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.
July is the seventh month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian Calendar and the fourth of seven months to have a length of 31 days. It was named by the Roman Senate in honour of Roman general, Julius Caesar, it being the month of his birth. Prior to that, it was called Quintilis being the fifth month of the 10-month calendar. I sure am glad that it is still not called that!
Peter and I went out onto our balcony for a moment. It is such a beautiful evening after the humid heat of the day. I find the fleeting beauty and slight chill of dawn and dusk intriguing and evocative. Sunrises and sunsets provide me with endless inspiration. Not surprising then that they are responsible for more poetry and paintings than any other earthly time marker of our days. I tend to see the sunset more often than the sunrise. That moment when the sun visibly drops below the horizon, one sees time for the energy force it is as the earth spins on its axis. Who amongst us has not held the hope that tomorrow will be a better day?
I have spent so much time over the past year trying to understand why Elle lost her grip on reality. She had been through tougher times emotionally and mentally, and still managed to stay with us in the here and now. Perhaps the answer lies in the opening of her heart to love, and not being able to find a way to reach out to someone about the deep anxiety and confusion this brought on. I know a few of the people who spoke to her during the last few days, and who tried to open up this conversation. But she didn’t seem to want to talk about it or really anything else either. She told me only once or twice in the last two or three years of her life that she was lonely without a partner to love. She also shared with me that she was struggling to open her heart to love. It was when she told me this that I understood how real a problem this was for her, not a little notional issue that was causing her minor problems. Once or twice in her last year, she said she felt she was getting closer to being able to meet this challenge. There were quite a few young men showing interest in her, but she found it hard to respond naturally to their attention. She told me it made her anxious, and if she felt something back, it made her shaky and feel the need to quickly turn her back on the situation. I could only hope that she would grow and develop out of this difficult place she was in at the time. But what would I say today? Perhaps I would have been a better listener today instead of always trying to think of something to say that would ‘fix’ her. This is a hard one to learn.
It has been a good start to this day of our 36th wedding anniversary! Our wedding day was also a day of white, but not altogether traditional. No wedding dress—it just wouldn’t be me—but rather a white suit and a blouse of white dots on a yellow background, made to measure in the city of great tailors. I also tracked down a cobbler to make a pair of white and yellow shoes with a matching handbag. Peter and I had only been in Hong Kong for six months, and we made a decision not to send out invites far and wide. Few would have been able to cover the expense of joining us on the other side of the world for a wedding day and we only wanted a small wedding. Peter’s mother joined us, along with his sister and her boyfriend Rick, who had been a university friend of Peter’s, and later became her husband. The rest of our guests were people we had met since arriving in Hong Kong, and many are still good friends today.
I had not thought about flowers but my mom did, and she set about making a corsage of frangipani flowers from the tree outside our bedroom window. She made one for Peter too, and I think also for her and Tinker. It perfectly complemented my outfit, being white with yellow at the centre, and the scent was heavenly. Our vows took place in the chapel of Hong Kong’s cathedral, where I had arranged for chairs to be placed in the front of the chapel. Peter and I sat on them as we waited for the ceremony to start. Walking out of the church together was one thing, but walking up the aisle was not for me. If my dad had been able to join us I don’t think I would have denied him that father’s privilege, but I was happy to do it my way. My dad did a beautiful thing in letting my mom be the one to come over. They couldn’t both leave their business, and I think money was also tight. My dad and I had always been very close, and I know that staying away would have been very hard for him. My mom and I had an uneasy relationship through my childhood and teens, but now that I was my own person a new freedom came into our relationship. I was beginning to see her as a woman, or even a girl like me, and we had fun and discovered each other’s sense of humour. I have wondered if the problem in our initial relationship was that I didn’t seem to need a mother and that she felt rejected by me. Who knows why we are as we are?
The ceremony was followed by a cheese and wine party at a family friend’s apartment on the The Peak, looking down on Hong Kong Central. We have always viewed the tropical downpour as we set off for the church as a blessing, and as an indicator that the Chinese gods were happy for us! The day after the wedding a friend took us out on his company’s Junk boat for the day and following that we all went on honeymoon to Macau. This time spent with my mom on her own was pivotal in creating a close and lasting relationship between us.
Earlier today I received an email from Sapphy’s mom Melanie, who now lives in Canada. We have exchanged a few emails through our involvement with the breath work courses Sapphy completed in Bali. We seem to be on the same spiritual wavelength. She was keen to make contact with me because something had come through to her from Elle. This morning she said she had received another message from Elle who told her that she is very happy, her work is keeping her busy, her work here was complete, and she needed to return. Some may think this is, if not wholly batty, me needing to believe that Elle is out there somewhere and not just diminished to dust, but if this was true I would be seeking out mediums to prop me up on a regular basis, and I never do. They seem to find me, and I know when someone is trying to ‘feed’ off me. It is not something I need to hear and nor does it occupy the forefront of my mind. I can feel she is out there somewhere—always have— and plus, I have had visions of my own. I look forward to meeting Melanie this winter in Ibiza.
Hello there, little darling
It’s been a while
Since this world has seen your smile
Little Darlin’, Tom Odell
Last night was a beautiful evening and we were out celebrating our wedding anniversary with Greg. As often happens, Elle’s name came up and, as always, Greg’s eyes filled with tears. The trauma of the event still lies very near the surface for him, and always will because they had a special bond. While his life is better, and he is experiencing a sustained happiness like at no other time in his life, there will always be this bittersweet reverse side to his happiness—nobody escapes coming to terms with the harshness of duality which is the predominant human paradigm. I can see how nonduality is the next level up.
I leave early tomorrow morning for three days in Amsterdam. I am meeting Christina, and I am excited to meet for the first time her three grandchildren and one honorary grandchild. This is a visit I was due to make a couple of weeks after Elle died. Instead, Christina came to us. I don’t intend writing while I’m there, but will definitely take note of anything interesting that pops up.
Over lunch today Peter and I were living and walking our talking, if that makes sense. We were talking about how feeling free to talk about Elle whenever either of us wants to has helped relieve our stress and thereby stopping grief from building up behind the flood gates. It is an outlet or release Kate doesn’t have in the same way as us because she’s not physically sharing the loss directly with a blood relative. She will often avoid talking to Alex and her friends and has also chosen to avoid dealing with many of the details of what happened. Seeing Alex’s pain at witnessing her pain is more than she feels able to deal with. I also know she doesn’t want to burden others by constantly wearing her grief on her sleeve. Equally, I can see how her friends feel that they don’t want to bring Kate into a place of pain when it seems to them that she is doing well by moving on from her grief. Once a week she sees a therapist, but that is therapy, and while I know it’s necessary and helpful, it’s still ‘observed talking’. Peter and I have an equally shared interest in our loss, are able to talk about it as often as we like, and whenever one or both of us needs to. We are fortunate in this way and at the same time it helps us to be patient that Kate will need more time.
Having returned from Amsterdam with lots of thoughts and some notes, I asked Peter to give me some time alone at home this morning to get my thoughts down on paper. He had some things to do and wanted me to join him for lunch, but he understood my need and took our houseguest with him instead.
Thirty-six hours into my three days with Christina, my compatriot of many years, and after some great conversations, explorations and reconnections, I found myself slipping down into that familiar black hole. It was disappointing for both of us, but we found a way through it. I am reminded of my dream of the black hole, and how I now know it only goes a turf’s depth below the surface, and there, sitting on an earthen shelf just a few feet down, is my ‘love’ in the form of Kito. I no longer fear my perceived detachment from love. I do love all right—it just doesn’t look or feel like I expected it to. While I have been writing and taking the odd cigarette break, those thoughts and connections keep taking shape in my mind, and what I am slowly learning is that I am no longer as scared of those dark moments as I was before—they yield benefits in their own unique ways and they pass in their own good time.
It will no doubt take time to untangle all the threads of the experiences and conversations that passed between us and to elicit as much meaning as I can from them. I talked to Christina about some of my recent writings, and happened to mention that there wasn’t a lot of iconography around ladders. She reminded me of Jacob’s dream in which he saw a ladder with angels ascending and descending. I have just looked up this event, and I smile a little smile as I imagine them heading up and down the ladder, making way for each other, perhaps even stopping briefly to exchange pleasantries, as they turn up for work, or return to headquarters for a debriefing! It reminds me of one of my own semi-lucid moments when a phrase kept going around in my mind until I took notice of it, and on this occasion the phrase was: you cannot bypass headquarters. Peter and I had a laugh about it because it was not only incomprehensible, but such weird phrasing too. What I take away from it, though, is that there is no easy way around the obstacles we are meant to deal with in this lifetime. Perhaps Jacob’s dream tells us that these ladder-like portals are everywhere, and constantly active.
I am also reminded of my recurring dreams of tidal waves, and my urgency to find a ladder to reach higher ground. They occupied the first decade of my adult years. In another dream I feared that Danger was coming to get me in my home. I knew it was approaching an open window on the first floor, and because I was frozen with fear I couldn’t close it in time. A ladder appeared above the windowsill, adding to the atmosphere of fear and dread. But the person entering turned out to be a female policeman, and the first thing I noticed was that she was carrying a fishing rod! It is strange that I remember it so clearly although I had no idea what it signified. It was from a time when Christina and I were regularly sharing our dreams and their interpretations with each other. What do I see in it now? What’s outside—the unknown—is never as fearful as we expect it to be. And what of the fishing rod? Perhaps a portent of my future—I am certainly doing a lot of ‘fishing’ at the moment—it must be a good idea to cast your line out to sea and wait to see what emerges from below the surface as we draw in our lines. Just a thought!
Another interesting fact about ladders has come to light, and light is the optimal word here. There are San rock art paintings in the Kalahari, and similar images of much the same age are found elsewhere in the world, and they were painted around twenty to forty thousand years ago. Some feature ladders with people hanging off them. They have been described as ladders or streams of light. Many experts these days think that it is more than likely that the cave paintings were not an attempt to bring about a successful hunt, or simply an early form of artistic expression, but a record of the work of shamans explaining or confirming their experiences of journeys made while under a trance. It is thought they may be a depiction of the shamans’ journeys to conjoin with the ‘sky gods’.
Responding to something I said about religions and proselytising, Christina said that Buddhists do fish, but with straight hooks. One of the best laughs I have had in years.
In another dream, around the same time, I was walking down a busy main street, and all the lampposts were giant fishing rods. I was chatting with some friends as we walked along the pavement when out of the tips of all these giant rods came magnificent fireworks. I assumed at the time that they had to do with my emerging sexuality. But now, reviewing that dream, I can’t help returning from my fishing trip with the gold nugget, ‘go fishing for the light’. I remember many dreams from my deep past, both visually and in content. Finally, after forty-five years I am yielding a catch!
Another interesting thing that happened in Amsterdam opened up a new way of looking at those little habitual ways of behaviour that we think nothing of. Christina feared that we’d forgotten to tap our travel cards when we got off a tram, and said she always panics when she thinks she’s done or said something wrong. I recognised immediately that this is true of her. It got me thinking about what causes panic in me. It didn’t take long for me to recognise where mine lay. Peter’s modus operandi, the ‘two-minute-rule’, is how he deals with the panic that rises in me as soon as I can’t find something important like my keys, passport or glasses. Nine times out of ten it is within two minutes that I find what I’m looking for! And it happened within moments of arriving home from Amsterdam, when I reached for my glasses case in my handbag and found it empty. I immediately assumed I’d carelessly forgotten them in Amsterdam and sent a message straight off to Christina, only to find them on a table where I’d put them moments earlier. Either it is simply that I panic because of being told I was careless as a child and now believe it to be true, or it functions as a road sign or billboard even to point me to an area that I need to work on in this lifetime. I will and I am.
I am back in a cavernous black hole. I am not interested in a future. I struggle to feel any emotion, even towards my nearest and dearest, and I am not interested in anything happening around me. These are classic signs of a deep depression. But even though I recognise that these feelings and experiences may represent depression, I also know that tomorrow I could wake up feeling anything from fine to happy. That is why I also know that this is not depression I feel—just an overwhelming sorrow. I understand that depression is a very real place for some people, but it is still, in its accurate psychological diagnosis, quite rare. It is so often incorrectly diagnosed when really it is more the manifestation of a deep disappointment in something, someone or oneself, or a great sorrow like grief. There may even be a confluence of factors leading to a serious depression. I can understand that it is easier for a doctor to prescribe antidepressants than to try to find the underlying causes, and tablets may be helpful in the short term, but not as a long-term answer. Once again, our medical profession treats the symptoms rather than searching for the cause. It amounts to sticking a plaster over the wound rather than helping the person to engage with what is sucking away their life force.
We have had friends staying with us since Monday. One guest left today and two more have arrived, so I don’t have much time or space to settle in to writing.
I have been getting a real buzz from my recent ‘investigations’—allowing road signs/synchronicity to take me by the hand and lead me down all sorts of rabbit holes. Much better than black holes! Yesterday I managed to squeeze in a few Ted Talks, lectures and interviews on YouTube, and was fascinated to hear of the number of eminent scientists, past and present who, after a lifetime of intense study, have come to conclusions not dissimilar to those of the mystics, yogis, gurus and masters. A few quotes in particular caught my attention.
Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.
Love it—heavy self-analysis required if we are going to have any luck engaging with the mysteries of nature!
I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.
If we don’t engage with our own consciousness, and appreciate the role of the collective consciousness in what happens socially in our world, and the consciousness that is present in every corner of the universe, we have absolutely no chance of ‘mattering’—we may as well have not turned up.
As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clearheaded science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about the atoms this much: There is no matter as such! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Spirit. This Spirit is the matrix of all matter.
This may have been stated by a genius, but it doesn’t take a genius to grasp its meaning. I feel I have got as far as understanding the oneness of everything, but again, the question of what was at the zero point cannot be ignored. Or can it?
Isaac Newton, on how he made his discoveries:
I keep the subject constantly before me, and wait till the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light.
Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man.
Letter to Phyllis Wright (January 24, 1936), published in Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letters to and from Children (Prometheus Books, 2002), p. 129
On this day a year ago, Elle took a selfie on her laptop, something she rarely did, and I have to include it.
Yesterday I came across an interesting article posted on Facebook by Christina, entitled ‘The Illuminating Geometry of Viruses’.
The article was about mathematical insights into how DNA/RNA helps viruses pull together their protein shells, in other words, their packaging, and will guide future studies of viral behaviour and function, which could make it possible to stop them from assembling themselves in situ, and therefore render them harmless and perhaps even useful. A form of preventative intervention could be achieved by developing vaccines. If I understood the article correctly, this would also render the viruses incapable of mutating because they won’t have been ‘switched on’ yet. The point of the article is that mathematicians have been able to interpret the form/structure/pattern of a virus using hexagons and now pentagons, or more precisely, Penrose tiling.
I was surprised to learn that maths has only recently been integrated into biological research. Obviously the discipline has always involved maths and biologists were capable of doing their own maths, but more recently mathematical biologists have now joined the ranks of microbiologists and nanobiologists etc.
If maths is the key to everything in the universe, all the way down to the atomic makeup of viruses, it is not such a leap of faith to grant mystical powers to numbers as they resonate, ricochet and echo through everything.
Pete and I went north to San Joan last night with Leah and her boyfriend to a friendly and understated restaurant called the Giri Cafe.
During our meal Leah told us that when she was in Paris with Elle and friends for Elle’s eighteenth birthday, she was beside Leah when she got news of the death of a friend of hers. Again, two years later, Elle was with her when Leah received a call saying another friend of hers had been killed. The next time Leah got a call about a death of a friend it was Elle who had died. This doesn’t seem like ordinary coincidence, and if we look closely at the intersection of such moments that are not causally linked, what Jung calls synchronicity, there is usually information waiting to be observed that will bring a deeper understanding of what it is to be human and alive. What comes through to me here is a nudge to help us understand that we do not live in an egocentric and disconnected world but rather in one of connected consciousness—how you think and feel affects how I think and feel, and all that we think, feel and do projects back into the collective consciousness. This then feeds back, and when Christina in South Africa is thinking of me I can feel it and will call her. Well, one small example of the flow.
People who don’t believe in the interconnectedness of everything or the mysteriousness of the universe put instances like this down to simple and random coincidence. In this particular case, I believe the meaning for Leah, and later for me, was to highlight exactly this point: that when acausal events converge it is important to look for the inherent meaning. I wanted to say ‘Elle said’, and then I remember that this was one of the ‘carousels’ I woke up to not long ago, just the words, ‘Elle said’ calling me out of sleep, nothing more! I told Peter, and while I had no context that I could apply it to, I also never forgot it. If nothing else the presence of Elle during those tough moments in Leah’s life that would come to include Elle in a different form a number of years later, made Leah stop and think about the connectedness of things, and just by thinking the thought, the brain wiring has been changed—a kind of upgrade has happened.
The more I have learnt of Elle’s last weeks, and as I look back over her adult life, most of which were spent with or near us, the more I wonder if there were indicators that she would not be with us for a full adult lifetime. An example of what I refer to as synchronistic is the photograph of a tree she had been drawn to climb up to, and I can’t help having thoughts of the Tree of Life. As described earlier, to reach the tree she had to climb a shale cliff, and she left her flip-flops halfway up because they were causing her to slip—she meant to collect them on her way down. But she couldn’t take the same route down because it was too dangerous so she had to continue to the top. She was only reminded to tell us of this ‘death-defying’ (in her own words) experience because I asked her why she was barefoot again when I had so recently bought her a pair flip-flops. The discovery of that photo, how it happened, and the three sentences she wrote across the top of it: ‘Fear comes from looking back. Error comes from doubt. Keep moving forward.’ are now our ‘go to’ lines of encouragement when Peter and I need to rebuild our inner fortitude. The other extraordinary accompaniment to this annotated photo was the spotlessness of Elle’s car interior. We have no idea when she achieved this, but definitely after the Thursday before she died. Why, in her disturbed state of mind, did she decide to clean her car and remove almost everything from it? It certainly helped us to notice that what remained in it was to be seen. I cannot imagine how, three weeks after Elle died, Peter and I would have completed the impossible task of sorting through all sorts of personal items, clothing and other detritus that usually lay around in her car, and at the same time taken special note of this photo. It would have been just another item lying around in her car. But now it was facing whoever opened the boot of her car, and this happened to be me.
Today Leah did what she has been longing to do ever since she heard about the tree. At sunrise she managed to climb to Elle’s tree, hoping to find Elle’s flip-flops on the way. It was an important moment for her, and around one of the branches she tied a red cotton prayer cord that had been blessed by the Dalai Lama. We had warned her that she shouldn’t count on finding Elle’s shoes because of the heavy rains last winter following a five-year drought, and they were gone.
I wonder what it’s like in the shade of a tree
Shooting the breeze being carefree
I wonder what I’d choose if given the choice
Between silence and noise
Words or a voice
Beyond the Sun, Nashville Cast
Later I learnt that Leah also had to continue up the cliff, as it felt too dangerous to go down. She told us she found the final forty feet even scarier, because there were no rocks to provide handholds. I like knowing that the red cotton cord is now part of another one of Elle’s trees on this island. It reminds me of the trees the girls, Peter and I chose on the Chiltern Hills above our house with the ‘chalk cliff’, in what feels like a different lifetime now. Trees have taken me by the hand all through my life.
It is eleven months, and in two days the start of August. The next month is going to call on all our inner reserves all over again.
I was looking back over my notes and reminded of an amusing moment Christina and I shared in Amsterdam. She had booked us into a hotel for a couple of nights so that her young families would experience the least amount of disruption while trying to organise their children and their work lives. I say ‘families’ because her son and his first wife are divorced with a child, and both have since remarried with more children.
On our first night Christina, who had been searching for the bathroom light switch, called out that the light comes on automatically. Later, when getting ready for bed, I opened the door and waited for the light to turn on. When I remarked on the lack of light, she said, ‘Perhaps you have to walk in for the light to come on’. It struck us both as potentially rather profound and, yes, illuminating that we needed to first enter the darkness before the light would make itself visible, and we both laughed. If you are not prepared to enter into the unknown, you will not give yourself the chance of learning something that could fundamentally change the way you view and live your life. It’s just the type of moment both of us are quick to take note of.
I have just put myself through the ordeal of another episode of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood written more than thirty years ago. I haven’t read the book so I don’t know how it ends, and I am longing for, and in need of, a feel-good ending, but I can’t imagine what it could be. I understand that I am putting myself through this awful ordeal so I can know the worst of what is happening to some women right now somewhere in the world, and also because it could become a reality if a few men (I hope I am right in saying only a few) have their secret beliefs and wishes granted, that women stay out of ‘their’ world and merely provide the next generation of babies and take care of the needs of their men/husbands.
Sadly, very few husbands and boyfriends will watch this series with their womenfolk. It is men who need to witness how women have been discriminated against, bullied both physically and sexually, been excluded and ignored by society, the law etcetera. They need to say to women ‘not in our name will this attitude continue, and what do you need from us’. In my experience, when you try to discuss this subject with most men, they see it as a personal attack and try to duck out of the subject. Until men stand freely and of their own volition alongside women nothing can truly change for the better. I also think some men feel it is a battle being waged by women to deny them what is theirs and of their perceived rights. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Women want only the freedom to be all we can be, to be humans before we are women, and to be allowed to represent the Divine Feminine. Almost all women want our men to be humans before they are men, to be all they can be, and free to represent the Divine Masculine. Too often menfolk swat away the issue and say in a hurt tone, ‘It has nothing to do with me, I’m not that kind of man, brother or husband.’ Sadly this attitude comes across as passive support, even if it’s not meant as such. Also what needs to happen is that women have to find the courage not to buy into the system. I can’t help wondering what the difference in society would have been like today if all female actors/employees of all statuses and age, when coerced into favours for favours or elevated status, had said no and walked away, while others had said no to keeping silent and walked away from the money. Women cannot walk away from bearing responsibility for helping create the patriarchy, and the sooner this is understood the more likely we will be able to move forward.
When I was at university as a mature student, and showing some talent for the visual arts, my lecturers regularly encouraged me to push myself, to dig deeper and take more risks. Today I understand what they were trying to do. A lot of what occupied my fractured thinking back then had to do with a desire to ‘reclaim ownership of the feminine’—was it still ours, or had we handed over ownership to men thousands of years ago? I have never felt comfortable to place myself within the feminist movement, and finally I have a better understanding of why that is. I think that it comes down to the fact that I cannot see us as only victims in this power negotiation but also as perpetrators.
I told Peter earlier that I’m feeling a bit anxious and fearful when I consider what lies ahead. It’s hard to imagine that there will ever be an end to this missing and longing. I can’t see that getting past the first anniversary will make much difference. All I can think of is that it won’t be possible to say ‘this time last year she…’ anymore. Thanks, Time! You’re still not my friend.
What a day this has turned out to be! I stayed up to watch last week’s episode of Madam Secretary on my own (Peter had already seen it). All was normal until the final scene when the mother arrives at a cabin in the woods with her husband, sad that her children were not going to join them for a special weekend off-grid. She opens the door to find her children waiting for her inside, and her face is a picture of joy. It hit me like an arrow to my heart, and tears streamed down my face. I felt so sad and a wave of self-pity came over me. I went out onto the balcony, trying to understand who and what exactly I was crying for. It made me think about my ‘detachment’ issues. I remembered when my children would shower me with Mother’s Day cards and letters. I was always amazed at how much and how often they told me they loved me. I say this with no pride, but I remember questioning how and why they loved me so much. What had I really done to deserve such love from my children?
As I have grown older, and certainly since Elle died, I have come to understand that my own quieter form of loving, both undemanding and undemonstrative, is relevant. In the earlier years of our marriage, Peter sometimes expressed a desire for more from me, but he came to understand that I was doing the best I knew how, and that I obviously cared enormously for him as witnessed by the respect and kindness I gave him. I can’t help remembering my two stand out experiences of ‘universal love’ with the tree and the mountain when I was twenty. Perhaps these experiences were given to me as a yardstick by which to know how love feels, and maybe that was the problem. There is not language that can adequately describe the experience. But I am reminded, and given hope, that perhaps my detachment is not in itself a fault, and maybe just needs to be redefined and owned by me. I didn’t realise this at the time but having experienced that both the tree and the mountain loved me, I believe I appropriated the inner knowledge that all is conscious and therefore all expresses emotions. For sure I see purpose in what I have understood about my life so far. I feel convinced that this lifetime is one small part of the journey of my soul as it attempts to polish yet another of its facets to become the diamond I hope to be one day, even if it takes, or has already taken, a thousand lifetimes.
Ooh great creator of being
Grant us one more hour,
To perform our art
And perfect our lives
The Ghost Song, Jim Morrison
Thoughts keep surfacing from the depths of my mind, and this one came to me while showering this morning. How to begin?
The moment my eyes met Larah’s at Elle’s life celebration five days after her death, our hearts collided with such force that it almost caused a physical injury to my soul. Her first words were, ‘I think Elle came to lift the veil for those of us who believe.’ I had already had the same thought. Proof is understandably not easy to come by. It may as well be called the Holy Grail or the Philosopher’s Stone. It would make life pointless if we did not have to search for it ourselves, and wrestle to spot it amongst all the debris of our human experiences and emotions.
Recalling this moment seems to initiate a ‘playback’ that gets an aspect of my life story revealing itself to me again. What would our minds do without access to our memories? And this we know the answer to because sadly most of us have witnessed the loss of memories through brain damage, dementia or Alzheimer. The mists of time claim sufferers, and they are lost to themselves and others, and all that they have ever known, and therefore all that they could become has ended too. Time is lost in the process. But back to the memory jog. Now and again I think about my Anglican confirmation. Greg and I were confirmed at the same time, when I was around fourteen and he a little over eleven years old. We were tutored by our second cousin, the young Rev David Hamer, one of a few people whose Christian testimony resonated with me. He showed me that it was possible and not wrong to follow your own spiritual path.
Once we had received our first communion it was as if my folks felt they had done their duty, and now it was up to us to choose our way, and Greg and I didn’t want to go to church anymore. The services in our Anglican church didn’t feel relevant to us and we were too old for Sunday school, but I carried on with my nightly prayers for quite a few more years, in fact into my twenties. I have also come to look back on this time as the moment when Greg saw that the human race was not the beautiful and benign force that he believed it to be, and his instinct seems to have been to step back from fully growing up. It would make sense to me that this could be a moment that sets in stone the next stage of your life, and brings with it its own set of consequences, until the next big life decision that one consciously or subconsciously takes.
Over these last years I have come to think so much less about what my parents did not give us children, and instead thank them for the way that they refrained from moulding us. They never referred to any person in derogatory terms, nor expressed any prejudices about another’s race, creed, nationality or sexual persuasion, and I now realise how rare this is. While we may not have been told that we could achieve anything we put our minds to, they also never put any pressure on us to achieve or live up to their expectations. I honestly believe that they wanted for us what I have always wanted for my children—that they would become fully participatory in a constructive and well-rounded life, and through this find meaning to their existence. I am grateful today that I can say that all that I am I made, and that I take full responsibility for what I have and have not achieved. I am not saying that this is the right way to bring up children. What I am saying is that the circumstances of our childhood were what we needed in order to achieve our individual soul growth in this lifetime. There is less wrong with whatever childhood circumstances we came out of, however difficult or traumatic, or how conducive they were to give us a good start or not on our life’s journey. The circumstances were as they were meant to be.
I feared that the arrival of today’s date would not auger well. I find myself oscillating between numbness, expectancy and tears. But I keep writing—it feels safe to stick to common ground. I don’t know how I would have managed this year without it. I am aware of trying to keep the balance right between getting together with friends and family and making sure we have enough downtime alone at home. But there has been some wonderful news—just the lift we needed today. Kate has just called to tell us she is pregnant. They thought they would start trying for a baby in case it took some time. It didn’t! I note with interest that this will bring another Aries into the family.
The days get harder as we and Kate become more contemplative. I keep writing to maintain some equanimity in my life. I continue to attempt to understand how and why things went wrong for Elle in the last days of her life, if that is the case, but I accept that I may never know what happened.
Last night Peter and I, as tired as we were, could not slip into restful sleep. This is unusual for Peter. He is normally asleep within seconds of his head hitting the pillow, even when he has something on his mind. The early hours of the mornings are when he tends to wake and do his worrying. But this has occasionally happened to us in our married life. I think our brain waves must sometimes be interfering with each other’s and keeping us awake. Not such a farfetched idea, because so much of life, if not everything, is to do with vibrations and electromagnetic fields.
We went to bed around midnight after a night out with Greg and around 2.30 am I must have finally dropped off. Moments later I woke with a start after a nightmare in which Peter and I were seated in an unfamiliar room and facing each other across a table. To the side of me was a white wall with an opening on both sides of it. I could hear someone being attacked, and the attacker’s voice was female. Then Elle rushed in through the right opening and threw herself into my arms. Peter ran through the left opening and there was a commotion, and I sensed an evil force was threatening us. After a short moment all went eerily silent, and I awoke deeply troubled.
There are several ways to look at this dream. It may simply be a manifestation of the fear and trauma I experienced at the moment of hearing that Elle had died, a kind of dramatic enactment of all the emotions I felt, if not in the correct order. On re-experiencing the dream this morning it felt that the danger to Elle was equally a danger to us all. Perhaps in that flash of death Elle was in my arms with Peter trying to prevent it. Or perhaps we have always known in the inaccessible recesses of our souls that this dreadful event would one day manifest in our lives. For years Peter had been telling me that he had a sense that something was going to upturn our happy lives. He feels he has been proved right.
Today has been all about catch-up tasks—a list that never seems to get shorter. I have finally arranged an appointment to get the butterfly tattoo done on my arm next Tuesday, Heather’s birthday. I knew I would get one from the first days after Elle died, so it’s important to me that it is done before the year completes. But the first item on my list is to write to a friend who lost his son, Linkin, three years ago today. I know what it means to have people remember Elle, and I love to hear others mention her name. We, the Rememberers, will never forget.
I have just broken from watching another episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. It causes such conflict in my mind, but I suppose that is what it is meant to do. I went onto the balcony for a cigarette (Kate will be so disappointed in me, but I will never give up trying) and sat watching the island’s visitors go by. My world has shrunk so much that I hardly notice the mayhem, both good family fun and total excess. I don’t feel part of that world anymore. Life is simpler today, and that feels good. Tomorrow I am going to the beach for the morning. We are only five minutes away and I have no idea why I find it hard to get there. It has been an exceedingly hot, humid summer, and the idea of a swim in the Med is calling out to me.
I spent the morning with a friend on a beautiful and relatively tranquil beach, but once home a cloud of sorrow engulfed me. I have received further information on the judge’s conclusions about the accident, but I don’t want to go into it yet. This is becoming harder and harder, and I don’t make things easy on myself! I keep reading articles in the hope that I will gain a deeper understanding of what caused things to go wrong for Elle. Then I get caught up in yet another cycle of ‘if only’s’. But this is not an investigation without purpose. I genuinely believe some good eventually will come out of the process. According to my latest reading, experiencing just three of a number of possible childhood traumas can cause chronic adult diseases. The article goes on to say that even when a GP discusses past traumas with the patient and acknowledges the possible impact the traumas may have caused, this can have a positive effect on the patient’s health—something akin to a placebo for mental health issues, perhaps. I have no trouble believing this to be true and could ease the great financial cost to society of mental health issues. It also says that while many reports now prove this, medical schools still do not include this knowledge for fear of bringing psychiatry into the lectures. It is not considered appropriate for initial medical studies. God, we humans are still so stupid!
I am struggling to make headway in writing up the last week of Elle’s life. If it continues to be too difficult, I shall hold off until later in September. I also just had a word with Elle while sitting on our oppressively hot balcony. I told her I am sorry, but I make no apology for being deeply involved with the ‘earthly Elle’ at this time. I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon. There will come a time when I will go in search of my heavenly girl, I hope.
This time last year I was with Kate and baby Isaac. It felt strange and a little frightening to hold a new-born baby again, but I quickly got over that. I have always adored new-borns—anyone’s will do—and I loved being able to give Kate a chance to shut her eyes as little Isaac lay across my chest on the sofa. Our world felt glorious. The new family and the ‘old’ family were settling into a new paradigm. I had two more days to enjoy baby and then Elle was due to take over from me on the day I departed.
As the ache in my heart ratchets up, I wonder if I should make an effort to reach for my higher self, or just go with all these emotions that are so determined to attach themselves to my body. I don’t have the energy for a fight. And perhaps I should allow myself to be in a state of inaction for now! At my Pilates studio downstairs there is a mirrored wall, and for a moment I was captured by my own eyes. I could feel the tears just waiting for permission to flow. The thought crossed my mind—was I giving myself pity? Was I saying to myself, ‘I feel sorry for you?’ It felt like that, but purer and more loving than self-pity.
This is a story that has a very tenuous link with the here and now, and I have no idea why it has come up except perhaps to shift my mood. I have had fun sharing it with friends and family over the years, and it sits oddly within the story of my life.
About thirteen years ago I made one of many trips to Malaga, where we had created a holiday home out of a ruin just inland from the coast. This time I was flying from Heathrow, rather than driving. I had probably become a little blasé about flying and had let my concentration slip. I always arrive at airports in good time, and on this occasion I had settled somewhere comfortable with a coffee and a book. But I’d mixed up the time, and suddenly realised I should be at the gate already. I ran all the way towards my gate, and as I approached two waiting air stewards they herded me through a door saying ‘Hurry, hurry!’ and up to the desk where someone glanced at my boarding pass—the old fashioned type—handed it straight back and told me I was the last passenger. The plane door closed behind me as I made my way to my allocated seat and settled in. We took off, and a little later the captain made the usual announcements. I only caught his last few words that we would arrive in an hour and fifty minutes. Normally the flight to Malaga takes two hours and ten minutes, so we clearly had a strong wind behind us, I thought to myself. As we were banking to land the Malaga I saw below looked particularly grand, but then I noticed that I could not see the sea. This caught my attention. Pointing towards the ground, I asked the man next to me, ‘Where is this?’ And with a quizzical look he said, ‘Madrid’. ‘Is this plane going on to Malaga?’ I asked. He said he wasn’t sure, so I buzzed for the air steward. ‘Does this plane fly on to Malaga?’ I asked her. ‘That’s where I’m flying to.’ ‘No,’ she said, and I could see her trying to absorb what I’d just said. She had a word with a colleague, came back to my seat, and told me not to pass through security after landing, but go straight to the Iberia desk, where they would help me.
I did, and stood second in a line. The young man in front of me was a South African. His shorts and short-sleeved shirt on a winter’s day were typical of an Afrikaans farmer from the Free State province, and he appeared to be carrying nothing with him. I then realised he had a big problem. The ladies were trying to tell him in broken English that to be rescheduled on a plane to Johannesburg he needed to pay seventy euros. He kept telling them he had no money and no credit card. As the ladies talked to each other, I could hear they were about to call security. I had to step in and help a fellow South African! I said I would pay the seventy euros, and they explained that he had been refused permission to board his flight the previous day because he was drunk. In fact, he still wasn’t fully sober, so he must have been paralytic! He was then issued with a boarding pass for the next plane out. When all was sorted out, he sank to his knees, wrapped his arms around my legs and asked me to marry him! I accepted his display of thanks and told him in Afrikaans to go get a coffee and have a good flight home.
Then it was my turn at the desk, and what a commotion I caused! The ladies struggled to understand what I was telling them, and between their broken English and my poor Spanish they understood that we had landed in Madrid instead of Malaga. They kept asking where the other passengers were, and I kept telling them it was only me. Eventually they got the picture, and after some frantic calls to whoever they answered to, they issued me with a new boarding pass for the next flight to Malaga. It was only a couple of years after 9/11, and a mix-up like this should not have been possible, so no doubt someone back along the chain got a serious warning. It wasn’t long before I realised I was unlikely to find my suitcase on landing. The plane I was meant to be on was probably delayed for a long time while the Captain explained to all on board that a passenger had not shown up, and therefore they had to remove a suitcase from the hold. I also imagined the passenger whose plane I mistakenly boarded finding that his plane and his baggage had left without him. Was his seat number really the same as mine? There weren’t many empty seats on the flight. If someone on my flight had been allocated the seat number on my boarding pass, the mistake would have shown up before we took off.
Sometime later, on a visit to South Africa, I told Christina this story, and remarked that I couldn’t understand how I’d allowed myself to be bundled through Gate 2 when I knew my flight was leaving from Gate 6. Her response was immediate. ‘Well, of course, Jennie, you were his guardian angel that day.’ And yes, I gladly accepted that explanation. I have often wondered what that young Afrikaans man, underdressed and without money, was doing so far from home. Had he come over for a farming convention? Had his friends managed to slip him on a plane as some sort of bachelor party prank? I wonder how he told the story when he arrived home, and whether he experienced any more adventures before arriving at his destination.
Peter and I just watched a documentary made by Brian Cox in 2008, questioning our understanding of time. The more I hear and read what astronomers, cosmologists and physicists have to say, the more confident I am in my faith that there is a spiritual dimension to all that exists. A few years ago science made it harder for me to hold onto my spiritual beliefs but now it is quite the opposite. Listening to a theory being developed by Professor Neil Turok, one of the world’s top theoretical physicists, I heard something that I don’t see how any intelligent person can ignore—pardon the pun but it leaves a gaping vacuum open to interpretation. He made the point that if the Big Bang happened 13.7 billion years ago, something mysterious happened to cause it, and if so, there was a time before the Big Bang, but at this point no scientist has an understanding of what this could be. And frankly, even if they find what happened that caused something to happen that led to Big Bang, the same dilemma remains infinitely, or eternally, omnipresent. He goes on to say, using his background in string theory, that there is a possibility of infinite dimensions in the cosmos (and therefore parallel universes) which he calls membranes, or ‘branes’ for short. The name brane appeals to me—I think of them as twinned to the human brain, as we too are made of trillions of atoms that resemble microscopic ‘solar systems’. He theorises that everything we see in our universe is one of these ‘branes’, and that the possibility could exist that the ‘mysterious happening’ was a full-on collision of two ‘branes’. He suggests that as the two ‘branes’ of matter and radiation collided, there was a massive explosion, the Big Bang, and on separating, their matter and radiation got replenished, in a different form so to speak. Well, that is how I understood his theory. I was immediately struck by its simplicity and logic. It addresses the question begging to be answered—but what existed prior to the Big Bang? You could say ‘more of the same’, and equally, simply call it ‘Eternity’.
It seems much more likely to me than the theory that everything began with the Big Bang, and that it was the beginning of time, or perhaps time emerged as the result of the collision. Many scientists still theorise that all the energy of the universe was there in some infinitesimally minute point, something happened, and then poof—the ever-expanding universe sprang into being! If that doesn’t sound unlikely, I don’t know what does. It makes sense to me that what we can see of our universe is hampered by our inability to see beyond our three physical dimensions, and anchored by the fourth dimension of space-time. But it could be that everything exists everywhere forever in a sea of moments. It makes sense to me that there needs to be a single progression, and linear time is its obvious format, perhaps even providing the source of energy any movement requires. I read that scientists studying quantum mechanics and trying to square up to Einstein’s Law of General Relativity to find a Universal Law of Relativity, are looking at the idea of viewing time as grains of sand, or bits, that mount up to indicate or enable its ability to flow. I like that idea, as it fits with another way of looking at time—as memory. I get tired of hearing scientists and others mock and pity those of us who believe that our consciousness survives death. This belief is often said to reflect our inability to accept that life ends with death, and that believers must be desperately stupid to have faith in something as bizarre and unlikely as a Chief Designer of the Universe, or the Oneness. I have no doubt that this life ends in death, and according to my beliefs I won’t know any more in my next life, so no advantage there for me individually. There are so many mysteries of nature and the cosmos that continue to elude us, and long may that last. It means that no scientist can truly say they are close to laying claim to the elusive ‘theory of everything’, something like the other Holy Grail—the ‘missing link’.
Oh, oh, oh, we have just past the hour of the last five minutes I spent with Elle a year ago. I was leaving Kate and baby Isaac to return to the island. Elle arrived around 3.30 am that morning. I let her in and told her what time I was leaving for the airport. Elle dragged herself out of bed and not because I was making a noise. I had not expected to see her around 7.30 am. She came down the stairs to give me a hug just as I was about to walk out of the house—she could so easily have slept on. There was no need for this other than her desire to do so because we would have been back together on the island in just three weeks. There was no time to talk about anything, but she seemed serene albeit a little preoccupied.
The anger is still boiling away in me. I know I have to do something about it but not this month. I am letting myself run the whole gamut of grief. What kicked me off on this trajectory today were the judge’s words in an email to our lawyer. ‘Anti-regulation eruption’ was the rather crude translation. The judge has declined our lawyer’s request for a speed report and adds that it is no longer possible because insufficient evidence was collected at the time of the accident. I know this is not a good path for me to follow, that I should look at what happened in another way, and it is more important to find acceptance and forgiveness in my heart. I will get there, but not now. For now I will be whatever I need to be. Right now I am grieving for the less-than-half of a life lived by our daughter, and a lifetime she never got to spend with her sister.
I am confused as to why the driver did not apply her car brakes at all, and only came to a standstill 250m from where the collision took place. She changed her statement from having seen Elle on the side of the road to not having seen her until the moment of collision. I suspect she was not looking at the road. We will never know the truth, and I doubt it would do us any good if we did. Somehow, this blurring of what exactly happened feels better, even if it brings me to anger. For now I can’t be thinking of the feelings of others. I can’t afford to give away that space.
[Correction months later: I misunderstood the judge when she cited an anti-regulation eruption. It apparently means that Elle wasn’t wearing a luminescent vest while walking on the road in the dark. There was no pavement and therefore the road was her only choice.]
Following my writing earlier this morning, I sat smoking on the balcony with tears flowing, and said to Elle, ‘Please forgive me. I shall try harder next month’, followed by the tapping of my collarbone, which I do whenever I want to communicate my thoughts to Elle. I started doing it immediately after Elle died, initially without thinking. I have a vague memory of Elle telling me that you can make contact with the universe by tapping your collarbone. I do it because it comforts me.
Today we are having lunch at Pike’s Hotel with Alice, a school friend of Elle who currently lives with her boyfriend in Sydney. She is staying in San Antonio while visiting the island. Pike’s was the most convenient place we could think of that wasn’t a long taxi ride for her, and then it struck me that it was the first place Elle found work when she moved to Ibiza in 2011, and where Betty found her. We have also been invited to the wedding next year of Natalie, another school friend of both Elle and Alice, and it will be wonderful to be with Elle’s Embley Park girlfriends again.
While getting ready I took my music into the bathroom with me, and the first song to play was Leonard Cohen’s ‘Come Healing’. I won’t hear from anyone that Elle is not here for us and helping us all to heal. Coincidence just doesn’t cut it! I have fifty-three songs on my playlist, and climbing, and each has its own point of relevance. I am with Einstein and Jung when it comes to giving Synchronicity its due.
Every song that followed spoke to me in some special way. I love the line, ‘I need your grace to find my own’, from ‘Chasing Cars’ by Snow Patrol. Elle ordered two books shortly before she died, and it was both a painful shock and comforting in its poignancy to pick them up from the post office—like a brushing of her hand across our cheeks. The first was ‘The Alchemist’ by Paul Coelho, and I learnt so much from my reading of it. The message about the necessity to go, at least once in your life, on an inner sustained journey couldn’t have been clearer. The second was ‘Grace and Gratitude’. It was the name of this book that revealed its teaching. The next song to come up was ‘You Are Beautiful’ by Christina Aguilera, which reminded me of Elle saying ‘you are beautiful’ to me, and my amazement and gratitude for such a loving daughter every time she said it. I feel some good grieving happening here today! As I listen to the Rag n’ Bone Man sing ‘Lay My Body Down’ I feel a bit of defiance enter my body. That could be a good sign. I wear defiance well!
I am thinking so much about Kate. I said I was going to turn inward and not worry about others as a gift to myself, but my heart is equally sore for her. She worries too much sometimes. She worries that Elle’s death may have taken me to a place out of her reach or that perhaps I don’t see her in the same light as I did before. It is true that grief seems to dominate my heart but my love for Kate has not diminished—it just lies in the shadow cast by my sadness, but hopefully not forever. I will never desert her. I just need more guiltless time to cradle my grief in my empty arms. And while I am thinking about her, Kate called me from Keystone, Colorado. These psychic happenings never pass unnoticed. She is there for the wedding of the son of good friends of ours from all those years ago in Pasadena Glen, where Elle was born. Earlier she sent us a video of her dancing at the wedding, and she looked radiant. But her phone call told a different story as is so often the case with Kate. She said the wedding was all about siblings—they’re a close family—and she felt so alone. Naturally she hid her sadness, not wanting to spoil the special day for others but we shared a comforting cry and talked about our ‘missings’. I was pleased that she made me aware of this—grief again taking on different shapes in different circumstances. She also told me that she’s getting anxious about not being with us on the 30th of this month. I thought this might happen, and we’ll have to deal with it by speaking to each other during our moment at dawn on the beach. We will also be together mid-September. She was worried that I may be dropping into a state of depression, but I reassured her that I am not depressed, just sad.
We had a good time with Elle’s friend Alice yesterday. She’d been unable to attend any of our previous events, and she had felt it necessary to connect with us in person. While we did chat about memories of Elle, we also spent a good deal of time talking about what she’s doing with her life. We didn’t know that she and another of Elle’s friends visited the island about a year before Elle died, and have wonderful memories of that time and of visiting some of Elle’s favourite places. She remembers a particular chilled evening at a hillside restaurant where they shared tapas together late into the night. I cannot think where it is, but I shall investigate and hope to find it.
I am waiting on the roof terrace for the full moon to make an appearance. There is a breeze tonight, thankfully bringing a coolness with it, and black clouds are hiding the moon. There is supposed to be a partial eclipse tonight. Looking into the jet-black darkness now you would not believe there was a full moon, then ah, there it is again, like a pearl cradled in a black box lined with petrol-blue velvet. Oh no, gone again. I don’t think I will be seeing the eclipse. This is the same full moon, a year later, when Elle and Swo Boda shared a special moment.
Peter and I had a wonderful dinner tonight at Cala San Vicente. We talked a lot about our feelings. He asked me, ‘Did you ever foresee pain like this ahead for us?’ ‘No,’ I answered, ‘nor should we have.’ No one should ever live in anticipation of a situation like this. It would mean you were not living in the moment giving your full attention to life and all it offered. I told him about my conversation with Kate, and that her greatest pang of longing comes when watching siblings enjoying each other’s company, as it reminds her that she is alone. When she arrived last year with Alex and baby Isaac, she walked straight over to us and cried out, ‘I am alone now.’ While not exactly true, I knew just what she meant. My ‘pang’ makes itself felt when I am amongst young people having fun and young lovers with a future stretching out before them—a future I will never get to witness Elle live out. Today on Facebook I saw a photo of Graeme and his girlfriend of the past six months. As much as I want him to find true love and happiness, it hit my ‘ouch’ button, but my wishful ‘voice’ considers that perhaps Elle may have had a hand in this. Sometimes I am surprised at the happiness that can be observed in the wake of her death, or as a result of her having been here in the first place. Yay, tomorrow I get my butterfly tattoo. I shall take a photograph of it when the redness fades.
Today is the fifty-seventh birthday of one of my sisters, Sister Heart (Heather). She sent a photo of herself in her birthday outfit, which is in the exact colours of my beautiful butterfly tattoo. We are connected in so many ways!
The whole experience at the tattoo parlour today nearly had me rising up out of myself again. I shared with the young woman, Emilija, my reason for wanting a tattoo of a butterfly, and wham, the road to deep connections opened up instantly between us. She is from Macedonia, and as soon as she said that, I thought about the book I am currently reading: ‘Kingdom’ by Emmanuel Carrere. He uses the creation of the early Christian church as a parable of his own life, and brings a mythical ancient time into modern reality such that I can recognise the individuals as contemporary fellow travellers through my own human story.
Emilija tells that she lost her grandmother when she was three, and when she asked where her grandmother had gone, her mother said she had gone to God. She asked, ‘What is God?’ and her mother said she could read a book that would explain all when she was older, and pointed to the Bible. She told me she kept asking people what their name began with, and slowly learnt the alphabet that way, and soon she learnt to read. The first book she read was the Bible. She has now also read it in different languages. This beautiful, highly intelligent young woman with dreads and many tattoos has chosen to live a simple, hippy lifestyle. She was supposed to return home at the end of July but decided to stay an extra month. How lucky am I? Not many could have achieved the beauty that is my blue and white butterfly, which looks as if it’s about to land on my arm. I believe it is a Blue Morpho. The two-and-a-half-hour process passed quickly as she held me entranced with stories, some mythical and some true, of back home. I always ask people the various names of family members now—not sure why but I became aware of this tendency shortly after Elle died. Her sister has the name Eliza, and she is called both Eli and Ela. I now have a bee on my back for someone special called Ella who came into our lives a few years ago, and an Elle butterfly on my arm.
I hadn’t yet decided where I wanted my tattoo but I knew it needed to be quite large to do justice to the detail. She suggested the inside instead of the outside of my arm. It made perfect sense, and it would feel more intimate, but I thought, oh boy, it’s bound to be more painful there. Amazingly I felt no pain from the first puncture of my skin. I thought maybe I was in shock and would feel it soon enough, but no, it was as if someone was poking me gently with a ballpoint pen. Meanwhile the young man on the couch next to me went white in the face and felt faint within a minute of the tattooist’s first marks having be made. I had to smile and thought just as well he will never have to go through childbirth. There was so much more Emilija and I shared, accompanied by regular shadowing of the hairs on our arms and legs—this is more usually referred to as ‘getting the shivers’, but now I like to think of it as the sensing of vibrations of communication reaching us from somewhere out in the universe that is beyond what we can imagine.
I am feeling pensive and sensitive today. I think Peter is too. Somehow, I just have to maintain a measured and even pace.
I went back to Emilija today so she could clean away the excess ink and put a new patch on my butterfly. She had especially brought into the studio a triplet rose quartz crystal from her personal collection with the instruction to always keep it close. I will! Yesterday she told me how she found these crystals—another special human/spirit story. Sometimes I meet a person and I know very quickly that they are a little more ‘angelic’ than others. In moments like this I feel strength flow into me, and then I know I can get beyond this longing for something I cannot have.
Today a year ago is one of the two days Elle cooked a lunch for Kate and Kate’s sister-in-law Evie. This was when she told them of her intention to ‘create a community centre for the children of the island, with the help of all the people of the island, where children could learn things they are not taught in school through using all five of their senses’. Next year is the year we hope to put Angels & Elephants into action. It will not be easy, and I feel a little intimidated, but I hope by starting somewhere, anywhere, we will find our feet and learn how to move forward.
A few weeks ago I got this response from Saffy to my enquiry about how she found Elle in those weeks following her return from the UK.
Good morning dear Jenny,
Sorry it has taken me a few days to write, been so busy with the retreat! From what I remember of the last few weeks of her life (as I was in the midst of a crazy season full of work and chaos last summer) is that Elle was having problems sleeping. So often I would wake up to go to the washroom in the middle of the night and I could see that she was still awake… Then during the day I hardly got to see her because she was out with Swo Boda or I was working so we didn’t really coincide. Also, she was very very floaty, and ‘in love’ is what we called it, as she would forget to turn off the kitchen stove and leave doors open and was in a very dreamy state which we all knew she was thinking about love and him, we would all giggle about it at home. Then she spent several days at her uncle’s as she said she needed a break and was going to spend some time with him… I remember trying to get hold of her during this time over Facebook as my phone was broken and I didn’t get the message that she was at Greg’s until our housemates told me. I got home on the Monday lunchtime and Swo Boda was outside reading a book and I went inside, and Elle was munching on some fruit as she sat on the kitchen table. I walked in and said hello but I noticed that she was not herself… there was something not quite right as her voice was deeper and she seemed to be grumpy, which was very unlike her… I asked several questions and I could sense she didn’t want to talk or answer, so I decided to not take it personally and I let it go. She told me she was going to have lunch at a beach but she was unclear about where or when they were going. Then she got dressed and said goodbye and they went off. I hope this is ok, Jennie, it seems very brief and short… but I don’t really have many other details as I didn’t get a chance to see her a bunch…. If there’s anything that pops out a bit more and you would like clarity on, please let me know and I can also ask Trixy if she recalls anything. Much love to you,
I would like to heed, and stay close to, Buddha’s words, ‘The root of all suffering is in attachment’. But at the moment it is not working for me.
I can hardly breathe as I write this—Elle said goodbye to Kate, Alex and Isaac this time last year, and left London for Ibiza.
Can’t write anymore, my hands have frozen… perhaps later…
Well, synchronicity continues to flow through my life more than ever this month. Just as well! Whenever I feel overwhelmed with dark and painful thoughts, something or someone pops up and some hope flows back into my limp body again. On Facebook this morning up popped a four-year-old Ted Talk featuring Isabel Allende talking about how she deals with growing older. Her mantra for living is to live passionately. She says she grows older with acceptance of what it means on a physical level, and by keeping close all the things that have always been important to her. She embraces the greater freedom she now feels to be wholly authentic, with no pressure to be what others seek her to be. I know she isn’t saying that she doesn’t care about others—she probably cares more—but she is enjoying feeling kinder to herself, and life being simpler.
Many years ago, not long after it was published, I read her book just called Paula who was her daughter. I had always enjoyed her novels about complex and passionate individuals, and particularly loved her complete and fearless embrace of all that is magically spiritual. Apparently, her most successful book, ‘The House of The Spirits’ from 1982, began as a letter to her dying 99-year-old grandfather to ‘keep him alive, at least in spirit’. I love that early in her life she got a job translating books by people like Barbara Cartland into Spanish, and was fired for making unauthorised changes to the dialogue of the heroines in an attempt to make them sound more intelligent. Bless her! She even changed the ending of Cinderella to give the heroine greater independence to go out and make the world a better place. I am not a fan of fairy tales, well, not the Disney versions, but perhaps they’d make more sense if we viewed the princes and princesses as the masculine and the feminine rather than men and women as they encounter various archetypes, and perhaps that is exactly how our young minds do encounter them. As a mature student at Winchester Art School I enjoyed messing around with the fairy tale ‘The Princess and the Pea’, and wrote my own subversive ending to the story. The princess, on being told she had passed the ‘good breeding’ test, told the prince and his mother just what they could do with their offer of a ‘good marriage’, and then walked away from their castle, their wealth and their lives! Something else Allende and I have in common.
I couldn’t help wondering whether, while reading Paula, I had practiced some of the emotions a mother goes through when she loses a child. Paula went into a coma at the age of twenty-eight. She had a serious but manageable disease called porphyria which is caused by a gene mutation generally passed on by a carrier parent. While caring for her comatose daughter at home, Allende started writing her a letter so she would be able to catch up on all that she had missed while in the coma. It later became a testament to her daughter’s life and her pain because Paula never regained consciousness. This is what Allende said to her brother Juan who was a priest, shortly after Paula died:
‘I’m lost, I don’t know who I am, I try to remember who I was once but I find only disguises, masks, projections, the confused images of a woman I can’t recognize. Am I the feminist I thought I was, or the frivolous girl who appeared on television wearing nothing but ostrich feathers? The obsessive mother, the unfaithful wife, the fearless adventurer, or the cowardly woman? Am I the person who helped political refugees find asylum or the one who ran away because she couldn’t handle fear? Too many contradictions…’
‘You’re all of them, and also the samurai who is battling death.’
‘Was battling, Juan. I’ve lost.’
While I identify strongly with her words, I also know that she didn’t allow herself to stay lost. By hook or by crook she found her way back. She too had a second child, a son a couple of years younger than Paula.
There is something else quite astonishing about Paula. She knew, or rather seemed to sense, that her life would be short, and that the possibility of dying before her mother was there. She wrote a letter during her honeymoon that was only to be opened in the event of her death. In it she seems to have had a premonition of her coma and her mother’s unwillingness to let her die:
I do not want to remain trapped in my body. Freed from it, I will be closer to those I love. Please don’t be sad, I am still with you, except I am closer than I was before. In another time, we will be reunited in spirit… Remember that we spirits can best help, accompany and protect those who are happy…
This explains, better than anything I am capable of, everything about what underlies, informs and comforts me on this journey I know I shall now continue for the rest of my life. It is why I will not let go or give in, although there are powerful moments that attempt to lead me astray.
These days of August I find myself lurching between darkness and the light. A ride called Space Mountain at Disneyland comes to mind. I consented to it because of my girls and I dealt with it in my own peculiar way—mainly by laughing hysterically from start to finish but laughter won’t make this go away. Or will it? My dad used to say that laughter is the best medicine. Now, in one moment, I am with Elle as she encounters her last three weeks here, and I can’t help being afraid of how deep her fear may have gone. Did the sadness come on slowly? Was she getting premonitions of what lay ahead? She had just witnessed Kate in a state of the greatest joy. She returned to the island perhaps with great hopes for a future with Swo Boda opening up in front of her. Perhaps she too entered a phase of the greatest joy she had known. I try to live with light and hope, and for a while I can do it, until the next dip. In the next moment I am with Kate who doesn’t know that she has seen Elle for the last time. I suppose it’s not surprising that I find myself on a sickening rollercoaster ride for now. I hope eventually to learn to live more peacefully alongside the Heavenly Elle.
Paula’s letter to her mother has made a big impression on me. Particularly the words, ‘remember that we spirits can best help, accompany, and protect those who are happy’. How did she know that? She must have seen her mother’s core. She gave her mum all she would ever need to help her find a way to live life fully and with passion. We are lucky in a similar way. Elle left us lots of clues too, most notably the photo of the tree with the three sentences handwritten across the top. There it was, almost the only thing she left in her car, which we only saw when together we opened the rear door of her blue Seat Ibiza—the car she was concerned was too good for her, but with the addition of a few scrapes and bumps over time, felt more acceptable to her. Yet in her own way she took good care of it.
As soon as I was up this morning, I googled ‘Letter to Paula, Isabel Allende’, and up popped a letter from a medical student Erin Coleman to Paula, sixteen years after her death. I will not include it as it is copyrighted to Isabel Allende, but it is beautiful and illuminating, and the website is listed in notes.
I have now downloaded both of Isabel Allende’s autobiographical books, and look forward to reading ‘The Sum of Us’, her follow-up book to Paula.
For some time I’ve been thinking that surely tomorrow I will wake up and find nothing interesting to write about. But I need not worry.
I don’t know why, but after my phone call with Kate yesterday afternoon, I felt out of sorts. I tried to see why, and there are a few possibilities. I have so much to be grateful for, and Kate’s pregnancy is going well, so why am I jittery? I asked for some guidance, a dream or something, and sure enough while nevertheless surprising, when I opened the book ‘Paula’ on my iPad, I saw that Isabel Allende had added a further chapter some years later. It covers how she came to write ‘Paula’ through the gentle encouragement and direction of her mother, the conflict surrounding its publication, and how she struggled with life and her grief. On 8 January, a month after Paula died, her mother took her by the hand and led her to her writing room, handed her the bundle of letters Allende had written to her during the year of Paula’s coma, and told her she needed to write. She knew that Allende began a new book every 8 January and that she needed to pick up her life or drown. Her mother said that she would then understand that Paula’s death was the only possible liberation for her soul. I know just what her mother meant, and there was more that sounded familiar to me. Isabel, her mother and I are definitely cut from the same cloth. First names only from now on!
When Isabel was told that Paula’s husband had fallen in love again with someone called Guilia, who was born on the same day as Paula, whose mother was called Paula, and whose father was born on the same day in the same year as Isabel, a broad smile broke across my face. Facts like that are not brushed aside into my bin of coincidence, but rather put confidence in my step. Thank you for that, Universe, I hear you. She also grappled with her reasons for writing on such a personal level about her daughter, who was a deeply private person. Elle was too. Wrongly or correctly we both came up with the feeling that it was ‘permitted’ for the right reasons. I know why I started writing on 1 January—I needed to stay close to Elle as time conspired to take her further and further from me. I also needed to evaluate my life that was on constant playback in my mind. Finally, I needed an outlet for my grief—to do something that used up dastardly Time so I didn’t have to face it down all day and every day. Isabel reached conclusions similar to me. If Elle did come to ‘lift the veil’, she may equally want me to share my journey back to establishing a healthy relationship to time and to not letting the fire of my faith go out, and how through suffering there can also be joy, beauty, personal growth, hope and much more love, while never letting humility, grace and gratitude out of sight as I remember my regrets.
My moment with Isabel today gave me much needed reassurance. I no longer doubt my belief in God or the Oneness, though I do doubt myself sometimes still. According to Elle’s photo of her tree—doubt leads to error—so I prefer to consider that doubt is a pointer to where in one’s thoughts one needs to give more attention to. Perhaps doubt left unattended leads to error.
After I took the dogs for their last lap around the car parks for today, Peter asked me to have a glass of wine with him on our roof terrace. We had paused something enjoyable on TV, so I understood that this was something he needed from me. Once we had settled, I saw his face breaking up with emotion, and fear in his eyes. He told me Elle had spoken to him. He went on to say that he was afraid that if he let himself go, he would break apart. This was similar to something Kate had said. They are alike in so many ways. He then said he was struggling with his faith intellectually. This was not really news to me. I told him something I had been thinking for a while. ‘It’s worth considering that the reason you studied theology at university has everything to do with this moment.’ It obviously resonated, as he gave a chuckle. Through all our years together, he always told me that he had studied theology because faith—whether you do or don’t believe—is the most important issue in our lives. It never sounded like an authentic reason to me. For sure it is always good to talk about what is going on within us at the deepest level. Some people are so scared that it will expose them to judgment, mockery or worse. But whatever Peter’s concerns and doubts are, he never undermines or resents my spiritual journey, and even seems to enjoy sharing my experiences and observations. That must be good for him, as it certainly works well for me. What he heard Elle say to him was, ‘All is fine, dad. Things will be good.’
I needed to do a few things in the kitchen, so on went my music. The first song was Jake Bugg’s ‘Two Fingers’, and yay—I danced for the first time since Kate’s wedding. It felt good to dance just for me. The last song was ‘If You Go Away’ by Scott Walker—one of my favourites to sing along to.
Please Mr. DJ won’t you turn the music down
Why can’t you understand
I’m too hurt to dance tonight
Songwriters: Albert Hammond / Aimee Duffy
Later we visited Mimi and Martijn on the south side of the island. They cooked a wonderful lunch, and as usual the conversation flowed easily. They have also been through a bereavement recently.