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.
I decided to blog my book during this lockdown without giving it too much forethought. It seemed to fit. I have found it interesting to review and recall what I wrote and how some of it resonates with this strange experience of lockdown, a militarised word for a humanitarian crisis.
There will be a final part – 13.
“August comes from the Latin word augustus, meaning “consecrated” or “venerable,” which in turn is related to the Latin augur, meaning “consecrated by augury” or “auspicious.” In 8 B.C. the Roman Senate honored Augustus Caesar, the first Roman emperor, by changing the name of their month Sextilis to Augustus.”
Today I feel a little more comfortable. I told Peter this morning I may be going through some kind of shift, but towards what I have no idea. ‘No expectations’ is something of a personal mantra these days. In ten minutes I could be wondering how on earth did I get here from there!
I have been writing about 30 August for a while now. Today’s focus has been the drive from the Bilbao area to Barcelona, the ferry crossing to Ibiza, and how grateful we are that Claudia decided at the last minute to join us, but really, I do know it wasn’t coincidental. You would have to be pretty determined to hold proof of a supernatural support system away from that one. The gods worked their magic to provide a loving guide to get us home in a hurry, and who knows what else they had up their sleeves. This journey could not have happened as smoothly without her. We would eventually have got home, but it would have us taken longer, I’m sure. Earlier today she called me, and I always feel comforted when I hear her voice. Together we face our joint pain. We definitely got Elle’s godmothers and godfather right. We have all supported each other well.
Today I have the pleasure of recalling Charlie’s description of Elle at her dinner party where she created quite a stir a year ago today. Charlie had never seen Elle looking healthier or more beautiful, and her brother had playfully chided Charlie for introducing Elle to him just before his wedding. Charlie also told us of the impact Elle had made on the rest of her guests that evening.
Greg and I just spent the morning together. He was keen to repair his faded flower tattoo, which he originally got while working on a coaster, one of the last Thames barges captained by Bob Roberts, for a few months around his twenty-first birthday—three pounds for three minutes, he said. He loved the idea that his home-grown flowers, which provide so many of us with fragrant and colourful pleasure and form the basis of his summer mandala performances, have now been honoured by his tattoo upgrade. Emilija, the tattooist, did not disappoint! Later, on the way to the car, Greg recalled Peter saying a number of times around ten years ago that he felt a foreboding that something terrible was going to happen—life seemed too good. It is interesting that he brought this up so soon after Peter had recalled this. I told Peter of this, and he said he felt even more fearful now. This is not something I know how to fix for him. This journey has definitely taught me that we have to find our own way through our fears.
Elle had concerns because Peter rarely let anyone in on his deeper thoughts. She felt that by being so secretive he was not giving himself a chance to fully engage with life in a sustained way and reap the benefits of shared knowledge. While I feel very connected with him, I would also say there are places in his mind that I have never glimpsed. Elle also worried that I wasn’t doing enough to develop myself and had become spiritually, intellectually and physically lazy—too much scratching around on the surface, I think she thought. And she was right—but hopefully not anymore.
I need your grace
To remind me
To find my own
Chasing Cars, Snow Patrol
Peter and I left our house sitters, our dogs and Coco, our partially feathered, under-sized and perhaps a little retarded Yellow Headed Amazon parrot, this morning, and travelled via Bilbao to a place near Biarritz. My stomach turned over as we flew into Bilbao, near to the place where we received the phone call telling us Elle had died. It is two weeks short of a year since that call. I have no doubt it is going to get a lot harder from here on.
We are happy to be here, though. Later we will meet up with Peter’s sister and her husband Rick, Elle’s godfather. We have joined them to watch their son James conduct an orchestra he helped put together. They are in France at the invitation of a music festival, and it is our first time to see him conducting. He is on his path and doing what he is passionate about. James and Elle, his twin cousin, were always so admiring of each other.
I must remember there is much to be thankful for. Kate is doing well, and all seems to be on track with her pregnancy.
It’s been a while since we last saw Peter’s sister and brother-in-law, so it will be good to spend a few days with them in Guethary, a lovely resort near Biarritz. I feel like I’m on a weird holiday along with the other mostly French visitors. That said, I continue to experience a little stomach churning from time to time. I prefer to avoid being surrounded by lots of people. I am happier to be near those I consider ‘inside my bubble’, but I am not always disappointed when people gate-crash my bubble. Animals, birds and even insects have a calming effect on me.
Yesterday my ‘stress manager’ made itself apparent—sharp, noisy exhalations of breath. Before Elle died I always knew if I was stressed because on occasions I would find it difficult to get a satisfactory inhalation of air. It was as if the air I was getting did not contain enough oxygen. I was grateful for this physical indicator, as it meant I was aware of it and could work to bring my stress level down. Over the years it troubled me less and less. This deep exhalation seems to be a new version of the same thing, and it is interesting that it’s now on the out breath, almost as if I need to get rid of the carbon dioxide as quickly as possible, or rather, the stress.
I am trying to be present in the moment, and good company, but underneath my shadow side is lurking once more. I have a feeling of anger against the world and with being surrounded by strangers having fun. I can feel my old resentment towards time rearing its prickly head. I am going to give myself a break for now. More difficult days lie ahead and I can’t keep up this bad behaviour forever. Again I notice myself drawn to dogs and other animals. They ground me.
I dreamt last night about being in a van with a few people. We found ourselves in a situation where the van started freewheeling backwards down a steep hill. I advised the driver how to keep us from going over the edge, and how to stay in control of the vehicle. We were then faced with a further downhill situation. I warned the driver, and somehow we were able to avoid the danger by swerving around it. Then someone I recognised from life, called Maili, approached us and told me that the autopsy report showed that Elle had a huge brain tumour, and even if the accident hadn’t happened she couldn’t have lived. I wondered why Maili had the autopsy report and we didn’t. There was an implication that she was in ‘the know’ and expected to keep the records of the event. I felt affronted, and Peter felt the same. I now understand that it took the knowledge one step away from me and made it less about any thoughts that may have come from me. I had come across this strategy of informing before.
I think I understand the dream.
Last night, while out with Peter, Lindsay and Rick, I felt a need to get away and returned to our hotel. While enjoying a calming cigarette on the balcony, I told Elle I was disappointed in myself again. There is something in my nature, or one of my life forces or voices, that I call ‘Miss Arsy Tarsy’. I haven’t quite isolated yet why she has risen up onto the stage where I’m currently interfacing with the world and present company. If pushed to identify the usual source of this voice, my guess would be that it’s when I’m suppressing my own feelings about something, or not getting enough ‘me time’. In fact, I’m sure that’s it. If others were asked to describe me in this state, I think they would say I was being ‘otherwise’. I think my mother gave me this moniker as a child and a teenager. I asked Elle for some guidance, perhaps even a sign if possible—not something I ever feel comfortable asking for because it feels like a lazy way around my problems, and also somewhat presumptive.
As I wrote down my dream, I felt its meaning come through at a deeper level again. The van represents my bubble, and because the danger is ‘behind’ us and is so difficult to navigate, it illustrates what cannot be changed. It probably also incorporates the unknown because it is what we cannot foresee. It reminds me of Elle’s first sentence on her photo, ‘Fear comes from looking back’. I can take some positives from the dream, in that my advice was helpful, but I must never take for granted that the journey is complete. The second ‘scene’ of the dream seems to ask me to accept that even if Elle hadn’t died in the accident, she was still going to die. The reason it was Maili who passed on the autopsy results is probably because she is someone I trust, who has a sensible and well-grounded spiritual faith, but on being unexpected in the role, it ensured that I gave the dream extra thought. It tells me clearly that it was Elle’s time to go, no matter how unhappy I am with this, or how much I go over the ‘if only’s’. I do know though that many of my meanderings and searching for clues can never can be confirmed, but I also have a gut instinct for what is a feasible theory.
Last night was very special for Peter and me, and the real reason we are here. We finally got to see James conduct the orchestra he works with—I believe the relationships with the musicians go back to his university days. I last saw him conduct as an A-level student when he was music director and conductor for a school production of Kiss Me Kate. I recognised this boy’s talent and passion, and wondered where life would take him.
Ibiza has been the home of my choice since 1975 and since 2001 it has been a big part of my life. It brings me peace through its light, the characters it has drawn to it and its mostly peaceful beauty. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
There once was an island
further than any boat had reached
And she sat there in silence.
Alone, but at ease.
Girl on an Island, written and performed by Alice Phoebe Lou
Yesterday was not a day for writing. We drove from Biarritz to Bilbao and flew home from there. It was a tough day. I thought my stress monitor was going to launch me into space! My stomach kept flipping and tears kept threatening. We listened to our music all the way to the airport, and Peter and I were mostly deep in our own thoughts. About halfway to Bilbao I grabbed Peter’s leg and nearly caused an accident! It felt like Elle had returned in a rush of energy. I have been feeling a deep need for time alone, and on the plane Peter said I must let him take charge and make sure we get quiet time before Elle’s friends start arriving to stay, and before the picnic for Elle on the beach. I always deeply resist allowing someone else to take charge of things. I need to look at this. Do I really need to be in control, or am I just someone who leads?
I have just been on our balcony, smoking and wondering about how or where to begin what I want to write about today. I’m trying hard to close my ears to the irritating traffic on the busy roundabout below, so I can make out the soothing white noise of the summer cicadas that fills the air although I have yet to see one.
From my late teens, and later with the help of my two ‘universal experiences’ with the tree and the mountain, I set off on my own path of spiritual awakening. Christina has been a constant fellow traveller. Throughout my life, I have occasionally met other like-minded people and had inspirational conversations. Sometimes with people who were more advanced in their thinking, and they would widen and deepen my understanding of consciousness and what it means, and occasionally I was able to inspire others. On one such occasion, when asked to recommend books that had helped me, I felt embarrassed by the question, and could only say that as I didn’t follow any particular Religion or movement and as I didn’t have a guru, I had simply learnt directly from my own experiences and the inner workings of my mind.
While I saw reincarnation and karma as vital components of my belief structure, the more science I read, the more it sowed seeds of doubt in my mind. It began to feel crazier to believe in a God than to resign myself to being no more than a non-exceptional part of the great freak accident of the emergence of life from the oceans as explained by science. I started to think that what I saw as only explained by reincarnation and karma, may have more to do with ‘memory bubbles’ coming up through the DNA of our ancestors—a footprint on the shore left by our DNA history. It seemed perfectly feasible to me that any extraordinary experiences (good or bad) may have created a ‘notch’ in the DNA we received from our parents, and that some of these extraordinary moments could thus be carried on to following generations, and it was just that we did not always recognise the trauma or memory as coming from an ancestor. Later I learnt that a new avenue in science was developing called epigenetics that was studying something that sounded similar—the heritable changes in gene expressions that do not involve change to the underlying DNA. How closely entwined we all are with the collective consciousness or, as some call it, the Zeitgeist. And the theory coming out of this field states that there are signs of memories, particularly trauma, that appear to be passed between parent and child.
This see-sawing of my faith continued until a couple of years before Elle died. I am happy that I got to tell her I had finally quashed all my doubts. I told her that I had accepted there were things I couldn’t never know or understand, and that I was fine with that. Her eyes lit up on hearing this. When Elle died, any residual doubts were wiped away in one catastrophic sweep. Sceptics might think my desperate need to hold onto Elle explains this, but I have experienced far too many affirmations to listen to them.
I have written of the time when a spirit of a young girl interacted with a man sleeping where Elle spent her last night alongside Swo Boda. It happened shortly after my THC experience, when Elle came to care for me at Greg’s home as I disappeared down a cosmic rabbit hole and viewed the dual nature of everything, and the inconstancy of time as it passed in a snap of the fingers while at other times stood still. Even though I found the whole experience fascinating and knew what it was about, I had no context for it and struggled to make anything of it. At the time it just felt as though some old rot had shifted, but after Elle died it made a lot more sense to me. And this special experience of Elle will keep me company for the rest of my life.
Greg has obviously been thinking about the experience of the ghostly young girl, and asked me a few days ago if I thought that time, in its linear form, could also be viewed or experienced differently. I said I thought it highly likely that how we experience time is uniquely earthly, and we’d be foolish to believe it is a constant throughout the cosmos. I know I may be taking too great a liberty here, but Greg and I like to believe that Elle rushed back and brushed the face of the sleeping man, out of time (perhaps a glitch), and that, had it been in sequence, it would have been the face of the sleeping Swo Boda.
My new best friend, Synchronicity, makes sure I always have something to think and write about. Today it was reading about a theory that arose from a collaboration of two great minds, Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose, both highly respected scientists in their particular fields. And they have managed to stir up controversy as their theory doesn’t sit well with the preferred materialist view of the world and the cosmos by most of today’s scientists.
Penrose, the author of two books, ‘The Emperor’s New Mind’ and ‘Shadows of the Mind’, views the human brain as able to perform functions that are logically impossible for computers, which are purely algorithmic systems. Many feared he had overstepped the mark by suggesting that the brain can somehow use quantum gravity to observe and understand the world, as quantum gravity works on a scale seemingly too small to have any relevance to the brain.
Stuart Hameroff, another eminent scientist, has been collaborating with him over the past twenty years to study consciousness. An anaesthesiologist (among other accreditations), Hameroff became fascinated by something many of us who have undergone anaesthetics have noticed—that when under anaesthetic, consciousness is suspended or even halted in a way that is different from sleep where consciousness still seems to be running in the background. After almost two hundred years, science continues to be ignorant as to how anaesthetics actually work at all, never mind what consciousness is in the first place.
Their theory is called orchestrated objective reduction (Orch OR) and they propose, in simple terms, that consciousness originates at the quantum level inside neurons with the help of cellular microtubules, and this is then amplified by the neurons, and that it is not simply a product of neurons connecting with one another. That makes sense to me because we are not simply a thought generator, or computers would be able to simulate us exactly. We have a mind that can observe and come to conclusions about our thoughts as well. Not surprisingly, I understand that the classical Greek philosophers had a word for this—ousia, the action of the mind to turn around and reflect on itself.
While I don’t understand it at the detailed level, I feel as if I have comprehended the bigger picture.
I love Hameroff’s conclusion that the workings of the conscious mind more closely resembles music than logical computation. There is no doubt that the brain operates in much the same manner as a computer, but consciousness can be viewed as separate from brain function. I get that the brain is the organ that houses and facilitates consciousness. But consciousness has also been found to ‘move around’ in the brain. Where people have lost the use of either the left or right hemisphere of the brain, consciousness still manifests in the other half, even though each side is responsible for different functions. It is also considered possible that consciousness is housed throughout the body and its organs, and perhaps the brain is no more than an antenna that keeps us tuned into the collective consciousness of everything. We might do well to consider the insect colonies, where the queen ant, termite or bee does not give direct orders to the rest of the colony she has spawned, but is nevertheless vital to its continued existence. Perhaps, like our brain, she is the antenna that picks up the signal of the consciousness of the universe, or even Mother Earth herself, and through her it passes on to the colony. I know this is all a bit of frivolous conjecture, and sticking with my hypothesising—perhaps the mode of transport or impulsion of the data is the dimension we better understand as time. As long as I know the difference between facts that are hard to upturn and what still has an unknown origin, ideas that have not yet been discredited, or concepts that have only been partially understood, I see no reason to limit my imagination.
An interesting cross-reference here is Proverbs 6:6 in the Bible, which says: Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.
I want to return to the idea of space-time and reincarnation and recall my mention of a spiritual medium some months back who told me that Elle’s first words to her were: ‘I am here with everyone’. Elle apparently repeated these words as if for emphasis. I remember wondering at the time why she gave such importance to these words. After all, I didn’t expect her to be there alone!
I found myself thinking and imagining on that very thought over the following weeks. Perhaps when we are born, only a small proportion of our essence needs to come to earth, maybe only the particular facets that need polishing—and when Elle, during my elevated six weeks, told me she was not the one sustaining my elevation, but that I was ‘doing it for myself’, it crossed my mind that this may be how it works—a little permitted help from the ‘rest of me’. Or perhaps what I am perceiving is that if we are all elements of a ‘whole’ we call one, then this is how that would work out. As I have said before, I think of us individually as diamond crystals. Well, in our heavenly potential at least. What better metaphor for light and dark, good and evil, could there be? While both diamonds and coal are both carbon, coal is a less pure form, totally black with minimal reflective quality, and made up mostly of plant matter, and therefore earthly, you could say, diamonds are far purer and therefore perfectly represent our heavenly essence. The ultimate yin and yang. Duality incarnate! I have also been reading that the most persistent geometric building block of the universe is the tetrahedron, and diamonds in their natural state have a tetrahedral structure. It is rather like heavenly divinity reflected in the dual nature that rules all life on earth. The allure of diamonds for us humans is their unique ability to reflect even small quantities of light, which entrance and beguile us, and of course the white diamond does this best of all. There is one other element, given so little consideration, that can do some awesome light reflections, and that is another vital component in the infrastructure of life on our planet—water, especially when frozen.
I had a realisation earlier that is worth mentioning. When I am with people who either don’t have spiritual beliefs or never even consider the subject, I become defensive and I am not proud to say, even a little confrontational. This is what was underlying my self-disappointment a few days ago. I need to feel comfortable with my beliefs such that I do not fear rejection or judgement. It should never feel like there is a barrier between me and others who hold different beliefs. By entering into conversations openly and without fear, there may be the added benefit of learning something new. I recognise that I erect a wall and then feel impelled to lob stones over the top. I need to change this.
I don’t know whether this is the calm before the storm, but at the moment all feels quite still. My stress level seems to have dropped considerably. We have some arrangements to firm up for the 30th, and soon some of Elle’s friends will be arriving from the UK. I can’t help fearing that there is a dark storm lurking somewhere over the horizon. I miss her. Nothing will be good in the first few days of September. God help us.
I don’t know when exactly Elle’s inner life started to scramble. While I know only snippets of this time, I am aware that Elle opened her heart to Swo Boda, at least from the time of returning from her visit to Kate and Isaac. I also know she spent a momentous evening with him at the time of her last full moon, which would have been 18 August. I believe it is possible that by this time last year she had probably already begun to disassemble.
Today is Kito’s second birthday.
I learnt from Larah a while back that Elle had been working with Maili (who turned up in a dream I had while we were in Biarritz) in the last two weeks of her life and so I contacted her to see if she would meet with Peter and me, and we ended up having a coffee together a couple of months back. Maili said Elle worked with her on two consecutive retreats during that period. Her last worked shift was on this day last year. Maili had no difficulty recalling the events of that day, as Elle’s contribution to the retreat had been outstanding. She told Elle that she was now the ‘gold standard of assistants’, and the best she’d ever had. She went on to say that there was an air of magic that followed Elle throughout that day, and it is a comfort to her now that she actually remarked on this to Elle at the end of the shift.
Back to all the thoughts racing around in my mind today. I had another dream in the early hours of this morning but I couldn’t remember what it had been about, but over the next hour it revealed itself to me. I have heard that dreams are active parts of our life but in different dimensions, and that is why it’s so easy to lose a dream to the other side of the ‘veil’. You have to either hang onto it as soon as you wake, or retrieve it as moments in the day reference the dream and bring it back into ‘touch’. I remember many dreams from thirty or more years ago because I managed to pull them across the threshold and plant them firmly in the memory bank of life’s teachings. This makes sense to me. There is nothing quite so elusive, yet so vivid, as dreams. As I sat on the balcony a little later, I reflected on some photos Kate had sent us yesterday of their holiday in Croatia, where they will be for another eight or nine days. One photo of her in the narrow streets of an old town somewhere, in which she looked strikingly beautiful, gave me that uneasy feeling again, like the photo of Elle in profile holding little Isaac on her knees when he was three weeks old. It may be that Kate struck me as thin and vulnerable. She must be about nine weeks pregnant, and my heart goes out to her as she contemplates the time that lies ahead for us all.
Today I am feeling particularly tender towards my extraordinary life partner, Peter—who has loved me unconditionally from the day we first met. He has never judged me for all the ideas, some very wacky, that I have presented to, and tried out, on him, all the dreams he’s had to listen to, sometimes before even opening his eyes in the morning, and all the confusion I have offloaded onto him over the thirty-six years we have been married. There were times when both of us wondered if we had the stamina to keep our relationship together, but ultimately I always knew our destinies were deeply entwined, even when I didn’t understand why, and I know he knew this too. We have been young, carefree lovers, then awkward friends, lovers again, and now finally more like fraternal souls sharing what we have sowed and what life asks of us—the good, the bad and the not-so-pretty.
Last night was a tough one for Peter and me. Our friend Mercedes finally told us all she knew concerning Elle’s accident. She didn’t want to tell us at the time as she felt that our pain was too raw. I will come back to this.
Elle spent her day off with Swo Boda this time last year. All I have to go on about her state of mind is what he wrote to me in the months after she died. Apparently, they had enjoyed a good time together, and she had taken him home to meet her friends. In his own words, “When Elle left me after training on Wednesday the 24th she was, I would say, in good control of herself. At least that was my impression or what she wanted me to believe. Who can tell? The next day she messaged me: the girls really like you. You can come anytime xxx. Everything seemed okay and I had no reason to assume anything different.”
But however one looks at this moment at least overnight it must have been the start of things becoming disjointed for Elle, but perhaps not yet particularly apparent to her. By lunchtime the next day her state of mind had altered substantially.
I awoke before 6am today with energy and so much love in my heart—good while it lasts.
This day and night last year were the last Elle spent with her housemates of three months, in a house right next to the sign ‘Crematoria’ where just over a week later her cremation was to take place. I couldn’t help noticing this painful fact when we visited the house the day after we got the news. Until that moment I hadn’t known exactly where her house was.
As I wrote on 23 August, Elle had worked on a retreat with Maili, and was due back for another shift on this day, but instead arrived at work in tears, distant and distraught. Paola, who had come for the retreat, took Elle upstairs and laid her down on her bed. Maili was busy but in and out. They found out that Elle couldn’t sleep and wasn’t eating. They tried to get from her what the problem was, but she wasn’t able to communicate, or didn’t want to. They asked if it was ‘man trouble’ and apparently Elle only cried harder. They got her to eat something, and a little later, around 1 pm, Elle said she was able to drive and would go home and try to sleep. Paola recently sent me a beautiful message describing more of this meeting. As hard as it is to hear and learn more about her state of mind during these days, I have to get a clearer picture of what happened. I need to know. Considering she was able to drive and knew her work agenda, she was still grounded within the bounds of reality, and in fact this didn’t change right up until her death. I have a theory that she didn’t speak up because she believed nobody was able to help her due to the existential nature of her distress. I say so because I myself have felt like this on rare occasions. At the time of my deepest pain with Greg, I believed no one was able to help either of us, but this turned out not to be true, well, at least in that moment.
Maili first met Elle socially through mutual friends and had always enjoyed talking to her. Originally Elle was going to be her assistant, but then Ibiza Retreats, run by Larah and Sue, offered Elle a position. Leading up to this Thursday shift, Maili found Elle to be content with all that was happening in her life. She recently told Maili that she had never felt so strong and well in her body and credited her extra strength to Wing Chun. I can’t help wondering if what inspired Maili to describe Elle on the Tuesday as her gold standard of an assistant. Could it have been because she saw benevolence and integrity radiate from Elle on that day? Others had mentioned that light.
As I said this afternoon and night were Elle’s last moments spent with her housemates. She was happy to be living with young people again, and in her own space in the family home of Sapphire, with two other girls also living in the house.
The girls have told me that Elle was struggling to get a good night’s sleep. I am not sure exactly when this started, although Elle had a lifelong battle with falling asleep. Over the preceding days Elle’s disposition seemed to change. She was showing signs of emotional turmoil and displaying unusual mannerisms, for example, starting to express irritation with the girls. She was also choosing to spend much of her time semi-naked, which surprised them because they knew her as a private person. Sometimes she was also confrontational or grumpy. At other times she seemed to be vacant or missing. The girls thought it was love-sickness—they had recently met Swo Boda for the first time and apparently given him the thumbs-up.
On this Thursday, one of her housemates Ellen took Elle under her wing, and tried to change her mood by playing various games, along with one or two of the other housemates. One game they played was to guess the name on a piece of paper stuck to their foreheads. Ellen said that Elle was ‘with it’ for the duration of the game and knew what she was saying. They made food together, and then she cut Elle’s hair and styled it for her. We have a beautiful photo, the one of her in a Papa Smurf T-shirt. When Swo Boda saw that photo his first response was, ‘But that’s me. I am Papa Smurf with the beard.’ I will never forget my first reaction to that photo on our visit to meet the girls. I had never before seen what bliss would look like on the face of someone experiencing it, nor is this a word I had used before, but it was the first word that came into my mind on seeing it. Now I see it in a much more melancholic way—as if Elle was resigned to the losses heaping up ahead of her. The tears behind those apparently blissful smiling eyes now make it very hard for me to look at that photo. (Fig. 10)
Ellen then asked Elle what she would like to do next. She said she wanted to swim naked in the sea. So they set off for the beach, and I think they decided it was best to go to the closest beach, the river end of Santa Eulalia beach, as Elle was driving somewhat erratically. There was a wedding banquet taking place at a restaurant adjoining the beach, so they thought it best to keep their underwear on.
A few moments later, one of the ladies from the wedding banquet approached Elle and accused her of stealing a bag or wallet. Ellen was angry with the woman and told her they had only come to swim, and she shouldn’t accuse someone of stealing without some proof. The lady apologised to Elle, and that was that. After splashing around in the water for a while they went home. When I caught up with Ellen a few weeks later I asked if she remembered the state of the inside of Elle’s car. She said it was no different to normal—shoes, personal items and plastic bottles everywhere, yet it was internally immaculate when we drove it some weeks later to the mechanic.
Ellen stayed with her through the evening, and then they all went to bed. Saffy told me that when she came into the kitchen the following morning a naked Elle was sitting on the counter and announced to her, ‘It’s official. I am now an insomniac’. Sapphire suggested she get dressed and Elle dismissively told her that only she decided what was good for her, a refrain that was heard many times over the next few days when someone made a suggestion to her.
I am only able to get through this retelling of what happened by sticking to the facts as far as possible.
This year of grief has been extraordinary in so many ways, both expected and unexpected—shock, panic, agony, elevation towards my higher self, joy and beauty, steep and scary drops into deep black holes, climbing out and attempting to scale a high mountain, learning about the flora and fauna on the wayside, sliding down snakes, climbing up ladders, synchronicity on an epic scale, exploration, investigation, introspection and connection. It has been the steepest learning curve of my adult life, and I have really had to engage with who I am, who I want to be, and my spiritual faith. Today was no exception. I went downstairs to my Pilates studio and was encouraged by one of our trainers to stay for a shoulder, neck and head massage. I have always resisted spending time nurturing and honouring my body, and often wondered why.
Many holistic and New Age healers note that sayings such as ‘it’s a pain in the neck’, ‘a weight on my back’ or ‘gets on my nerves’ often indicate where we physically manifest our emotional problems. As I lay down and placed my face in the hole of the massage table I became aware of my ‘pain in the neck’. When a bolster was placed under my ankles I felt slightly irritated that it wasn’t quite at right angles to my body, so I straightened it with one foot. It made me recall how I love to line things up (like table napkins, pictures on the wall, or the angle of a standing photo frame). Instead of dismissing or not even noticing my action, I found myself reflecting on what it says about me. This tendency I have doesn’t come anywhere near OCD. Perhaps it’s more that I like to understand how things stand in relation to others things. To know how to act, I first need to understand the position and the form. I also like that what is done or said should be right according to the best of my knowledge.
I was struck by another thought as Elena’s hands smoothed away the knots in my shoulders and neck. I have always been inclined to talk my way out of problems, and probably into them too if I am honest. I strove to verbally build an understanding of how I saw life. I see now how I also always felt a need to explain myself rather than allow my day-to-day living to quietly reveal who I am. As much as I see the importance of verbal communication, I remember Elle as a child covering her ears with her hands, saying ‘don’t speak, don’t speak.’ It is possible that we teach our children much more through our actions than by always trying to explain how the world works or telling them how things should be done. We are strongest as positive role models. I wish I had understood this better and taken greater responsibility for how I lived my life, rather than trying to explain away my weaknesses and regrets.
Later on this morning a year ago, Elle drove to meet with Larah and her team for a briefing on their upcoming retreat. Again, she arrived deeply distressed, and I understand that everyone embraced her and tried to talk her through whatever it was that was so unsettling. Later Larah asked someone who had done some therapy with Elle to come and talk to her. This is the lady I spoke of a few months ago, who told us about Elle hearing voices and seeing visions, one of which had been The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Elle identified one of them as her father. There is more than one way of interpreting father, and I have left it ambiguous for now. When she asked Elle about a boyfriend, Elle said she didn’t know whether the relationship had a future. With hindsight this could also be taken a number of ways. It is natural to jump to the obvious conclusion. But perhaps she had a premonition of what was to come. Maybe the fear I felt, when I looked at that photo of her holding baby Isaac on her knees, was that she sensed motherhood was not to be her future. I felt strongly that this was not ‘my Elle’ I was looking at. I have not been able to get any further details of this meeting, and perhaps there isn’t much more to know. I shall never know if how it seems to me is an accurate assessment of how things were. Being aware of this is how I hold onto humility.
Larah was sufficiently concerned about Elle to suggest she spend the night with her. Knowing how fond Elle and her son were of each other, Larah hoped he would have a grounding influence on her. Elle ate some food with them, and they tried to help her sleep. Larah said that at some point in the night she woke to see Elle standing in their room just looking at her and her husband. I can’t help imagining what she may have been thinking. Larah guided her back to bed.
I woke up early again today and slipped out of the house to see what the sunrise would be like at Cala Llenya beach on the 30th. Unfortunately the sun rises behind a promontory of land jutting out on the left side. I looked further up the coast for a better view, but it would mean a much longer journey for some of Elle’s friends. It can’t be helped. It will still be perfect—I’m just hoping for a clear day now.
Peter and I are spending today with our thoughts and our writing. Peter read through one of Elle’s notebooks for the first time. I am glad. We are preparing for the arrival of Elle’s friends for Wednesday 30 August, and want to make sure all is in place. It’s yet another steamy day. I keep checking the weather forecast, and perhaps we shall have to trust that the sun is rising rather than witness it. It will be what it will be.
Again I am not exactly clear what happened that morning, but Larah had to go somewhere, and on her return she found her son and Elle, both very muddy and cuddling. Larah didn’t know what to do and decided it would be best to take Elle to her uncle Greg.
Greg told us he felt frightened as soon as he saw her. It had been a while since they were last together. She threw herself into his arms and her first words were, ‘I feel nothing.’ Then she cried. Can one feel nothing, but then cry? Was she wrong about feeling nothing, or was the ‘nothing’ a deep sorrow that felt like nothing mattered? Did she feel very afraid? He hugged her and tried to tell her not to worry, and that she was safe with him. He also told us that he’d felt nervous on a deep and personal level. He knew he wanted to keep her safe, and he would bloody well do his best, but she was almost ‘too hot for him to hold’.
From the reports of residents of San Carlos, it appears that Elle went out on both of the first two nights at Greg’s for walks up the road and into the nearby forest. We learnt this from our friend Mercedes the other night for the first time. It is therefore less strange that she did the same early on the morning of 30 August. This changed how I felt about what happened on the morning of 30 August.
Meanwhile, Peter, Claudia and I were having lunch somewhere on the Cantabrian coast. I think we were near San Sebastian. My mobile rang and I could see it was Greg. He said Elle was with him, and that she wasn’t feeling very good and wanted to talk to me. He handed her the phone. The three sentences Elle said to me are imprinted on my heart forever. She spoke clearly, with pauses between each sentence. It was as if we were one in that moment.
‘Mom, this is very important. I am having a breakdown. It’s going to take the whole family to work together on this.’
At first I was stunned into silence. This was not something I could imagine—that someone suffering a breakdown could tell you calmly that this was what was happening to them, and as importantly, from someone who has shown no signs of depression or stress for at least the last year. I responded that we were all here to help and we would find the very best help available. I told her she was not to worry about anything. We would be home in a few days, and she was with Greg now, and safe. Her voice was monotone, and she didn’t want to talk more than she had to. I understood well how serious the situation was, but wanted to remain calm and show confidence that all could be overcome. I returned to our table and told Peter and Claudia what had happened. I also remember feeling a need to return to her immediately, but a stronger emotion overrode this urge. Now I wish I wasn’t the kind of person who always tried to do the ‘right and measured thing’. I didn’t want her to think I didn’t believe in her. I couldn’t bear to disrespect her, as if she needed ‘mummy to run back to take care of her’. She was so much more than that. Together we weighed up all these emotions and decided it would be best to return, as planned, on 31 August, which would show that I had trust in her ability to take responsibility for herself. I didn’t want to mention the word, breakdown, to Kate because I knew how much this would worry her. I told her only that she wasn’t feeling herself and that she should call her. Kate was coping for the first time with a new-born baby. I mentioned this to her for the first time on the Monday before Elle died.
I spoke to Greg a number of times each day and sent Elle a few messages of encouragement. On the Sunday Greg posted a photo on Facebook of them and friends around his kitchen table, eating and talking, and it gave me comfort that she was coping. I also remember trying desperately to think of someone who could go around to comfort and help her but I just couldn’t think of who could take this on. Later I could think of two people who would have been perfect and who Elle would have trusted. Why did their names not come to me at the time? Perhaps all was as it was meant to be. But that doesn’t really cut it.
Greg told me after our return that during these two days, Elle was sometimes with them and joining in the conversations, but at other times sat outside in his garden. She spent a lot of time showering and seemed comforted by water. Sometimes she cried. She also spent time talking to a young man called Sam who was sleeping temporarily in a hammock in Greg’s garden for a few weeks because he had nowhere to go. He had cancer and was refusing conventional treatment, preferring to smoke cannabis and ‘be in charge of his own body’ as he put it—similar to Elle’s attitude towards her own body during this period. I had the opportunity to speak to him on a number of occasions after Elle died, and his eyes lit up when he spoke of her and their chats. Last winter Greg contacted Sam’s mother to help arrange a ticket back to the UK, and he left reluctantly. He left his bike with Greg. He has not returned this summer to his beloved life on this island, and I fear he may no longer be with us. Bless him.
My attention continues to be drawn in many directions. Yesterday we had a chat with Kate. We will FaceTime her in two days while waiting for the sun to rise. It is looking more likely that Wednesday will be a day of full cloud and some wind. I have resigned myself to this. We will know the sun has risen as it lights up the world around us.
Back to Kate. She told us that after watching a TED Talk on how different cultures experience and express grief, she is considering writing around this subject. She went on to mention a tribe in the Philippines that keep their dead with them for quite a long time until they can afford a lavish funeral, and also that they place their dead in hollowed-out tree trunks. This rang a few bells, and I told her something that happened when Peter and I were living in Hong Kong before we married. Peter’s mom Tinker joined us for a few weeks, and we took a short holiday together in the Philippines. We stayed at Mount Data Mountain Lodge in the north of Luzon Island, and Tinker wanted to see the hanging coffins and cave coffins of a local tribe. Apparently, they elevated their dead to be closer to heaven. I know it is stretching things somewhat, but nevertheless these bizarre links keep cropping up, and at the very least they remind me of the ever-present connectedness in all our lives.
The above leads me conveniently to something else that popped up this morning. Philip K Dick is either just another science fiction writer or someone who has accidently (or not) become a conduit for universal knowledge. His name kept popping up in ‘Kingdom’, the book I was reading (I have put it aside to finish Isabel Allende’s ‘The Sum of our Lives’), and as I usually read at night, I kept trying to remind myself to look him up. Was he a character from a crime novel or a fiction of Carrere’s imagination? Well, it turns out that not only is he a highly respected author in his genre, but also the inspiration behind one of my favourite movies, ‘Bladerunner’, that was based on his story, ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’. Through his studies of philosophy, psychology (particularly Jungian studies), theology, social and political themes, and the nature of reality, he came to describe himself as ‘an acosmic panentheist’, believing the universe to be an extension of God. That got my attention. I may look into a book made up of extracts taken from his journal published as ‘The Exegesis of Philip K Dick’.
There was still another moment today while I was doing Pilates, and I can almost see a link. I shall try to be concise! When I entered menopause (what has it got to do with begging men to wait a while!?) I thankfully never experienced night sweats, but rather, as described earlier, a sudden dry electrical heat that rises up my spine. These episodes have never come to an end. During my menopause I could light up like a burning bush any time of day or night, but this later version only ever happens at night. It can last five or fifteen minutes, and as it subsides I generally fall back to sleep quickly. I have spent many moments wondering what it is and why. I know I am probably a bit of a kook, but I even contemplated it as some form of a communication network with the universe. This was long before I had heard of a Kundalini awakening. Was my own electrical system acting as an antenna? The doctor didn’t recognise my description of electrical heat, so I said that my mother seemed to get it in the neck area every night until she died around age eighty-eight. The doctor’s only response was that I would likely experience this, like her, until I die. So okay, that’s how it is. I have asked many doctors since, and I don’t think I’m such a kook anymore. It could be the awakening of my Kundalini, or life force. I have now read up and found references to the electrical heat up the spine in some Eastern mystical texts. It could also explain the proctalgia fugax that also happens only at night, and for which there is no further information. I experienced this a couple of times in the two years before Elle died, but now it is a little more frequent. I have included this in case it coincides with anyone else’s strange bodily experiences, and naturally one should always check anything out of the norm with a doctor.
This morning, near the end of the Pilates session, while sitting on our benches doing spinal lifts and curls, the heat came on most unusually, and I caught myself smiling in the mirror as I wondered what the universe was trying to tell me this time. Suddenly I had a deep understanding of the saying ‘your body is your temple’. This is normally just a convenient throwaway line to encourage people to take care of their bodies. But this time it felt more profound. All there is to know about everything that is, was, or will be, resides within us already. Our bodies truly are temples containing knowledge that will lead us to enlightenment. I nearly laughed out loud. It makes sense even of my experience of the power of breath and the sacredness of expelling all waste from our bodies. I think that language can teach us a lot if only we would look into it, and really listen to the words, not just hear them.
On this day last year, Greg and Elle went to the second-hand market in Cala Llenya, as Elle had no spare clothes with her, and she found a skirt she was prepared to wear. Greg says driving to the market with her was a bit scary as she drove fast one moment and slowly the next, as if she was trying to adjust to what she was experiencing. Later in the day when Greg asked where the skirt was, she said she decides what goes on her body, her response of choice now.
Greg shared another memory of that day with us. He was standing at his kitchen door and observed Elle looking intently out through his kitchen window. She seemed far away. Then she turned to him with the most beautiful, serene and uplifting smile, opened her arms and said, ‘I love you, Greg.’
That day I asked Greg whether I should return straightaway, and he said he felt Elle was safe with him, and we would be home very soon. Not one of us—Peter, Kate, Greg or I—realised just how dangerous a time this was for Elle. We had all experienced the emotional breakdowns of family members in the past, and we would manage this one too. They had been able to keep themselves safe. But the line between a close call and tragedy is very thin, and I have always known this. When I needed to be attentive, where was this knowledge?
Peter and I enjoyed a lunch out, and he said he feels prepared for tomorrow’s sunrise and wants to enjoy it. I agreed. All of what follows I wrote a while back.
What I know of this day last year is sketchy. Sometime in the morning Elle told Greg she wanted to go to the art store to buy supplies for the children’s workshop she would be doing on Wednesday at Pike’s Hotel. I have not managed to find out who set this up. Greg said he was worried about her going off on her own, but didn’t feel he could stop her from going. He kept watching nervously for her return, and she was gone quite a while. I learnt a while later from Swo Boda that they had decided to do the children’s workshop together because of his concerns about her.
She did buy supplies, which we recently took to Caritas to be used by the children Elle worked with on her volunteering days. Later she called in at the studio of her Wing Chun master, Nino, in San Antonio. I don’t know exactly what she said to him. Was she hoping to talk about how she was feeling or about Swo Boda, or was she simply looking for Swo Boda? Nino was teaching at the time and told her to go to his kitchen or a private area of his studio, and he would see her a little later. Apparently, she started doing something with his laptop. Nino was perturbed because he sensed something different about her. Later, after she drove off, Nino called Swo Boda and passed on his concerns about Elle’s state of mind.
Swo Boda told me he set off on his bicycle from wherever he was, and eventually found her. This in itself is amazing to me. How did he know where to look? He must have left his bicycle somewhere and continued with Elle, and they visited a number of places together. Saffy told me they eventually ended up at her house. Swo Boda was sitting outside appearing to read a book while Elle ate some fruit in the kitchen. Elle then told Saffy they were going to get some lunch somewhere. Swo Boda told me she seemed to be driving around somewhat aimlessly. I believe it was mid-afternoon by the time they arrived at the house, and Greg was very relieved to have her back safely.
By this point Swo Boda was very upset about Elle’s state of mind. He had never heard of Greg, and initially, when Elle introduced him, he was quite aggressive towards Greg. Later, they got a chance to talk, and Greg explained that he was her uncle and had known her all her life. Swo Boda then relaxed with Greg. Greg and I spoke on the phone for an update, and this was the first time I heard that Elle had a boyfriend. Greg assured me he was a good person, and I felt a huge sense of relief. Now there were two people looking after Elle, and soon we would be home. But after hearing about her driving off on her own, and with a deepening fear for her safety I remember wanting to ask Greg to lock the door to her room, and then thinking, ‘No, you can’t do that, it’s too demeaning.’ Apparently Greg had had the same thought and came to the same conclusion.
At some point during the afternoon, sitting around Greg’s kitchen table, Elle asked Swo Boda, ‘How much ego does one need to stay alive?’ Taken by surprise, and trying to work out an appropriate answer, he said, ‘Elle, a Buddhist I know says you need enough ego not to get run over by a car.’
Later in the day he said he had to shout this out to Elle, as she ran across the road to a pond on the roundabout. She was so deeply drawn to water in all its forms during these final days. A day or two following her death I saw a couple of girls sitting beside the pond on the roundabout—not something I had ever seen before or since. Were they there for Elle?
Greg tells me that all through these days Elle never drank alcohol or smoked anything. He tried to get her to eat but it wasn’t easy. She spent most of the time partially dressed, and regularly took showers. I had had to let Kate know that I was worried about Elle and I suggested she call her sister. Around nine that evening Kate called Elle. We didn’t know this until a few months later, although Kate says she told us. Perhaps for some reason our focus was elsewhere. She said they talked for a while but she didn’t get any sense that Elle was suffering a breakdown. She simply understood that Elle was very, very tired. She suggested that Elle take the sleeping pills I had asked Greg to buy from the chemist, but Elle told Kate she would decide what went into her body. She wanted nothing to do with chemical medication. Kate then suggested she take something gentler and natural, and Elle indicated that she would look for something. They shared how much they loved each other and said goodbye. About nine hours later, Elle was killed on the roadside about 200m from Greg’s home.
I have just seen a pop-up on my laptop advising me of an email from Swo Boda.
There are hardly words to describe what I read and saw. It was a special message that brought me joy and comfort on this day, as I wrote about Elle’s last day here on earth. Swo Boda had returned to Malaga to be with friends during this difficult time, and on an evening walk he encountered ‘Elle’. It fascinates me that I have often noticed how the letters can be read from either end, and this poster takes the idea even further. My joy comes from knowing that I am not just a delusional mother, and that Elle keeps sending acknowledgements and affirmations, not only directly, but also regularly through third parties. She is with us all.