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.
Today is the first anniversary of Margie’s death. Yesterday was a hard writing day for me, and today is no easier.
I needed to end where I did yesterday. It was a difficult time to write about. The memories of Elle as a troubled teen trying to come to terms with her adolescent awakenings and the opening up of adult life—her future—are some of the toughest memories, particularly because I can’t help wondering if I could have done more to help her.
There is a special photo of Elle taken in profile while resting the three-week old Isaac on her knees in his nursery as she leant against the wall. Kate sent it along with a few other photos just after Elle had been with them, and the moment I looked at that photo I experienced an unexpected reaction of anxiety in my solar plexus which I interpreted as ‘my Elle wasn’t there, it was the other Elle’. In contrast, Peter’s reaction was that it was his favourite photo of them, but he also couldn’t explain why.
I had spent ten days visiting Kate, Alex and Isaac to meet my first grandson and give Kate some support. This was the last time I saw Elle, and just for a five-minute hello, hug and goodbye. She had arrived around 3 am in the morning and I was leaving for the airport around 7 am on route back to Peter in Galicia. One of us needed to stay back to look after our dogs so he had been over for a few days prior my visit. I have an indelible image in my mind’s eye of her standing on the bottom stair, having stirred from her bed to say goodbye to me. Earlier I had quietly let her in, and she went straight up to her bed, and I certainly didn’t expect her to get up a few hours later for me, but how amazing that she did! Recalling this moment has made me feel angry and resentful towards Time for doing what he did—a card that I know I mustn’t hang onto for long. Nothing good comes of it.
I have described this brief meeting many times to Peter. While I sensed great love and serenity in her presence, I was also aware of a veiled separation—that familiar invisible hand holding me back. It never felt personal so much as a need on her part to cement her independence from her family. After Elle died, and instinctively, following moments that felt intimate and with certain people, I felt a need to touch hands, palm to palm. Is there an odd link with my year-long perception of Elle holding up her hand to Peter and me, albeit an invisible one? I am endlessly grateful that Elle did get up to see me before my departure as it provided a clear and lasting image that I could share with Peter that otherwise we would not have had. Neither of us remember exactly what would have been our last moment with Elle before leaving for Galicia.
In addition to ‘A Journey to Oneness’, I am also reading ‘Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife’, by Dr Eben Alexander. He suffered a rare form of a virulent bacterial meningitis, and it was truly a miracle that he survived. Tests had indicated that he was in a vegetative state, and surgeons were about to turn off his life support when he came out of his coma about a week later. As he learnt more about the clinical analysis of what had happened to him and this juxtaposed with the ‘trip’ he had been on while in his coma, he realised that he was in a unique position as a neurosurgeon to write of his extraordinary experience. His book recounts this journey inside his own mind, and how it turned everything he had previously believed to be true inside out. His life took a new turn. He tries to explain something of what he experienced:
“…the vagaries of time in these worlds beyond what I knew of this earth continued to hold.… In a dream, ‘before’ and ‘after’ become tricky designations. You can be in one part of the dream and know what is coming, even if you haven’t experienced it yet. My ‘time’ out beyond was something like that. It wasn’t so much a dream with a narrative but rather a number of visions or moments that still manage to convey a story.”
I have always taken special note of things that appear over my horizon in two’s. An acquaintance on the island, because he heard I too was writing, recently sent to me his own writings of a month spent in an induced coma, and he too went on an unusual inner journey that felt like it lasted the duration of his coma—almost as if I may need a little extra proof that Eben Alexander speaks a truth. There is a further connection and another ‘two’ in that my friend was in a coma because he had contracted necrotising fasciitis just like I had a number of years earlier. I too nearly died as a result but mine was identified more quickly.
I too have been thinking a lot about time in a much more imaginative and arbitrary way. Perhaps it needs us humans to measure it before it is real. If not for our memories, we have nothing to prove that time exists. Somewhere between two to three months before Elle died, and not long before we left for Galicia, I arrived to do some painting in my studio at Greg’s home, and he was anxious to tell me about something that had happened a few days previously. He had a couple staying in one of his guest rooms, and one morning the husband came into the kitchen ashen faced. Concerned that something had made his stay unsatisfactory, Greg asked him if all was good. The man said he had been visited by what he could only describe as a spirit in the night. He had woken with a start to find a slight young girl with long hair standing over him. She leant over and brushed his face with her hand, then vanished as a bright light out of the little window and into the night. Neither husband nor wife had experienced anything like this before, and he was extremely shaken. There wasn’t much Greg could do but reassure him that no one else had ever mentioned anything like this. Greg asked me if Peter and I had experienced anything ghostly when we stayed in that room for a few nights. Of course, we hadn’t. And we soon forgot the incident…until after Elle had died.
About two weeks after she died, Greg asked what I thought about time in the afterlife. I said I didn’t think time existed as we know and experience it here on Earth. He asked if I thought it was possible that it had been Elle a moment after the accident and out of sync with linear time, returning to the room where she had left Swo Boda in bed asleep, to say goodbye or even to pass on strength to him. It is not a huge leap of faith for me to consider this as a likelihood. Elle and Swo Boda had spent their last restless and troubled night together in that room.
Today is Ella’s birthday—another bright star, and yet again a complex story in our firmament. But it is not a story for now. I am not the only person who has a bee tattoo marking the birth of Ella on my back.
Last night I awoke, as I do every night, to experience an electrical heat that starts at the base of my spine and spreads upwards, causing me to throw back my duvet. It lasts for some minutes, and I usually fall asleep again as it subsides. None of the doctors I have raised this with have any idea what it is, but it has been happening for about eight years now, and no, I do not believe that it is to do with the menopause.
Amongst the many books and leads we were given after Elle died was ‘A Grief Observed’ by CS Lewis. I found it interesting and different that he reacted with horror at what he suspected to be God’s hand in allowing his wife’s early death. How could his God do this to him? This was followed by intense guilt for feeling such anger, which then changes towards the end of the book into gratitude for being given the opportunity to experience the intense love he felt for his wife.
There is an assumption that those going through the grieving process tread a regular path, as clearly defined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book ‘On Death and Dying’. I first came across a documentary about her while living in Cape Town when Kate was about a year old. Her understanding of death, learnt through working with the terminally ill, changed the way I looked at life and death.
The commonly accepted path through grief is denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Although it is still early days for us (it will be six months at the end of February), I cannot say I recognise the emotions or the order. My experience so far is of having a shard of ice plunged into my heart, followed by a long agonised wail, numbness, processing of facts, an adjustment of where this leaves and leads me, the realisation that nothing will ever be the same again in our lives, and finally an acceptance of our new reality. To put this another way: pain off the scale, more pain, still more pain, and finally a painful scar which I guard zealously.
So far Peter, Greg and I haven’t felt sustained anger, and we have all remarked on this to each other. I do accept that this could change without warning but for now I only feel anger in short-lived bursts. For my part, I think it has to do with my personal spirituality. I have never felt that Elle’s death had anything to do with unkindness or punishment from the realm of spirits. I cannot know the whole story that I may even have co-written with other members of my family before this lifetime. But no matter what, I believe there is purpose in all that happens. I have found that in overview my life makes sense to me through the meanings that come bubbling up in my consciousness, and especially as a result of events that are not just coincidental, but can only be described according to Jung’s longer definition of synchronicity:
It is impossible, with our present resources, to explain ESP, or the fact of meaningful coincidence, as a phenomenon of energy. This makes an end of the causal explanation as well, for effect cannot be understood as anything except a phenomenon of energy. Therefore it cannot be a question of cause and effect, but of a falling together in time, a kind of simultaneity. Because of this quality of simultaneity, I have picked on the term ‘synchronicity’ to designate a hypothetical factor equal in rank to causality as a principle of explanation.
‘Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle’, by Carl Jung
A lot has been said about the West’s inability to come to terms with the inevitability of death or to be able to acknowledge it without embarrassment or fear. But today there seem to be many more books on death and grief. I am sure this is not just my skewed perception because I now fall into that category. Currently there is a lot of talk about a living will and the right to die at a time of one’s own choosing. I worry, though, that the pressure to change the law around assisted dying could lead to the elderly and terminally ill feeling a duty to ‘remove’ themselves before they become a burden to those they love, and to society. This concern is not helped by our bad track record of understanding the consequences of our big ideas. Death is a unique, singular and a deeply personal final moment in all our lives, and the sooner we see it as worthy of engagement the better it will be for all, and especially the dying. In our society it is almost as if dying is something of a failure. Nature itself is constantly showing us that birth and death are intricately connected in a co-dependent marriage of growth and great beauty, but it is certainly easier to live with if bolstered by a belief that consciousness lives on after the death of the brain.
This brings me to a memory I believe is relevant to today’s writing, and refers back to something I mentioned a little earlier when I had the opportunity to contemplate the possibility of my own death.
Straight after a flight to South Africa, and a cooling dip in a small pool, I contracted necrotising fasciitis, an extremely virulent and lethal bacterial infection if not treated properly. Worryingly, I hear of it more often these days. The dip pool was on a farm that belonged to my friend, Christina—she and Claudia have featured in so many life-changing and mind-altering moments in my life! I awoke in the night aware of a discomfort under my left breast. I felt it even more in the morning, and Christina and I both decided it must be a bite of some kind. On my return to Cape Town that day I collected my mother for a flight to Bloemfontein, where we were collected by my cousin. She was going to drive us back to visit my mom’s sister in Clarence. By then I was concerned it might be a poisonous spider bite. We called into A&E to see if antibiotics were needed. The doctor looked concerned, listened to my story, and prescribed antibiotics, but added that if there was no improvement I was to return.
My mom and I were excited to spend some time in the beautiful and artistic town of Clarence, Free State, with Aunt Stella, her husband and one of her daughters, Wendy. But a couple of days later I had not improved and was starting to feel really ill. At the nearest A&E, another worried-looking doctor recommended a different antibiotic and warned me to return if there was no improvement. A few days later, with my condition worsening, we returned to Cape Town and Claudia met us at the airport. We dropped my mom at her flat and then went straight to a doctor she knew.
The doctor we ended up seeing came from a well-known Knysna family and I had met his nephew before, which gave me confidence for some reason. Confounded by what he saw, he recommended a specialist. Before leaving, something prodded me to show him another site just below my panty line that was now looking inflamed. At this point he had an ‘aha’ moment and named the bacterium, and I saw Claudia´s face suddenly change. The black spot in the middle of the affected site was the giveaway. He sent me straight to hospital, phoned ahead so they were prepared, and within a couple of hours I was back on a ward with an antibiotic drip after surgery to clean out the infected area. It seems that a blocked sweat duct under my breast, which had been diagnosed benign years before, must have opened due to the lowered pressure on the overnight flight, and while cooling off in an unfiltered pool the bacterium had entered my body through this easy portal.
I spent three days in hospital receiving intravenous antibiotics, followed by a further week of heavy doses in tablet form. The first twenty-four hours were touch and go, and Peter and the children were due to arrive on day three. During my delirium that first day, I considered the possibility that I might die. Eventually I came to a peaceful acceptance, and I have never forgotten how that feels. Nevertheless, I was greatly relieved to be reunited with my family. I later learnt the reason for the concern on the doctors’ faces—they all suspected final-stage breast cancer.
I felt Elle’s presence so strongly yesterday, and several times our sensitive Zac, the mixed breed dog with the toothy smile and an amusing under-bite, began to tremble as he does when frightened by fireworks or thunder, though it was a sunny and still winter’s day. During the night, at one of my awakenings, I experienced a vibration throughout my body—a strange sensation with no apparent cause.
Today I have a short window for writing. I have been thinking about our girl Elle, who I wanted the whole world to know about in the days after her death. To those who knew her best she was extraordinary, mysterious, intelligent, creative, humble, serene, graceful, kind, tender, thoughtful and beautiful inside and out and now she is our angel. I instantly elevated her to angel status after her death and I am not shy to say this. It is my way of making what happened bearable. Nothing about her death made any sense. At her life celebration, the first words uttered to me by someone who knew her well were, ‘I think Elle came to lift the veil for those of us who believe.’ The person who said these words was Larah, who had spent a day and evening with Elle three days before she died. She is the co-owner of Ibiza Retreats where Elle spent a lot of her time working in her last year, and it was her son Elle regularly babysat.
While much of Elle’s time was spent in solitude and stillness, either studying, meditating, walking, drawing or writing, there was also a fun side to her that sometimes extended to the ‘edge’. She was not by nature an assertive person, but was not afraid to speak up at times, and respond with thoughts and ideas to people in ways they did not always expect to come from her.
These are some words from those who knew a different side of Elle—Elle, the friend and colleague. They have not been changed or edited.
Dear Mrs Jennifer Buckle,
I just heard the awful tragic news from a friend of mine, Rick S. I DJ’d for Ruby Lo and Ruby & Sequoia for 11 years and met Elle when she was in the Notting Hill bar restaurant.
Your daughter was one in a million and it doesn’t begin to even describe her. Whenever I saw her at work or outside of work she had a smile, warmth and demeanour that was uplifting and would in turn make my eyes light up too. Despite how she may have been feeling she always resolved to be positive.
My mother always told me not everyone’s smile or words are genuine or what they seem but with Elle I found her 100% genuine, and we would get into the most deep of conversations about life and the future, and places she really wanted to go to. The last time I saw her early January 2015 as I DJ’d from 9–2 am on my own at The Rum Kitchen and she stood next to me, we chatted between each record just like old times. ……
Jenny and Family
I know how difficult it is dealing with everyone asking you ‘what happened?’… Elle Buckle was so special to me, we were last in contact a month or so ago… Honestly, I’m fucking distraught… I can remember coming to your home in Winchester years ago when we both went to Stroud school. Elle was my first serious girlfriend and I remember meeting you all, even had a few lifts home in Father Buckle’s Jaguar… secretly jealous, wishing my family was as cool as yours. Elle was always a bit of a troublemaker just like me, and that’s one of the reasons we always had such a special connection… She had such an impact on my life, so much in common, such an amazing person, the first true love I felt… I can’t imagine what you guys are going through… I’ve been sat here in tears for so long… I don’t know what to say… She was a beautiful person inside and out and I would always have done anything for her… Last time I saw her… she stayed at my house just before she took her driving test in Basingstoke. Last time I spoke to her was about a month or so ago, she seemed so happy saying she was going to come visit me in Asia… sounded like she was enjoying her life to the full… doing what she wanted to do… I just can’t believe she is gone and I can’t say goodbye.
I spent a lot of time being very close with her when we were younger, and I can say to this day she had a profound impact on the person I have become and I will never forget her. She may not be here with us in person now but I truly believe her soul lives on inside all that were close to her and all the people’s lives she had an impact on.
Bless your soul Elle, I’m going to miss you!!
First of all I would like to say I’m so sorry for your loss, Elle was one of the most wonderful, honest, real, aware and beautiful woman I have ever had the good fortune to know. My name is Remi – we never met, but I knew Elle since going to Hurtwood house with her and since then me and Elle had remained good friends. Whilst I was at uni, I went through a tough time and your daughter was there for me and I really valued her friendship. After uni, I travelled and she moved to Ibiza, but anytime I was back in London and she was back in town for the holidays or a couple of days, we would go for a feast and a drink, and I have very fond memories of eating bruschetta from pizza express with her and then being made to see the awful movie Burlesque. I also made her watch the movie Groundhogs Day for the first time and I can tell you that she did not care for it. She was such a smart cookie and very warm person and I will miss her very much. I can only imagine how you and the rest of your family are feeling, as my heart hurts as I type this and I have been crying all morning. She really was a special lady, and you should feel very proud to have raised such a wonderful person. I have no idea how really to express my sadness or sympathy for you, as I feel typed words don’t do her justice. I hope you, and your family, are able to celebrate her life and manage to get through this tough time.
If you don’t mind me asking, what happened to her?
I’m currently living in America, so am unable to make it out to Ibiza, but I hope one day to get to meet you and share with you my fond memories of your daughter.
My deepest deepest condolences,
PS Elle was magical! As I said to Katie, wise beyond her years with a gentle nature and cheeky smile. I feel incredibly privileged to have known her. A beautiful soul has left our world and we are the worse for it…
From one of her closest friends and someone who was a mentor to Elle:
I would really love to honour the great works she produced, and I know she would be so proud to be recognised and remembered for it. Elle had a very unique sensibility and artist way, I believed very much in her talent…
I am Eloïse, a friend of Elle. I came to your house once to drop her after she was coming back from London and we met at Greg’s while you were painting in your studio. I am very sorry that Elle is gone so tragically and I can’t even fathom the suffering you are going through. As a friend of her I am feeling deeply wounded by her loss and I don’t understand how this happened. We talked together on the 15th and she said how happy she was and enjoyed a nice summer. I can’t imagine her being gone today so tragically and I still picture her coming with a story to share or talking about her art.
She is an angel and now God has taken her away to be among the other Angels so she can shine upon all of us and especially to you and all of your family.
Elle taught me a lot and I will make sure to honour her memory so that she can stay alive but she will always be in my heart. She was very artistic and she was always lovely to all who crossed her path. She always had a nice word to say and she always made sure she wouldn’t hurt anyone. I was supposed to travel to Morocco this week and so when I go I will dedicate my trip to her. She said she wanted to go there soon.
Today I am flying to Ibiza and I am very happy to be able to attend the memorial you have organized for her, so we can remember the good memories and wish her soul a beautiful journey in the other realm…
Yesterday I again wondered how I would be able to keep writing to my target date. This morning I had a realisation. I am going to write all and any of my stories that come to mind.
There are a few more emails I want to share with you, and although many of them say the same thing, that is interesting in itself, because none of these friends knew each other.
Dear Mrs Buckle,
I am so sorry about Elle. We were together at Stroud school and friends from then on.
I wanted to share with you one of my favourite memories of fun times with Elle.
At Stroud we used to be taken to a golf club sometimes in the afternoons. Everyone else seemed to get the hang of golf, but Elle and I struggled to hit the ball. ‘Why is the ball so small?!’ Elle would yell out! She always made light of the situation, especially when I was getting frustrated. Eventually everyone else in our class was invited to go round the golf course. Elle and I were given the option of just staying on the driving range and keep on trying to hit the ball. We stayed together laughing and chatting. Elle always seemed so relaxed to me, quietly relaxed within herself. That calm confidence was something I remember well from loads of situations with Elle. She seemed to notice situations where I was feeling less confident and would make the situation funny or make me laugh and relax with her.
She was such a kind girl. She lent me a beautiful red dress for my Year 11 prom because she knew I didn’t have one. She was also so generous with her time, always being available to her friends and never shutting anyone out – so welcoming and inclusive.
I will be thinking of Elle on Sunday night, sending my thoughts and love to her and everyone she touched.
With much love,
Jennifer & family,
I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve lost Ellie.
I went to Embley Park School with Ellie. She was in the year above me, but we boarded together. To say I was close with Ellie would be generous, but when I started the school at 13, I always remember Ellie being kind and helping me settle in. She was in the same year as my brother, Ben, and our mutual friendships led to her meeting our eldest brother Kyle, whom she ‘dated’ for a while. Ellie was Kyle’s first love, and we all equally fell in love with her as a result.
She was equal parts funny, beautiful and mysterious, and following the news that she’s no longer with us, makes me so feel so sad that I didn’t continue to know her into our adulthood.
I can’t begin to imagine your sorrow. I hope that you’re able to find some comfort in how fondly we all remember her.
Wishing you and your family love, light and peace
I’m sending LOVE to you Jennifer and to all the family
I’ve arrived in Ibiza today to attend Elle’s Memorial. I’m incredibly sorry of her passing – my condolences to you and your family, I can’t even imagine how you feel. I went to school with Elle at Hurtwood House and was fortunate to stay in contact with after… she was pretty much the only one. This is because she was special… a giggle to make you heart turn to butter and a happiness that booms out. I hope to meet you this evening.
I’m not very familiar with Ibiza as I just arrived from Mallorca. Where in Atzaro is everyone planning to meet? Sorry to message you so close to the time, pestering you with details.
Sweet, beautiful Elle. Love this picture of Elle with her infectious smile and sparkling eyes looking a complete innocent yet a little naughty at the same time. She will always be adored. Essence of Elle is everyone’s number one choice in fragrance. She permeates the air, your gorgeous girl.
Xxx The Blakes
I’ve tried to put some words together. It’s hard to sum Elle up in a couple of sentences so hope you can take something from the below:
Elle without fail always bought a smile to my face. She was one of my best friends, like a sister I never had. I will never forget her free spirit and love of life. We shared some amazing memories together and she taught me a lot. She taught me that you have to do whatever makes you happy and there’s more to life than the 9–5. Elle was beautiful, inside and out, and everyone that met her could tell in the first few moments she was special. When I was around her she brought out the best in me and I’ll never forget the times we shared together. An angel has found her wings.
‘Goodbyes are not forever, are not the end, it simply means I’ll miss you until we meet again.’
I am feeling sore after rereading all these emails. They say so much more than I ever could about the girl she was.
Elle was about 5’5” tall. Many people told me that Uma Thurman and Gabrielle Anwar reminded them of Elle, and it may be something about the eyes. Elle’s eyes drew you in. If you were in conversation with her, her eyes always let you know that you had her complete attention. Her hair was neither blonde nor brown, and as a child it was a golden colour. Her body responded well to the sun—the sun never burnt her but she always had a light tan. Her face was lovely without makeup, and when she chose to apply it lightly it served to highlight her beauty. In the last few years she rarely wore makeup, but for her sister’s wedding she went all the way. She and her sister looked soft, beautiful and dreamy on the day. She remained slight of figure but with soft curves. I loved watching her hands whatever she was doing. Her Aunt Marion often commented on the softness of her skin.
She started suffering bouts of psoriasis around puberty, and spent a lot of her later life trying to get to know the condition better, and keep it under control. Not long after moving to the island in 2011 she suffered a full body breakout. While it became a lifelong battle, she never let it interfere or get her down so that she became a victim of the condition. But it was never far from her daily routine, whether she was applying creams, another recommended treatment, or a dietary change that might hold it back.
Elle was one of those girls who could put on the oldest of clothes and still look good. While she cared about, and definitely had her own style, she was never a slave to fashion. She hated to be conspicuous, whether due to being overdressed or unrepresentative of who she was. She didn’t like anything that cost too much, and shopping was a mix of fun and discomfort. She sometimes asked me to come with her when she needed to buy a few things because she would often lose her nerve and head home. Her idea of something exciting to wear was being given or lent clothes from her sister or friends. I think she was always more comfortable in someone else’s clothes— perhaps this was another way to escape herself. But it also wasn’t a problem to hand them back at the end of a loan, although she sometimes had to be reminded! It was hard for her to understand that people valued anything material, and her sister had to teach her that no matter how she felt about possessions, she should respect that sometimes other people felt differently, and shouldn’t judge them for this either. Kate’s words must have got through to her eventually, because she became one of the least judgemental people I have known.
I have no memories of Elle ever being acquisitive or coveting what others had. She may have envied some for their peace of mind, and the appearance that things were going easily for them, but that was all. She had one strange foible though, and I cannot say at what age it became apparent, but was certainly there from about the age of thirteen. She had a tendency to self-sabotage her appearance. I can see that if your self-esteem is low, it is more comfortable to fail if you are the one throwing the spanner into the works. This way you are the one putting yourself out there, and therefore preventing others from having the power to judge you as a failure, or maybe it tied in with her youthful aversion to being physically conspicuous.
As she grew older she found a way to manage this tendency, and when required, such as her sister’s registry wedding and the wedding celebration on the island, she dressed beautifully for both, but not in the clothes she purchased for the occasions—she opted for borrowed outfits from her sister’s wardrobe!
It may seem like I knew my daughter well, and I have certainly enjoyed writing about her, but most of this I have processed since she died. I can’t help feeling that we mothers would do better by our children by spending less time reacting to what they say, how they look and what they do, and spend more time appreciating them for what they are.
We have been feeling bereft the last few days. It still feels so unacceptable and surreal that Elle is not coming home.
My current ever-so-tender feelings were sorely tested yesterday by a baby-blessing ceremony at the retreat centre belonging to the mother-to-be, Larah. Larah and her partner Susie have been running Ibiza Retreats for a number of years. To say that I was very aware of Elle during the ceremony would be an understatement! Most of the people present knew her, and almost all were of childbearing age, while I was the resident ‘granny’, and the only one who had suffered the death of a child, that I knew of. The juxtaposition of a heavily pregnant woman, a mother with a tiny baby, all the other young women plus me, felt a bit like the full circle of life. I could picture Elle moving around the centre, helping out with this and facilitating that. I did not want to deflect attention away from the purpose of the circle, and managed to hold in my bubbling emotions. Afterwards a few people come up to tell me stories of Elle’s time there. There is no doubt that she made a lasting impression on all who knew her. As we approach the six-month mark at the end of February, the thought of Elle being lost to the mists of time is too painful as other people get on with their lives.
It was a beautiful ceremony to welcome the new life, and to give our support to the mother-to-be. I am more used to conventional baby showers, and what appealed to me about this ceremony was that we all made a gift together rather than wondering what to buy for the baby, which may never be used or remembered. I am sure that one day Larah will tell her little girl about the day we women got together to welcome her into our world, and to give her mom encouragement for the coming years of her life. A beautiful life-affirming ritual, albeit with the presence, too, of the flipside!
Today is so beautiful and it feels like spring has sprung, but this is a bit premature. We are lucky to have days like this in the midst of winter.
We took our dogs for a walk on this perfect sunny day into what we now call Elle’s Forest. Peter and I are both feeling a deep longing for our girl. It is sometimes hard to think about anything or anyone else. I talked to Peter about something I think about so much. I know that she is dead, but the reality of this fact feels fictitious. It is a conflict between the head and the heart. I also know that the pain of the longing will never leave the four of us, Peter, Kate, Greg and me. But I do see the possibility that with time—our so-called friend—the unreality of her death may slowly and quietly fade into understanding, or experience, and finally convert into reality.
I am sitting at the airport waiting to board a plane to London, excited to see Kate and Isaac.
I am writing from my seat on the flight. I want to write about a particular aspect of my time in my heightened state, which began around day three and lasted six weeks. The unexpected moments of happiness and joy I experienced during this period were not at all what I expected.
Earlier today I was reading in our local bilingual newspaper, ‘Ibiza Optimista’, about research at the University of Utrecht concerning the pheromones we secrete when we are happy, and whether these can affect those around us. We are all familiar with sayings like ‘spread the joy’ and ‘happiness is contagious’, and so far this research is looking promising.
I don’t find it at all odd that people can sense the pheromones of others. This is purely physical and has nothing to do with telepathy. We already know that many mammals pass information this way, particularly fear. We are often advised that animals smell our fear, so it is equally likely that they—and we—can detect or smell happiness or sorrow. Why should these equally strong emotions be any different?
Some friends and family members remarked, as they departed after the celebration of Elle’s life, that they had felt trepidation about joining us but that their time with us had truly been an experience of love and an affirmation of life. These were the most comforting and inspirational words anybody could have said at that time.
At the time, Kate was troubled by my unusual state of mind. I had explained to her that I was in some kind of heightened state and that it felt right. But she couldn’t understand how I could be feeling elevated in the wake of our family disaster. It left her feeling even more isolated and somewhat confused. We had many intimate moments where I shared with her what I was going through, and bless her, she didn’t judge me for it or think I was crazy, but was sad not to be able to go there with me.
It certainly was not indulgence or selfishness on my part because I had no control over the state in which I found myself. It felt like a miraculous gift, and I liked to think it had come directly from Elle. A few weeks later I was sitting in my ‘phone box’ at the rented villa where we were all staying, and I thanked Elle for taking me to this place of protection, comfort and occasional joy. I also told her that I accepted that it was not sustainable. The next morning, sitting in the same place, I was struck by a powerful thought that again seemed to come from her: ‘You are doing this for yourself’. I had not for a moment thought I could do this for myself. But as I explain more of what I experienced during those six weeks, it will become clear that hormonal elation caused by grief cannot explain all of what I experienced.
Peter was a great comfort to me throughout what could have been a worrying and confusing time for him as he attempted to contain his own grief. I would have struggled if he had doubted me. Many times I asked him if my feet were on the ground. But when I eventually came down, which happened over a few days, I hit the ground hard. The pain became unbearable, and I couldn’t stop asking myself how I could have prevented Elle’s death, and why I wasn’t there when she needed me. Why didn’t I get on a plane straightaway? The day after our return, when we went to the house where Elle had lived with her housemates, I told Peter, Greg, Claudia and the girls that while I didn’t blame myself for Elle’s death, I would never forgive myself for not returning straightaway to be with her during her troubled times. With time I have come to be less harsh on myself, but I doubt this regret will ever leave me.
Today is tough. Last night Kate read some of her latest ‘Elle’ writings to me, and the tears flowed as my heart broke for her all over again. I read somewhere yesterday that love doesn’t hurt. But this is one time when it certainly does. I am finding it harder than I imagined to be here in Kate’s home, the last place I saw Elle alive. I just don’t have anything to say today. Anything and everything gets the tears flowing, and I am trying not to let my pain overwhelm Kate. She needs a lot more time to slowly process her grief. But the bittersweet joy of seeing Kate and playing with little Isaac is giving some purpose to my day.
Before coming over I made a doctor’s appointment for a check-up. After all we’ve been through, it makes sense. When I left the doctor’s surgery just before lunch today, I was surprised to find my step a little lighter, even though my usual stress indictors are still present: deep sighs and sharp exhalations of breath. I must sound like a steam train puffing up a hill, or perhaps I am trying to expunge something from my life. But every so often the fire goes out, and then I struggle to see the light. In these dark moments though, kindness often intervenes and something uplifting pops up. I am always grateful for these cosmic interventions!
On the wall directly opposite my seat on the platform in the London Underground was the poem, ‘Funeral Blues’ by WH Auden.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song,
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
Sadly we often only realise when a person close to us dies, just how deep that love goes, and what their loss truly means. I have mentioned before that I’ve spent a lifetime trying to understand what love really is. Sometimes the girls would remark that I seem to be everyone’s mom, or that I sometimes side with others when we are having a difference of opinion. Shouldn’t I be putting them first? I couldn’t be the parent who worshipped my loved ones because they were family, or supported them even though I disagreed with their actions. I don’t think Kate and Elle as adults would now want me to be any other way. I have reached an understanding about the purpose of life that fulfils my needs. We come into our bodies each lifetime in order to grow our souls upwards and outwards. It is within the family construct that a number of individual souls, who have helped each other in previous lifetimes and in different configurations, come together with the ‘soul’ purpose of getting their personal growth done, and to also help others with their plans, so that when we leave our body, our soul has an opportunity to leave in a better state than when it left last time. Friends are our support system, when all seems too lonely or difficult within the family, in order to get the work done. But family is our primary space of learning about emotions and right thinking, and where we get to practice and learn about the most important of all emotions—love.
Elle, by virtue of her death, is now my North, my South, my East and West, my moral compass, and it is hard to live without her song in my life. In time I know that Kate and her family will take their rightful place in the centre of my life again.
It has been an up-and-down day, but I am happy to be babysitting tonight so Kate and Alex can go out for a much-needed dinner date.
Today Kate, Isaac and I met with Elle’s friend, Freddie. Freddie and Elle shared a house with a few other girls during the year Elle attended Goldsmiths University in east London. They soon became good friends, and over the years a deep bond of love grew between them. Although I rarely saw them together, I could tell how much they meant to each other by the way Elle spoke of her. Freddie finds it hard to accept that Elle is no longer here. Elle was going to be the maid-of-honour at her wedding, and it meant everything to Elle to have been asked. She would have done something really special for her friend, as she did for her sister’s hen night.
Last night we had the ‘Here for Elle’ group over for supper. It always lifts me up to spend time with Elle’s friends. We are lucky they enjoy spending time with us, and we look forward to catching glimpses of where life takes them going forward.
My writing has felt particularly lacklustre the past couple of days. I want to keep my promise to myself—to write every day—but I have been shutting myself off from life lately, which is probably not helping to keep my spirits up. I need to turn myself through a hundred and eighty degrees and see what the view looks like in that direction. It has to be better.
The book ‘Simplicity Parenting’ by Kim John Payne was brought to my notice this morning. It really helps to clarify and order my thoughts when I find a book I feel intuitively is on the right track. He writes that ‘normal personality quirks combined with the stress of ‘too much’ can propel children into the realm of disorder. A child who is systematic may be pushed into obsessive behaviours. A dreamy child may lose the ability to focus.’ My gut tells me that this is a truth.
I have always had confidence in what my gut tells me, but it isn’t what instils confidence in others when someone asks, ‘How do you know that?’ I have now found the perfect comeback line, and no one can question my source, Alfred Einstein:
“At times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason. When the eclipse of 1919 confirmed my intuition, I was not in the least surprised. In fact, I would have been astonished had it turned out otherwise. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.”
Many poets, artists and composers say their work comes to them in ways they don’t fully understand, and some say their inspiration flows from the collective consciousness or even a divine source.
Elle was someone who worked primarily with and through her intuition. She had no interest in knowing who was Prime Minister of Britain or how laws were made. Nor was she interested in the latest digital innovation or technical skills, except when she saw a purpose to it. She struggled to learn foreign languages, and seemed to learn in a very different way to most people. It is interesting when one puts this in the context of her IQ. When she was thirteen, and had moved on to Embley Park High School, Peter and I asked her house teacher for some advice at our first meeting. We said we didn’t think Elle was average in ability, given her ability to play bridge well from about the age of nine, but the fact that often examination marks fluctuated from near the top to near the bottom of the percentage range, it made us wonder if we were deluding ourselves and inadvertently caused us to put pressure on her. He said that while it was not policy to divulge IQ scores to parents, he wanted us to know that it was 137—it is how Peter remembers it because he remarked that it was 2 points above his. He told us she scored extremely high on the non-verbal elements, and well above average on the verbal. As her self-confidence was on the low side, we felt it would be good to share this with her. It did seem to give her a level of peace of mind and somewhat compensate for the difficulties she faced with her schoolwork and the names some classmates over the years had called her. At this point we had not yet learnt of her visual dyslexia problem. More recently, when studying psychology and philosophy at the Open University, she achieved high marks for her papers, but never took pride in this. We usually found out by accident or through a bit of prodding. Part of what I loved so much about her!
Since she died, I have spent many moments trying to catch glimpses of what was going on in her head. Reading through her notebooks, it seems her mind was seldom peaceful. I can’t help wondering if it was full of telepathic communication. She said once that she was psychic. I wish I had enquired about how this affected her. Her interpersonal skills have been remarked on by most people who wrote to us, and many wrote about their rich ongoing conversations with her around observations on life and spirituality. And many of all different age groups remarked on her power to make people feel better about themselves.
A busy day today. Kate and Alex are completing on their new home here in London tomorrow. I haven’t had much time to think about writing or even about Elle. I will spend some time with her in the stillness of tonight, as I often do when I switch off the light.
As the evening drifted from twilight into darkness, I heard the same owl call that we regularly hear at home in Ibiza. I have always loved birds, and I like to imagine that souls from another dimension can merge with their spirits when they want to be close to us. This is not such a strange thought, as there are many tales of birds making their presence felt around the dying and newly departed. It is thought that because they tune in to directional electromagnetic radiation it is easier for spirits to momentarily engage them for their own purposes, or more likely, to get messages through to us in this thick soup that is our atmosphere here on earth. I remember fondly my dear pigeon who took a nap on the kitchen windowsill while I cooked our dinner!
I just asked Google why birds are associated with death, and up popped a link to ‘Myths and Legends, Birds in Mythology’. The first few lines read: ‘Rising above the earth and soaring through the skies, birds have been symbols of power and freedom throughout the ages. In many myths and legends, birds link the human world to the divine or supernatural realms that lie beyond ordinary experience.’
Kate and I have had another busy day, and all has gone well. This evening we found ourselves in the midst of an episode of ‘Broadchurch’ where an eleven-year-old boy is murdered. The parents’ heartbreak and disbelief made us cling tightly to one another. We remarked that before Elle’s death, while programmes or movies around this subject were extremely sad, it was always happening ‘elsewhere’. Now the pain we feel is so much more acute.
We have also often remarked on how strongly we identify with butterflies now. It is as if they have some kind of spiritual connection, and some even go on migratory journeys across continents much like birds. After Elle died, butterflies kept coming our way on cards, in the air around us, and even on my new shower curtain. They seemed to be everywhere. A few days ago I found a florist selling beautiful clip-on paper butterflies for bouquets and bought lots for Kate and me. Kate has them settled all over their rubber tree houseplant, and ours are on a lampshade. I intend to get a blue butterfly tattoo soon to accompany my bee tattoo.
All this talk of butterflies set off a ‘playback’ from my last year at junior school around the time I would have turned thirteen, a moment I have recalled a few times before, but never known why as it certainly didn’t seem significant. I spent the first seven years of my life in a small girls’ school called Greenfields, and those days were amongst some of my happiest times as a child.
It still seems odd to me that all those years ago our ageing spinster headmistress decided to make classical Greek dancing compulsory for the older girls. It was ‘Isadora Duncan’ in style, and I remember we used the art room for these classes. There were only a few steps to learn, and mostly we skipped up and down the floor, waving our arms elegantly, a bit like butterfly wings and birds in flight. I had taken ballet classes since the age of six, so it came naturally to me. As usual, I was quite good but not the best, and so I was usually the second lead dancer. The number one Greek fairy in our class was the most beautiful, accomplished-at-everything, girl with long blond hair, aptly named Alice. Alice Krige got the lead role in all school productions, seemed to come top in every subject, and sang like an angel. She went on to have a successful stage and screen career, both in the US and in the UK. Towards the end of my last year at the school, with puberty on the horizon, Alice invited me down to the willow tree at the bottom of the school grounds. We weren’t best friends, which makes the invite more mysterious to me, and said she wanted me to experience the fairies that lived there. I was sceptical but flattered to be let into the secret that fairies always masquerade as butterflies in the presence of humans. I recollect that we skipped under and through the drooping tendril-like branches of the willow tree, hoping to attract the fairy butterflies, but I don’t remember whether we saw any.
I did finally get a lead role, well, in my eyes at least. Our class put on a fashion show of costumes through the ages for our school-leavers ceremony at the end of the year. We used crinkle paper to make our costumes, and I was chosen to represent Miss 1966, the year of our graduation. I was now ready to go on and conquer this new world of op art, Twiggy and the bob hairstyle! Arlene Katz on the left was behind the mike.