because he made me nervous. He was strong, black and wilful, and I hadn’t mentioned to anyone that I feared he had a mean streak. While grooming him he would try to trap me against the stable wall—not a good sign. I chose this big day to face down my fear, and ride him out of the yard for the first time. I think we rode about a mile away, crossing many roads and busy traffic, but I was managing to keep him to a walk. What I don’t remember, except for a short flashback, is the gallop he took me on back to the stable yard. I must have managed to guide him because he did not know the terrain at all. I do remember something of the final charge into the stable yard, dodging pine trees, and then all goes black. Apparently, he swerved in front of a stable block, throwing me headfirst into the wall and rendering me unconscious. Thank goodness I had my riding hat on. I ended up in hospital with concussion and a fractured shoulder blade. Needless to say I didn’t get to do my blithe spirit dance that night, and almost before I came round, my parents had given my horse away to a champion show jump rider, who had secretly coveted him. In exchange she gave me a lovely retired ‘gentleman’ showjumper, and we did much better together. Since this incident I have been constantly aware that one shoulder is not as good as the other.
The reason this came up for me is that after Elle died, we received various books given to us by a number of people, and one mentioned Mahler’s instrumental and choral interpretation of Goethe’s Faust, and how he came to write his Symphony No. 8. It is unusually in two parts: Part I being the ninth century Christian hymn for Pentecost, while Part II uses the words from the closing scene of Goethe’s play as its lyrics. The piece conveys the idea of redemption through the power of love, the rescuing of Faust’s soul from the clutches of Mephistopheles, and his final ascent into heaven, which differs from the more usual ending of the tale where Mephistopheles claims his soul and carries him off to hell. Mahler’s version propounds the idea that the heavenly angels came to greet Faust’s soul as he ascended to heaven because of his great efforts to fight off his earthly demons towards the end of his life. This appeals deeply to my belief that redemption is always available to those who seek it with good intent. Mahler told Richard Specht, his biographer, ‘I saw the whole piece immediately before my eyes, and only needed to write it down as though it were being dictated to me.’ Many artists, writers and composers describe their creative process in the same way. The second part of Symphony No. 8 is sometimes referred to as the ‘Chorus for a Thousand Voices’. Mahler received a twenty-minute standing ovation at its first performance. Sadly, he died not long after at the youthful age of fifty, but perhaps his work was done.
I think it is obvious where I am going with this. Part II has been added to our Elle playlist. I had just finished going through all Elle’s notebooks, and I was left feeling drained, pained and distraught. More than anything, they contained years of ‘notes to self’ on how she could become a better person—how she could reach her higher self, what she felt guilty about, the demons of dark and light, and more latterly, about certain archangels. I was overwhelmed with the relentlessness of her inner struggle. Why did her path through life have to be so fraught, complex and painful? This question had not passed Elle by either. In her early teens, she had asked me why life seemed to present her with so many barriers. She also told me that one day she wanted to work with troubled teenagers. I had suggested a couple of times that perhaps her struggles were to provide her with the experiences and fuel to fulfil her ambitions, but it caused me pain to witness her turmoil.
The other road sign that came to mind on the massage table had to do with Jennifer, a guest I met at Greg’s on Monday, and the reason I rose early yesterday was to take her to the airport.
Jennifer’s parents were both Premies, meaning followers of Prem Rawat, formally known as Maharaji. A little older than Elle, Jennifer was needing to break away and find a place to rest, and ended up at Greg’s guesthouse in Ibiza. She said she felt a little more at peace as she left to return home, but I could tell that her mind was still deeply troubled. It was a special opportunity for me to meet her, learn more about who she is and the difficulties she is experiencing. Quite extraordinary for both her and Greg was that when Greg was about sixteen, the then twelve-year-old Prem Rawat visited South Africa, and Greg went along with friends who were either Premies or Divine Light Mission followers (most likely their parents were the followers) to a meeting in a little room in Woodstock, Cape Town. Greg’s strongest memory of the occasion was of a playful, laughing young Rawat. I am relating this odd vignette because it illustrates again another way of viewing co-incidences rather as synchronicities or our own personal life coaches, although not always is the tuition or knowledge immediately apparent.
I am cooking again for our card-playing friends, and I worked hard this time to bring out all the flavours. Here’s hoping! I was helped by a special little being on our kitchen windowsill—a beautiful pigeon. Maybe it was the music—definitely not my singing—that attracted him. He kept his eye on me for a while and then settled in for a nap. He hung around for the whole cook, and only flew off sometime after I had left the kitchen. I don’t know why I think he is male. I love all birds.
The flavour of my casserole showed signs of improvement. Tasting could be key!
Reading further in ‘A Journey to Oneness’ by Rasha, I came across something that I could add to my truth pile. When the Oneness was asked why help on a particular issue wasn’t forthcoming, the answer was, ‘While I am in you, I cannot do anything for you that you cannot do for yourself.‘ I see this as another way of looking at the presence of free will within us all, and how it works. It is as simple as that.
This is one of my treasured memories now, and is of a journey I am so grateful Elle and I shared. It was the start of the summer of 2000 and Elle had recently turned eleven. My car was packed to the gunnels as we set off from Winchester for our holiday home near Malaga. I had made this journey alone a number of times, because the rest of the family, if given the choice, preferred to fly, but this time Elle offered to join me. I spent the ferry ride studying the map because I wanted to avoid Paris. These were the days before GPS, and navigating through Paris on my own would be a nightmare. We had caught an early ferry, hoping to make good progress on our first day, but I seemed to be spending too much time skirting Paris. Finally, we were making good headway along one of the iconic French tree-lined avenues where the trees seem to count down the day in seconds, but my petrol gauge was dropping alarmingly low—not a good idea around lunchtime as it turns out. All the garages were closed, and at yet another chained off forecourt I wandered around the side and found the family having lunch. French has always been a language too far for me, so I tried in polite sign language to find out what time they reopened. With barely a glance up at us, they rudely waved us away .
Time was ticking by, and I hoped I had enough petrol to reach the next town. Halfway there I lost courage, stopped under the trees, and tried to wave down a passing car. No one was prepared to stop, but finally a couple travelling in the opposite direction did, and luckily, they spoke a little English. Despite all the bad thoughts I had been having about the French, they turned their car around and led us to a shopping mall with a twenty-four hour petrol station. Now Elle and I could continue our journey, and we finally started stockpiling the miles. I drove and drove, and at last we were well into Spain. Elle had spent most of the journey playing Tetris on her Gameboy. I was quite proud of once having reached forty-two thousand points, but Elle had just exceeded a hundred thousand points, and rockets were taking off all across the screen! She probably never thought anything of it but I was deeply impressed because I knew just how hard that was!
We drove past Madrid and I kept on going. In three hours or so we could be sleeping in our own beds, so there seemed no point to stopping now. Elle seemed to understand that it was necessary to stay awake with me. But going through the mountain pass about an hour before Granada, I knew I was driving into danger. I had begun to shake, and my eyes were doing funny things. So I stopped to get a coffee at a roadside garage with a bar and restaurant, thinking this would revive me and then we could keep going. But having time to think, I knew I was putting both our lives in danger and now I had to find somewhere to sleep until morning.
It was already mid-summer in Spain, and the night was hot and sticky. Out front there were lorry drivers enjoying a late supper, hopefully having pulled over for the night. I asked the barman if there was a hotel nearby and he pointed to the ceiling indicating they had rooms to rent. This seemed the best possible outcome. We collected our overnight bag from the car, and followed the man upstairs, round corners, down passages and up more stairs—there was going to be no easy way out of this warren—and he still hadn’t said a word.
There were two single beds in our little room and a window that looked down on a jumble of outhouses and sheds. At least we had an en suite shower room, but no air conditioner or fan. As we climbed into our beds I heard the tell-tale squeak of a rubber mattress protector under our nylon sheets. I tried reading but had to give up as it was not making me sleepy. This was not good.
And then it started. In the suffocating heat, Elle would throw her body into the air every so often and to prevent the sheet twisting with her, she would turn in the air before landing. Every twenty minutes dogs would bark, and every half hour a generator would start up and run for about five minutes. At intervals, massive lorries came thundering out of the pass onto the straight road past the bar, while intermittent footsteps travelled up and down the passages outside our door—I could only assume this was more of a brothel than a hotel.
Eventually I gave up trying to sleep, pulled a chair over to the window, and proceeded to smoke, read, or just wait for morning having given up on the idea of sleep. By about 5 am I was surprised by the sound of quacking ducks, and watched as a great gaggle came into view and passed under our window. I didn’t see anyone driving them. Okay, I thought, next the cock will crow, and it did, but at least this meant that the sun must surely be rising.
It was time to go. I couldn’t stay another moment in this hellhole. I dressed, woke Elle and told her I had to get out of the place. I may not have slept but I did feel rested. As we drove off, we saw a huge articulated lorry that had left the road and rolled onto its side down the slope.
At the next town we found a little patisserie, a decent coffee and a croissant for me and for Elle her favourite, pain au chocolat. We had found our way back to normality after taking a slip road into madness, a town called Carolina. At around 8.30 am we drove down our vertiginous track to the holiday home we all loved so much—our little paradise in the hills of Andalucía. Greg hadn’t expected us until much later in the day, and was excited to show us the finishing touches to the house that he and his boyfriend Mark had been working on for the past few months.
I write to forget to remember.
I need to prepare myself to write to my cousin Mary-Ann, whose daughter also died in 2016, on February 15.
My mother and her cousin Maureen were friends from birth and until age made it difficult for them to get together. Our families got together regularly, so rather than talking about first cousins once or twice removed, I refer to all family members of my generation as cousins.
I was thrilled when Margie, the daughter of my cousin Mary-Ann, emailed me in October 2014 saying she wanted to visit us in Ibiza for her mother’s seventieth birthday. I hadn’t seen Margie since before her marriage because I’d left South Africa when I was twenty-four, so I had mostly lost contact with the younger generation. The party was to include Margie’s daughter, who was on her gap year in the UK, and would be a surprise Christmas present for Mary-Ann. I jumped at the opportunity to have them to stay— we had the space, and I love having friends and family to visit.
Their arrival coincided with the May half term, and we had a joyous time, with laughter ringing throughout the house. There were endless interesting conversations over extended lunches and dinners, and I loved showing off our beautiful Ibizan villages and countryside. Elle joined us for many of the evening meals, and we often discussed religion and spirituality. I was happy that Elle felt comfortable to express her thoughts on what faith meant to her as she rarely did so with us. We were also happy to have reopened communication between Mary-Ann’s family and ours.
The following February, Margie died tragically. It was an unbelievable shock for everyone. She had always been such a positive and loving person, with a deep commitment to her faith, and contributed greatly to her wider community. Her family turned to their faith and found comfort in their church, friends and each other.
Mary-Ann sent us a number of photos from their trip. One shows Margie and Elle closest to the camera sitting opposite each other at a lunch in our home, and another is from a wonderful evening at Greg’s home, again with them opposite one another. These are thought-provoking photos, and painful to look at. Could it be that Margie was guided before her death to bring our families together so we were not alone when our worlds turned upside down? To me it seems so. Our families are now forever bound together in this walk through grief, and the support we give each other has no measure. Mary-Ann and I have a special bond as mothers, and sometimes we just feel a need to reach out and touch each other when things get particularly hard. We now have someone who knows exactly what the other is going through. Our faith may be differently shaped but at its heart there is only the Oneness, and our relationship to God has been strengthened by our shared tragedies.
Yesterday was a difficult write. But that is how it goes.
We have been so busy for a while now, and no matter how hard I try to remedy this, things never seem to quieten down. I don’t try to fight it anymore. One thing I did need to get on with was to write to Kate. I had said something to her that came out wrong, and when this happens, I usually choose to write rather than risk digging a deeper hole for myself. Before dropping off to sleep, I thought how helpful it would be if Kate were to have ‘one of her Elle dreams tonight’. I awoke to an email from her with the subject, ‘Elle dream in the early hours’. Kate always writes them down straightaway in case sleep erases it from her mind. She has had eight or ten of these dreams so far. They are always deeply illuminating, and often involve hugging, almost always from behind, kissing and even one where Elle lifted Kate skywards, while in another she carried Kate and Isaac high above the earth.
In this dream Elle told Kate that she is always with her, and she only has to look in the ‘right way’ to see her. The dream also seemed to be saying that Kate wasn’t stepping up to the plate in making food for us to eat. Kate feels this may refer to her difficulty in ‘moving forward’. I can see how her interpretation may be right, as ‘cooking food for us to eat’ could represent providing sustenance for our souls. It saddens Peter and me that Kate is still struggling to engage with her grief.
Kate has always had strong feelings about property and possessions being moved or sold out of the family. It distressed her deeply if I gave away anything that had belonged to her as a child. In time she came to understand that sometimes we need to do this, but not when it came to her special toys. A love of tradition and ritual are imbedded in her soul, a connection that perhaps can be traced back to the early years she spent in Steiner education. She also carries a strong need to keep her family safe, which sometimes, and understandably, weighs heavily on her. Most likely she also has some residual feelings of anger about losing her deeply loved sister, and perhaps she sometimes needs to have a place to let it lie. I see her now as ‘the keeper of all things familial’.
I am different. As a child, when those around me talked about how they loved their parents, brothers or sisters, I never knew what to say—I did not recognise that emotion. For my first three decades I believed that I lacked feelings towards my fellow human beings which meant I was incomplete. The other emotion I rarely experienced is that of ‘missing’ someone or feeling homesick. But I always had a strong understanding that there are consequences to all actions we take, and that it is wrong to lie. I take commitment seriously, hence I am still married to the same man although we went through a short separation when we lost a sense of why we were together.
As the years passed I continued to wrestle with the concept of love, mostly by observing those closest to me and from whom I received an abundance of love. When Kate and then Elle came into my life, I understood and experienced the incredible power of love a parent feels for their child. Our emotions are such a minefield, and so often we measure our own by how they appear to match up with those of others.
In answer to a request to Elle’s friends for songs that remind them of Elle for our playlist, Graeme said that his and Elle’s favourite song was Not Now by Blink 182. As with so many ‘metal’ bands, I had a hard time hearing the lyrics, so I looked them up. The words definitely caught me off guard:
Come here, please hold my hand LORD now
Help me, I’m scared, please show me how
To fight this, God has a master plan
And I guess, I am in his demand
Please save me, this time I cannot run
And I’ll see you when this is done.
And now I have come to realize
That you are the one who’s left behind.
Please stay, until I’m gone.
I’m here, hold on to me.
I’m right here, waiting.
I see the light, it feels good
And I’ll come back soon just like you would.
It’s useless, my name has made the list,
And I wish I gave you one last kiss.
Please stay until I’m gone.
I’m here, hold on to me.
I’m right here waiting,
And take my one last breath.
And don’t forget
That I will be right here waiting.
‘Not Now’ by Blink 182
I have taken the liberty of changing the punctuation here and there. There are many meaningful links and circles in these lyrics that again I am reminded of the seamlessness of all things.
I don’t think it was just me that felt this, but I found Elle to be puzzling and an enigma at time. I have spent much time recalling the following special moment with her. It also highlights further the relevance of synchronicity in all our lives. I cannot imagine a world where the following would not reveal a deeper meaning. The clashing of two events is mostly interpreted as simply coincidence.
Peter’s mother Tinker was always an important person in our girls’ lives. She was one of the most stoical women I have ever known, and her stubbornness beat mine hands down but there again, maybe not! Her love of life was a great inspiration to us all, and she was a great role model to her grandchildren. When she died on 7 March 2016, her life had become physically hard, with a fair amount of pain, but she still wanted to live, and was not about to give up or be left out of anything. We had no idea that Elle had been calling Tinker regularly from her casita in the months before she died. Only when I told Elle that her gran was very unwell and suggested she call her, did we learn this.
Early in May, and after Tinker’s memorial in the church next door to her much loved home in Chesterton, we returned to Peter’s sister’s home where we all had the opportunity to choose a few of Tinker’s possessions that held a special meaning for us. Elle, in her characteristically simple manner, wanted only a couple of small things. One was a little box, and the other a six-inch red, fluted glass vase decorated with a spray of flowers on one side. Once we were home in Ibiza, she brought it into the kitchen, broken into tiny shards, and asked for a container to put the tiny pieces into. Although she had wrapped it in a shirt inside her cabin luggage, it wasn’t enough to keep its delicate structure from collapsing. The glass was around a millimetre thick, and only the base was left intact—the rest of it was in frighteningly small pieces— and she asked me to help her put the vase back together again with superglue.
For once I didn’t voice my opinion that this was an impossible task, and said yes, and we began straightaway on what felt like a deeply intimate journey together. Elle’s hands were quite shaky, so she would apply the glue and I would place each shard in position and hold it while she cleared away the excess glue. Only one piece could be glued at a time, but day by day the vase slowly re-emerged. Thinking back on this event after Elle died, I have no memory of her searching for the exact piece to be glued in next, nor do I remember completing the job. I think she must have completed it by herself, which only adds to the mystery and magic of the process.
When we arrived back on the island after Elle’s death, accompanied by Claudia we visited the three girls who had been Elle’s housemates from May till the end of August. The girls were also in a deep state of shock, and we needed to do this for them and for us. The visit was all about regrets, recriminations, sorrow, tears and a yearning to understand what had happened. Before we left they asked if we wanted to take any of her belongings with us. Her room looked as if she had just left it for a moment, with freshly strewn clothes and her mattress on the floor surrounded by books, notebooks and Spanish newspapers. Peter noted the newspapers silently—we now think it was because Elle had been determined to improve her Spanish. I could hardly bear to look around the room, but was immediately drawn to something on one of the shelves—the little red vase! When I picked it up, it looked like it had never been anything but whole. The fracture lines were barely visible, and there were no little cracks letting light through—all that was missing was a triangular piece from the gilded and fluted rim.
I thought passed instantly through my mind. Elle had ‘demonstrated’ how it was going to be possible to put our family back together again, even though, yes, there would always be one vital and meaningful piece missing. It came through loud and clear. I believe it was a lifeline thrown to us as we were being tossed around by the waves of chaos. We chose to put this precious little vase into the coffin with her, along with a white dress and a single white rose. I have a photo of these items, but a part of me wishes I still had that little vase, especially when courage drains from my hurting heart, but the thought soon fades away.
Today is Peter’s sixty-third birthday. Kate sent him a photo of her and Isaac with birthday wishes, and he says it is one of his best birthday presents ever. Our emotions are all so heightened.
Sometimes I worry that I might not have enough to keep me writing until at least 30 August, but I need not worry—enough crops up on a daily basis! This is today’s pop up.
On Facebook today was a posting by my nephew, Alex, concerning atheism, backed up by a long excerpt from John Gray’s new book, ‘The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths’. Alex is mischievous and knows that I will respond. I view atheism as another religion. While atheists do not like to hear this, I don’t see how it cannot be because it is equally another belief system. Atheists may think science disproves the existence of God or a Creator, but again it is a leap of faith. I, on the other hand, think that science is coming around to proving that there has to have been a creator of this vast universe. Atheism these days seems to have the same tendency as most religions to purge, judge and proselytise. Whether you are a believer or a non-believer, in the end it is a personal or cultural choice, or a choice made for us by our community, or maybe even built into our DNA, although our minds can be changed at any time according to what our life experiences reveal to us. Not sure though whether my comments made any difference to Alex but at least he is happy to discuss it with me.
I have no fixed religion although I do not reject the faith of my birth, Christianity. What I have is a deep faith that was probably with me from my birth, and has evolved out of my own life experiences and searches, been reinforced by my own gut instincts, and bolstered by attempting to always stay alert. It is not a case of wanting to pick and mix from all the major religions, but more that I see so much overlap between them. I am a long way from understanding what it is that I actually believe, and I think this is exactly what I need to turn my mind to. And it is definitely not the case that I believe religion is innately bad or wrong. There must be as many different paths to tread as there are individuals in this world. After all, we are constantly being told that all roads lead to Rome. Some that may look a little off-piste to me may be right for others.
This morning a friend and I had coffee and a lively discussion that was personal to our families, and thought provoking. I had one of those ‘wee epiphany’ moments when she mentioned the unacceptable behaviour of a woman towards her daughter. It crossed my mind that we should be careful not to judge people, even when we see the negative outcome of their behaviour. There may well be a positive or advantageous outcome from experiencing negative conditions in our lives, or even the existence of a pre-life contract between the parties involved somewhere in this strange paradigm. Whether one views the Bible as accurately portraying historical events or as a deep and complex book of teaching, my understanding of the role of Judas in the story of Christ’s betrayal has not changed over time. I have always had a soft spot for Judas. I cannot see how the story of Christ could have reached its necessary conclusion without his assistance—his betrayal of Christ. Of course, I have no idea whether this really happened, but it works well to illustrate that perhaps we should have compassion for those individuals seemingly caught up in negative behaviour. Christ’s mission to show us the meaning of sacrifice and suffering could never have been successfully fulfilled without Judas playing his part. I can imagine how he must have suffered seeing the pain and judgement in the eyes of the disciples and Mary, and the defilement of his character by Christians in perpetuity. I doubt many Christians have ever called their sons Judas. As I said this to my friend, I recalled something I read in ‘A Journey to Oneness’ last night, headed ‘Be careful of judging others’. While I understand the importance of not judging, I couldn’t quite get the context of the written passage, but at that mid-coffee moment I understood it. Be careful of judging others even when there seems no mitigation for their behaviour. It is not for us to ever know their true mission. The purpose or role they have taken on may be altogether a higher voyage to benefit those of us who need to adjust our karma by receiving a reminder, or a jolt that propels us to new experiences.
In my view, Elle highlighted two vital constructs in the last years of her life: the need to trust (both people and life), and an awareness of those subtle judgements we don’t even realise we are making. I knew she was gently showing me a better way to be. Again, thanks my darling.
There’s a light coming through the window
But all I can see is the light of your love
You’ve been dawning on me
Dawning on Me, by Villagers, song written by Conor O’Brien
Valentine’s Day. Elle, I am sending you a heart for every star in the cosmos. I miss you so much. Kate had another Elle dream last night. As always very illuminating.
We all loved Elle so much. No surprises there. That is how families usually are. Kate was often frightened that something would happen to Elle when she was a teenager. Elle started to take ecstasy tablets when she was about fourteen, but it took us a while to know this. It came to a head one morning as I was about to check if she was getting ready for school. She burst through her bedroom door and bounced down the passage from wall to wall. Her eyes were hooded, and I panicked. I had never seen anything like this before. Again her godmother Claudia was with us, and being an experienced nurse, she immediately recognised the situation. We got Elle quietly back to bed and encouraged her to sleep it off. How had she got like this over night? Had she snuck out to be with her friends?
When she woke up later in the day, her father and I asked her to come into the garden and talk to us. Our opening question was, ‘Do you understand that yesterday could have turned out very differently? We could have been going to identify you in the morgue. Can you imagine what that would have done to our world?’ She said she had no memory of how many she had taken, and seemed to hear and feel the gravity of what we had said. While I do not suggest that she never took a tablet again, we never had an incident like this again. We were not a family of authoritarian discipline, and I truly don’t think it would have made our children’s lives or ours any more successful if we had been, actually if push comes to shove, I feel that the outcomes would have been much worse. We always felt it was better to discuss what had happened. We also held back on showing or expressing disappointment in our girls, because this always had the effect of making their worlds fall apart. We kept this for the biggest of battles and rarely needed it in our arsenal—probably not more than once for each of our daughters.
Elle also had a tendency to befriend people who appeared to come from the darker or forgotten fringes of life. One moment stands out because it was a great lesson to me—I learnt so much about Elle and myself from it, and I would even say that my respect for Elle grew.
It was one of only three moments in my life when I confronted what fear looks, feels and tastes like. Elle was fourteen and a regular visitor to the Winchester Cathedral grounds. It was wintertime around 10.30 pm, and there was not another soul around. I had checked where we were to meet—the usual place—and let her know I was on my way.
As I approached one of the high walls around the cathedral grounds I spotted her in an embrace with a boy or a man. He looked a little older than I was happy about, so I stopped the car and walked up to them. His face caused a sharp stab of fear to my heart. Everything about him, except his skin colour, was black, the darkest of black, the black one associates with death. His eyes were lifeless, and below his eyes were V’s reaching down his cheeks, either from makeup or a tattoo. I kept calm on the surface and wrestled for the right words to say. Elle seemed calm, and if anything slightly amused, but not confrontational—she never was, no matter what the situation. Eventually I found my tongue, and calmly said to him, ‘If you harm a hair on her body I will come for your blood.’ I have never come close to using language like that before or since, but I meant it, and I knew I would follow through if necessary. A strange thing to know about myself, as I have never resorted to violence to settle a dispute. He took only a second to reply. ‘I like blood.’ My senses were heightened, and I heard him clearly. In a strange way it also brought a close to the situation. There was no comeback to that reply. Elle, just an observer of the interaction between him and me, took the lead by saying, ‘Come mom, let’s go.’ And without words and a backward glance, we drove home. A while later, when I had recovered my emotional stability, I asked her what the attraction was. All she said was that everyone has some goodness inside them somewhere. I couldn’t fault her on that. I found a new level of respect for Elle and also learnt something of the power of fear and something more of how trust works.
Greater worries were to follow. A short while later her school contacted us to say that Elle had cut herself badly a few times across her lower arm. This again shook us to the core—we knew how serious this was. Being still around the age of fourteen, we had no way of understanding what had disturbed her so deeply to illicit a response like this. Peter and I knew that she needed to see a doctor, and he recommended a specialist, but Elle didn’t like the psychiatrist and said she did not want to see him again. She indicated that she didn’t like the questions he asked about her parents. Then she cut herself again. This time it was even more alarming. Peter stayed home from work, and he wouldn’t come out of our darkened bedroom. We were all in terrible shock and had no idea how to help Elle. Later in the day she asked, ‘What’s up with dad?’ I told her he was very sad, and didn’t feel able to come out of his room. Elle went in, and I believe they cried and hugged each other. She promised him she would never do it again. Somehow their love for each other broke the behaviour and prevented it from becoming a habitual form of self-medication.
A few days later I asked Elle what she felt had initiated these actions of self-harm. She told me she felt a build-up of pain in her head over a period of days, and an overwhelming need to counteract the internal pain by inflicting a greater pain on herself. She said that at the moment of cutting relief coursed through her body and relieved the pain in her head. My brother’s description of how he felt when he first started taking heroin was the same. He said he took the drug not to induce a high but to feel normal. I asked if Elle if she could tell us when she felt a build-up starting again, so that perhaps we could help her before she self-harmed. I suspect she still suffered from the pain on occasions, but she never came to us for help and never self-harmed in the same way again.
Once she reached sixteen she seemed to manage her life a little better. It wasn’t all plain sailing, but whatever she got involved in, whether skipping classes or being where she shouldn’t be, she was better able to take responsibility for herself and her actions, and she had learnt what would be a step too far. She had a special friendship with Leah from about the age of thirteen, and their bond endured—with some ups and downs—throughout Elle’s life. Together they seemed able to alleviate a lot of life’s difficulties through a shared sense of humour, and they created some beautiful memories that Leah has since shared with us.
But Kate never stopped worrying about Elle, and sometimes berated us for not being stricter with her. We had some of our only family quarrels during these years, and one stands out in my memory. In the end, Peter and I told Kate that while we were just as worried as she was, we knew that if we pushed Elle too hard, we might lose her altogether. We feared that she might run away, go deeper into the drug world, or worse. We asked Kate to trust us, and to understand that each individual requires a different approach. What worked for Kate was not going to work for Elle. Many years later, in her twenties, Elle told us that what had kept her safe was her deep love for her family and knowing how much she was loved by us. Our instinct at the time was to do nothing that would turn that love into a reason to rebel against us, or worse still, to hate and distrust us. I think she always appreciated that we never lost trust or faith in her.
As parents of Kate and then Elle, we were doing what came instinctively and the best we knew how. I have no way of knowing whether we did what was best for Elle, but she certainly turned out to be a kind and gentle person, and highly thought of by all who knew her. As time went by, Elle and Kate became even closer, and found a way to accept and value what was different about each other. Kate was a hard act for Elle to follow, but as Elle grew older so Kate found that Elle too was setting a high bar. For Kate, the loss of her sister shook the foundations of her world. I am happy to say she has married a good man, and little Isaac has kept her grounded during this momentous loss in her life.
The potential deeper meaning underlying the fact that it is Elle who gave Isaac his name has not gone unnoticed. Many years ago, apparently our girls played a game with each other where they each ring-fenced three names for boys and three for girls for when they started their own families. Isaac was one of the names Elle chose to ring-fence. I knew nothing of this until joking conversations around names started to take place during Kate’s pregnancy. For some reason, Alex and Kate were both deeply drawn to the name Isaac, but laughed it off as ‘Elle’s name’. When Kate was about seven months pregnant, she and Alex came to visit us on the island. They were in the living room with Peter and me when Elle walked into the house and came straight up to them, put a hand on each of their shoulders, and said quietly, ‘I gift the name Isaac for my nephew’. There were hugs all round. They still tried on a few different names until he was born, but probably always knew that they were going to settle on Isaac. It will always remain a poignant gesture.