Good Grief: Take Me By The Hand – Final Part, Thirteen

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.

For those born in September, the birth flowers are the forget-me-not, morning glory and aster. The birthstone for September is the sapphire which symbolises clear thinking.

I have a short story for the start of the final part of my book. It may be short but it reaches back more than thirty years into my past. Peter, Kate and I were living in Walton-on-Thames in the UK. We had bought the bottom half of a Victorian villa and above us lived a lady on her own. Her name was Yvonne, and I think she may have been in her early sixties. Unusually, she had worked in London for many years as a receptionist for a famous dominatrix but was now retired, and living a very ordinary life. The stories she told of the men arriving, barristers, judges, politicians and top bankers etc, and how she used to have different rooms for them to wait in so that they never saw each other, were eye-watering to someone who at the time was rather innocent with regard to the red light industry. It may even have been the first time I had knowledge that dominatrices even existed. Yvonne was quick to point out that her boss never had sex ever with any of her clients. Her duties would sometimes include checking up on a client in nothing but a French maid’s outfit as he vacuumed or dusted the waiting room. Arrival times also had to be carefully juggled and promptness was strictly monitored.

But the reason I have brought this up is because I started thinking more often about Yvonne and my memories of her as a person, and also of a particular thought I had had at the time. I would mull over this observation not really knowing why, but in the last few months it has been made clear to me. She was a simple soul, asked very little of life and seemed to have little experience of the world and its history. She had a man friend but had never been married. I can clearly recall being amazed all those years ago that someone who appeared to know so little of the world could be so spiritually intelligent. When Greg was going through his crisis last summer I would often find myself thinking about her again. While working on the final edit of my book I had a growing acceptance that I too was naive in ways I hadn’t realised. The more I engaged with this notion, and all its corollaries, the more liberated I felt. It was not what I was expecting. Spiritual intelligence is something altogether separate from any other innate intelligence. I don’t think I need to explain further.

Part Thirteen

30 August 2016

There’s a tree where the doves go to die
There’s a piece that was torn from the morning
And it hangs in the Gallery of Frost

‘Take This Waltz’, a tribute translation by Leonard Cohen of Lorca’s poem ‘A Little Viennese Waltz’

Friends of Elle have been arriving over the past few days from the UK, and just before dawn this morning, we all got together with local friends, old and new, at Cala Llenya beach. We were not expecting to see the sun rise as the weather report predicted a full day of cloud, but the storm forecast for today quietly slipped through last night instead. A good rain, but none of the predicted wind thank goodness! We got to the beach just as the light was appearing on the horizon, and behind us was our friend from Meke Coffee, Sam, with supplies of tea, coffee and croissants. A few Buddhist friends were already at the water’s edge chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo for Elle. Perhaps Elle was right there with them. Not long after that, our houseguests Leah, Rachel and Freddie and her boyfriend Dan arrived too. Greg and Zoe brought flowers and breakfast bread rolls, while Mal and his musician friends quietly practised their song a little way up the beach. Later they performed the beautiful song Mal had written for Elle, inspired by the emails we received from many of Elle’s friends. We called Kate so that she could listen to it too. Peter and I welcomed and thanked everyone for making the effort to join us at dawn to mark this first anniversary of a day that changed our lives forever. The sun’s rays broke through holes in the clouds and heralded the sunrise. It fitted with my mood but I can’t help feeling that sunrises will always be bittersweet now. The afternoon boat trip on a traditional Ibizan fishing boat was cancelled because of rough seas and wind, so we have postponed it until Kate’s visit at the end of September but they have just contacted me to say all is clear to go to sea. But we’ve now been invited to supper at Greg’s, so are sticking with the change of plan.

Mary-Ann, my cousin whose daughter died earlier in the same year as Elle, called from South Africa just as the moment was coming to an end. We are so ready to be with each other in November. It is what we need—to be able to open our hearts to each other and let our pain flow freely.

It was important for me to tell all present that I now agree with Peter and Kate that Elle died as a result of a tragic accident. It felt good to say this. It saddened us when we heard that there were a few people saying that Elle’s breakdown and death were caused by drugs and/or a breakup with her boyfriend. I stand by this statement that it is not true.

I am aware that attempting to put the circumstances leading up to Elle’s death down on paper is unlikely to provide the full authentic version. Most of what happened is mysterious and deeply complex, and because we were away, we have had to rely on what people have told us. I am trying hard to bring together all the disparate descriptions and recollections into a cohesive understanding of the sequence of events, and what may have brought about the breakdown of her mental resolve to stay in the real world. We, and this was the view of some of her closest friends too, knew Elle to have deep reserves of inner strength of mind, as was recently evident from her accomplishment of a complete ten-day Vipassana without much ‘training’. Many have attempted it and needed to pull out after two or three days. Her strength in never giving up on herself as she worked hard to overcome deep-rooted emotional and mental obstacles was equally obvious. As we have managed to locate and speak to people who saw her during the last weeks, we have gained small insights into what may have happened, through a conversation with someone, an action or a question, but I also accept that we will never have a complete picture of what happened. I have read her notebooks, and while they taught me so much about her moments alone with her thoughts, they give no clues as to what specifically led to her emotional breakdown. As virtually nothing was dated, I believe a few entries may have been written in the last week of her life. I could see how her handwriting was faltering. One of the entries was a dream concerning her and Swo Boda. She wrote that ‘Swo Boda had the key as he was to be trusted’, and that he had difficulties accepting all of her, and it was clear to me that she was referring to her dark side, not that we were ever given more than a glimpse of this perceived side of herself. This dream seemed to disturb her trust in their future. But it is only a dream and I should not read too much into it. It is equally likely that her own fears were fuelling the dream.

We will probably never stop trying to understand what led her into such troubled waters when all other signs suggested she was enjoying her life more than at any other time in recent years. This is only natural as we try to process our new and grim reality. For my part, I have also turned my investigations outwards to improve my understanding of the workings of this world that is for now my home.

The first person we spoke to after the initial deafening call was Greg. He was deeply traumatised and struggling to remember some things, while other moments were burnt into his mind’s eye. The sun had not yet risen when Greg got up around six that morning to make a cup of coffee. He noticed that the front door was slightly ajar. His first thought was for Elle, but the bedroom door was closed. The last person entering the house the previous night may not have closed it properly, and it tends to spring open in a breeze if it hasn’t been fully clicked shut. At about 7.30 am, Swo Boda came out of the bedroom in a state and asked where Elle was. ‘I thought she was in bed with you,’ Greg said. Then he and Swo Boda ran out onto the roundabout to try to find Elle. Someone from the garage opposite said there had been an accident up the road. They both raced in the direction he pointed—as I write I feel their fear as if it was me in that moment. I have never spoken to Greg about the details of what they saw, but I know it fell to one of them to identify Elle—I believe it was Swo Boda. The accident happened only two hundred metres from Greg’s home.

I struggle on as my heart longs to find a new reality for me.

We now know that on the morning of Tuesday 30 August, after another sleepless night, Elle left Greg’s house at around 6 am. Swo Boda told me in a number of conversations over the following couple of days, and in emails we exchanged over the next few months, that she had tried to sleep, but regularly left the room. When he enquired what she was doing or where she was going, she said she was going to the toilet. After a while she said that if he loved her then he would trust her. Wanting her to feel safe and loved, he turned over and just listened for her movements, but eventually, during the early morning hours, he fell asleep.

We can only guess what happened between her leaving the house and the accident. Later we heard that a taxi driver had been concerned about a young girl walking on the side of the road, and we were told that he is troubled that he didn’t stop to see if he could help her. He is one of a number of us who feel that, had we acted differently, there could have been an alternative outcome.

The driver of the car involved in the accident was a woman, a mother of a young child. I read that she was thirty years old and on her way to work. We know nothing more about her except that she returned to the mainland soon after the accident. We can imagine that the pain would be almost as strong for her as for us, although for different reasons. Her original statement said she glimpsed Elle in her headlights on the side of the road, and the next moment she was right in front of the car. She said there was nothing she could do to avoid her. When she spoke to the judge in June, she said that there had been a misunderstanding and that she didn’t see Elle at all until she was right in front of her. When asked why she didn’t attempt to brake at all, her response was that there was no time, and that she was confused about what had actually happened. I am not sure what to make of this change to her statement, as I see the need to brake not as a rational decision, but rather an automatic reflex, even if only in response to hitting something. I can’t help feeling, as there were no natural obstructions to impede one’s vision of the road, and to both sides, that if she had been looking ahead through her windscreen, driving at the correct speed and paying attention to the road, she could not have missed seeing Elle. Concern at Elle’s partially clad body should have made her slow down even further, and perhaps even stop. She pulled up slowly 250m down the road. Why did she take so long? I do not accept certain elements of the autopsy, but it changes nothing. It does no good to dwell on it, and can only increase our suffering if we allow anger to hijack our emotions. There are no lessons we need society to learn from the accident itself, but an important reason for wanting to publish my writing is whether there is anything to learn from the preceding events.

Throughout this first year following Elle’s death, I was haunted by the notion that perhaps Elle had jumped in front of the car. But this fear was made unlikely as we learnt that she had been out walking on the previous two nights. Being in a fugue state, very tired and undernourished, she was not able to keep herself safe. Neither Kate nor Peter, in fact no one else, thought this may have happened, but it kept playing at the back of my mind. Within hours of getting the phone call, I had a vision of Elle ascending from the accident, and it persisted for months, but I could not understand why it was joyful. I am now as sure as anyone can be that Elle’s death was not intentional on her part, but rather a tragic accident. I was saddened when I heard that some locals had seen Elle out walking on the previous nights but had assumed she was on drugs. This upset me deeply as it is the village that we now live in and I felt that I had to address it. I distributed four letters to key places in our village where I knew locals regularly came together and talked. I wanted the village to know that Elle was suffering a breakdown, that she loved the island and its people, and was a hardworking contributor to the local economy. The response to my carefully worded letter was kind and positive. The judge, having considered all options, came to the same conclusion as the police—that Elle had been crossing the road, and it was a tragic accident. What I do not accept is that the police could be sure she was crossing the road. Elle would not have crossed in front of the only lights in the darkness.

Greg, paralysed by shock, didn’t know what to do. He had to contact us but he couldn’t summon the strength to do it. With the support of some friends who rallied around him, he managed to make the call to my brother-in-law Dave, Marion’s husband. Dave then called Peter.

Peter, Claudia and I were about to have a late breakfast, around 9.30 am I think. Our plan was to do some packing in preparation for our journey home, and then have lunch at a mountain top restaurant in Cantabria near Bilbao. The idea was to set off very early the next morning for Denia to pick up the last ferry back to Ibiza. We missed the first phone call, and then Peter’s phone rang again. I answered it while he was waiting for the boiled eggs to be ready. It was Dave, who asked to speak to Peter. As soon as I heard his voice, although he tried to sound normal, I knew something terrible had happened. I could feel my knees weakening as I held the phone out to Peter, and wanted to run away as I heard him repeat Dave’s words. I believe I knew instantly that it was Elle and that she was dead from the first word I heard Dave say. After ringing off, Peter, Claudia and I sank to the floor in a close huddle and wailed, our hearts almost audibly shattering as though they had always been made of glass.

I often remember the little red glass vase that belonged to Tinker, and how Elle and I put it back together in the May before she died. When I last spoke of it, I said I believed she was showing me—showing us—that as impossible as it may seem, we would be able to put our lives back together again. I also see now that it could not reference the heart more perfectly.

Back in Cantabria, once Peter, Claudia and I had helped each other to our feet, we all knew the most important thing now was to pack the car and leave straightaway for the island. It was important that I summon up strength from somewhere deep inside my being—I needed to get reality working for me again. The car ferry tickets booked for the next day from Denia needed to be exchanged for new tickets so that we could leave from Barcelona that evening. It wasn’t going to be easy to make the Barcelona ferry, but we were determined to arrive in time. I held on tight and managed to call the ferry office and explained that I needed to speak to someone in English. I told them about our emergency, and asked the young man to be patient with me as I attempted to answer all his questions correctly. There was no time for mistakes. He was a compassionate young man. It definitely qualified as one of the most difficult tasks I have ever had to perform, but there were more to follow.

Before we could leave there was a phone call we needed to make. We had to tell Kate. Peter called Alex and told him that he needed to return home to be with Kate before we made our call. I can’t remember exactly how it worked, but he was with her when we told her the news. Recalling that moment brings on an involuntary tightening of my chest, almost no easier to do than hearing the news ourselves. We also let Greg know that we were on our way and would be back with him early the next morning. It was so comforting to hear that good friends, Matt and Lulu, Saffy’s aunt, were with Greg. Elle had also shared our first house on the island with them for about a month when she moved to the island at the beginning of 2011 while we were on an extended visit to Cape Town.

We mechanically went about our business of packing the carn in a stunned silence. The dogs took their place on the back seat, and we said our sad farewells to the young man who had been our host. I drove first, followed by Peter, but as the drive progressed it became clear that neither Peter nor I were fit to drive, so Claudia took over, and somehow we kept moving in the direction of Barcelona. We had little time for stops—a quick refuel and grab a ‘bocadillo’, let the dogs have a pee and some water. No time to waste.

Throughout the journey there were calls to be made, messages to send out, messages coming in, each one a painful reminder of the future that now lay ahead of us. The bush telegraph, Facebook, ensured that the news spread fast. But it was hard to understand and bear when later in the day we got a phone call from Kate telling us that the press and photographers were outside her door. With the help of colleagues, a lawyer who specialised in dealing with the press and invasion-of-privacy issues stepped in to help deflect the press interest that had taken us all by surprise. We couldn’t understand where the public interest came in, but all I could think was that it was because a young girl from the UK had died on the ‘party island’. Reporters even tried Elle’s friends and reached out to us to ‘tell our story’! Peter and I managed to stay completely out of the press loop, but Kate was in the thick of it as the tabloids told their version of Elle’s ‘tragic death after leaving a party venue in a state of disarray and intoxication’. They even managed to infiltrate Facebook and extract a photo of Elle. Very little in the article was based on fact, other than that she had been killed in a car accident early in the morning near a club called Las Dalias. The least I could do was let her close friends know that only her family knew what had happened. The articles persisted for a few days, but once it was no longer fresh news the interest disappeared.

We arrived at the ferry port in Barcelona just in time to check in and give the dogs a little walk. They seemed to be fully vested in our grief. It wasn’t long before we were driving into the ferry. We put the dogs in their overnight kennel and made our way to the restaurant—it seemed a good idea to try and eat something. Conversation was limited to plans for the next day, tears and more tears. After dinner we went straight to our cabin. Every moment my stomach told me something was horribly wrong, reality was upside down, we were in a dream, no, a nightmare. We silently prepared for bed, too drained and tired to say another word—Claudia in a top bunk, and Peter and I below. I felt something stir deep inside, and it started building until my chest started rhythmically heaving faster and faster, and then I was gulping for air as the tears flowed into my pillow. I was alone with my sorrow, as were we all. Eventually, with the help of exhaustion, we all fell into a deep sleep and thankfully didn’t awaken until the early morning siren went off, and then the nightmare started all over again.

31 August

Today Peter and I are still feeling loved and supported, but very bruised. I have been contemplating an interesting pattern I observed earlier that played out again on the beach yesterday morning—Elle’s way of introducing the names of the people she knew along with a seemingly insignificant little fact about each of them. She never discussed her friends with us in much detail—what they were doing, hadn’t done, or any judgement on them—and I rarely questioned what I was not offered. I find it quite extraordinary that when I met them for the first time I had some comment to make that showed I knew who they were. It was as if this showed that they mattered to Elle. It is how it seems to me.

A good example of this was when a lovely family of mom, dad and baby girl arrived at the beach yesterday and came over to introduce themselves to Peter and me. It took me a while to understand who they were, but suddenly I recognised their names, Nicolai and Maria. I then knew exactly who they were, and that we’d once met when I dropped off something for Elle. I was able to say to them, ‘You shared a house with Elle for a year, and your family has a toldo company (toldos are awnings for terraces here).’ Greg told me that about two months ago he’d bumped into a couple with a baby at Las Dalias market who knew Elle well. They asked after Elle and were so shocked at the news of her death that they quickly left the market. I couldn’t think who they were at the time, but now I had the answer. I still don’t know how they found out about the picnic, but it felt so good to share big hugs with them and meet their beautiful baby. They want me to keep in touch about the charity we have set up.

On this day a year ago we arrived in the port of Ibiza, collected the dogs, and set off for Greg’s house. My heart was thumping in my chest as we drove past where the accident had happened. It looked as though the spot had already forgotten the tragedy it had witnessed just twenty-four hours earlier. Claudia later reported that she hadn’t seen any skid marks.

My fingers freeze as I recall how it felt arriving at Greg’s house. Peter, Claudia and I had discussed some of our feelings on the drive to Barcelona, which prepared us for how Greg would be feeling. He stumbled out to greet us, and his first words were, ‘She died on my watch.’ Peter hugged him and told him that wasn’t how we saw it. We have not for one moment changed our view on this, yet he still suffers whenever he’s faced with her name or our sadness. A hard fact of grief is that it’s not only your own grief you’re dealing with, but the grief everyone else is feeling too. Sometimes I hold back on my sadness around Greg because I know how deeply it affects him. He dwells on it so often without me initiating any further reminders.

We had arranged for our close friend, Martijn, to join us at Greg’s. He had offered to help where he could, and had made enquiries about which funeral home was taking care of her body. He offered to take us there and support us through the process. It was my first funeral home experience. We found out some basic facts about the police process so far and where Elle was, and made a decision that Elle would be cremated. The island had only had an operational crematorium for about a year, and this seemed like a blessing. The thought of having to send her body to Majorca would have been awful. We arranged to return to the funeral home the following day with a dress and a white rose to put in the coffin with her.

We now needed to start organising accommodation for family and friends who wanted to come over to be with us and to remember Elle. Friends rallied around in the most incredible way, including the family of the Atzaro Hotel, and we had no trouble finding a bed for everyone. The rest of the day proceeded in a blur. That afternoon we visited Elle’s home of her last few months and talked through our tears to her housemates. As soon as I saw the little red vase standing on her bookshelf, I reached for it. I quickly decided that it must also go in the coffin with her.

1 September

It is wonderful to have Peter’s oldest friend Pete (PC) and his wife Cressida here with us in Ibiza. They moved to Australia about eighteen years ago and we have seen little of them over recent years.

Final arrangements had to be made at the funeral parlour—what a strange word, while another would be ‘home’. I suppose it harks back to the days when coffins were set up in the front room of the home. We took along the little red vase, the long-stemmed white rose and a beautiful white broderie anglaise dress to go in with her. We needed to decide whether we wanted to view her body at the morgue. The morticians were not keen that we should, and indicated why. I longed to look on her one more time, but Peter, Kate and I decided to rather hold onto a living image of Elle, and said no. I have never regretted this decision although I can quite understand that others may feel differently.

Marion, Dave and their two younger children arrived later on this day. Marion was pale with shock, and I shall never forget the fear on her face as we moved towards one another. Dave and I shared a long hug as I silently acknowledged the weight of the burden of being the messenger for Peter and me. More and more people were being ferried from the airport, and I struggle to remember how it all worked. Soon Kate arrived with Alex and baby, and she sank into my and Peter’s arms, her first words, ‘I am alone now’, disintegrating as they were uttered. We knew exactly what she meant. These words (and those of Elle’s phone call to us) are engraved on my brain.

Swo Boda had been in touch with me a few times via Greg since our return, but we didn’t feel ready to meet him. A little later Greg took me aside and told me that Swo Boda felt a deep need to see Elle—he needed to be sure there was no mistake. I got Peter’s permission, and Claudia and I arranged to meet him at the morgue. He needed a next-of-kin’s consent. I know he knew in his heart that there was no mistake, but it didn’t feel right to refuse his request after what he’d been through.

Kate, Alex and baby moved into a recently completed apartment loaned to us by our Atzaro friends. We felt that they needed to be somewhere quiet with little Isaac. It was one of a series of four units with its own swimming pool, terrace and lovely views, which suited our moods perfectly. Everything about it was bright white, and almost blinding, but rather than being uncomfortable it seemed appropriate, and we all walked around behind our sunglasses, one step outside of reality. My memory of what happened next is vague. Greg put together a sustaining meal for us all at his home—a home that already carries so many memories for me—and Elle’s mentor Roseline joined us. I had a sense that she and I shared Elle, almost like two mothers, me being the older model and Roseline providing more of what Elle needed going into her new future. Elle’s death was particularly painful for Roseline because she had just completed five years of study, and like Peter and I, she had been just a day away from returning to the island. Her training meant she was uniquely qualified to help someone in Elle’s state of mind. I believe she too has come to a place of accepting that things are as they are meant to be, or at least that this is how it is.

2 September

The conversations today have been flowing well, and yes, about Elle and the circumstances of her death too. It was also good to hear about Pete and Cress’s lives over the years on the other side of the world. We shared lunch at one of our favourite places, Babylon Beach Restaurant, perched just above the translucent turquoise sea. The day has certainly delivered on sunshine but thank goodness the heat is a little less intense. Justin, a good friend of Elle’s who introduced her to Wing Chun, and hence to Swo Boda, was there to give us both a hug. We continue to meet up with him from time to time—it is always comforting to see friends of Elle.

Today is the day of Elle’s cremation, one year ago now. On the day it was very important to Peter, Kate and me that we spent time with her before the cremation, as hard as that was going to be. Apparently, this was not a common request, and in the end they agreed to give us the afternoon until 5 pm, the time of the cremation. We arranged for tea and snacks to be provided, but they mostly went untouched. Marion, Dave and family spent the first hour of our watch with Elle, while we completed a few final tasks. By an interesting twist of fate, a large villa near Cala Nova beach had become available to us, where it was possible to house the rest of the family and some of Elle’s friends. A friend of Greg’s had also offered her home for Marion and family to stay in, close to us all. The villa, which came to be called our sanctuary, had just the right atmosphere, a comfortable outside bar and a large swimming pool. It offered the privacy we all desperately needed. After a summer of rentals some things weren’t working properly, but all in all, it was perfect. Nothing was going to stop us from being in the moment.

The crematorium is a beautiful, modest building set in a forest near the top of a hill and run by special people who handled everything so sensitively. I used to think that people whose careers operate around the requirements of death seem to exist outside of regular society. I don’t know where that idea came from, because I’d never had to deal with them before. It seems to me that it is often the case that generations have continued to follow their parents into this line of work. On that afternoon the crematorium felt like an extension of our home where we could spend our last moments with Elle. We all went into an area behind glass to spend joint and individual moments with her. Graeme needed time alone with her and their memories. It felt to me like he needed to release his anger and resentment at how things had turned out. He will always be special to me—it is how I felt about him even before Elle died. You could call it soul memory of past lives shared.

Time for a moment stopped dead at 5pm. The memory will always raise a momentary anger in me. How could her soul have deserted her body like that? Where was the universe’s compassion that dawn? I find it hard to allow that memory to even show its face. I don’t suppose this will ever change until I myself fade from this world.

3 September

While sitting out on the balcony early this morning I felt Elle tell me what I needed for the first blank pages of this book. I don’t know whether it will ever be published, but it feels like it might be. While reading ‘The Sum of our Days’ last night by Isabel (who is now my compatriot so no need for surnames), I read that a friend who was struggling to get over the loss of her father asked her, ‘Why don’t I see him like you do Paula?’ Isabel answered, ‘I don’t see her, I feel her inside me.’ That’s how it is and has been for me since Elle died. The conversations happen in my head and not through my ears. When something like a phrase, a vision or a sentence pops into my mind, it more like an unexpected whisper from her, and often because it brings out an involuntary chuckle from me. Another means of communication takes place, again accompanied by humorous banter, when I look into the mirror some nights and I sense her looking back at me, as though she’s looking through the image of my own eyes in the mirror. It’s like she catches me as I enter the bathroom with the mirror straight ahead. Some people will read this as wishful thinking, but I’m not one to hang onto illusions. More often than not a strong sense of her, or something she wants me to know, is accompanied by the unexpected shadowing of the hairs on my body somewhere, and early morning or late at night are the times I feel the strongest communications.

It was about this time last year that I could feel a fundamental and most unexpected change taking place within me, as if someone was lovingly lifting me up and pulling me towards their heart. This was the start of the period of finding myself floating above everything, but with a rope attached to the earth so I didn’t float off into the ether. Initially it felt like Elle had given me a safe cloud that swept me away from all the pain. Now I could operate freely and capably to keep all running comfortably, better than I could ever have believed possible. It didn’t take long before I was aware that something was different about me, and initially I wasn’t without concern for myself, but I adapted to my changed state quite quickly.

This day last year was about making sure I had let all Elle’s friends on the island know about our special celebration on 4 September at the Atzaro Hotel. Family and friends staying with us in the villa helped fill scrapbooks with emails we had received from all over the world, and photos of Elle from a baby to the present. The importance of commending and commemorating Elle’s life is what made this task possible to complete.

More family and friends arrived, but I struggle to remember in what order. It felt like their outpourings of love for Elle and support for us was keeping us all afloat in a gentle ocean of a trillion tears. We could not have wished for more. The villa seemed to hold us all in her arms, things were running smoothly, people were getting fed and watered, and the all-important loads of laundry were on permanent rotation. And most importantly, by now I had also identified my personal ‘phone box’ to the stars for those early morning moments I liked to spend with Elle and my music.

4 September

I woke up this morning feeling pissed off. I don’t like feeling this way. It is disrespectful to the universe whose support I need more than ever.

Today is my last official day of writing. I say official because I don’t know yet whether I will be able to stop. Eventually I came to recognise that the balcony of our apartment has been my ‘phone box’ all through the year, and now I sit here and contemplate what may lie ahead. So where do I start—so much has already happened today!

I woke following a ‘shitty’ dream. Sorry, I try to be more careful with the words that come out of my mouth but today feels like a ‘sweary’ day. I wanted to discard this dream, but I am trying to return the favour with everything that takes the trouble to touch me, so here goes… It opens with a vision of someone trying to deal with a toilet where everyone’s poo has created a blockage. I am hoping this person manages to shift it, otherwise I’m going to have to get my hands dirty and do it myself. Not difficult to interpret and I leave it to your imagination.

I seem to have a little to-and-fro thing going with Elle this morning. The shape this takes is that a thought, totally unconnected to where my mind is travelling, will infiltrate my mind and stake a claim. I have come to recognise this intrusion as a conversation. I was suddenly reminded of something the medium at Greg’s told me. She said Elle wanted me to know she was ‘extremely busy’. I wondered if this was her letting me know that I may not hear from her in future. Another rather strange thought popped into my mind. ‘We are all aliens here.’ Earlier today I read that astronomers have recently picked up fifteen strong radio signals from a galaxy twenty billion light years away. Many cults and religious groups believe that at least some of us are aliens. Well, I suppose if we come here with soul contracts to work through then, in effect, we really are all temporary residents or aliens. But our physical bodies can only belong to this earthly plane. Again, an interesting thought is that our physicality, our DNA history contained in our bodies, maintains the link with the earthly plane, making it easy for our souls to slip in and out of. I went through to tell Peter of my thoughts and as I was walking towards him I started to get goose bumps, or shadowing in my language, travelling up my legs and swiftly followed by my arms too. With a slight smile I said to him, “Please don’t think I’m finally going mad”. Sometimes he may struggle to follow the workings of my mind but always he will give me his attention. I think we were meant to be each other’s companions and supports in our journeys. A few days later than this but last year, probably following some other heavenly connection, I asked Kate if she thought my feet were on the ground, and she said, ‘Ma, you’re the sanest person I know.’ I was deeply grateful for her words at a time when I wasn’t too sure where my feet were half the time!

While Greg and I were driving home earlier today, he told me that he’s been learning about what love truly is and what it means to him as a result of reading Scott M Peck’s ‘The Road Less Travelled’ again. I tried to get him to read it a few years back when he first started on his disjointed journey, but then it only made him angrier. Now he is getting so much from reading it. It just goes to show that how we feel, think and behave is never fixed. Oddly perhaps, it had never crossed my mind that he too was on a life quest to understand this thing everyone calls ‘love’. He said he now understands the true meaning of unconditional love, where nothing the person does is personal to you, good or bad, and what you most want for that person is self-fulfilment as they journey to greater personal contentment and happiness, even if it brings you disappointment and sadness—you do not attach a contract to your love. My day has certainly picked up, and I am feeling a blessed contentment again, if only for a pleasurable moment.

Today a year ago was yet another big day for us. It was a natural decision to come to, for Peter, Kate and me, and that was that we didn’t want a funeral, nor a church memorial later. I knew very early on that I wanted to catch the moment quickly with a special get-together of as many friends and family as possible. If there was any chance Elle was still close by, I wanted her to be able to join us. It was decided to have a celebration of Elle’s life on Sunday 4 September. Peter called our friends at Atzaro and asked if this could happen in their olive grove where Kate and Alex’s pre-wedding drinks were held. Initially they said yes, but the day before they called us to say that it was a little too public, both for us and for their guests, and they wanted to make their chill area and bar available to us instead. Peter and I also realised that the numbers were growing daily, and we needed to offer the gathering guests a drink. When Peter proposed an open bar for the guests, our friends told him it was already organised, and they would take around trays of snacks—a generosity we shall never forget.

In the meantime, family and friends kept arriving through the day. The love I saw in their eyes and their hugs and kisses were keeping Peter, Kate, Greg and me off the floor. By this time I was well and truly ‘vibrating’, and I seemed to have the strength to hold everyone’s sorrow. My clothes were laid out and the dominant colour was obvious. Within hours of Elle’s death I only saw and wanted the colour white, so the choice was easy. I shall never again wear black or a dark colour to a funeral—it will always be white.

We collected together items to take to the venue—lots of candles, scrap books with art supplies for people to write and draw in, and a beautiful framed photo of Elle taken by our friend Paul at Kate and Alex’s wedding barbecue, and given to us before Elle died. Roseline brought even more art supplies and a beautiful book of Elle’s artwork created on one of Roseline’s art retreats. A PA system was prepared in case we wanted to say something, and Greg’s friend Dan appeared spontaneously with his guitar to create a beautiful background sound throughout the event. We received a big bouquet from our friends in Pasadena Glen which we decided to scatter in an ornamental pool. The flowers looked perfect! In front of the pool we laid out our ‘Elle’ memories, and this became the focus for all the flowers, personal notes and candles that her friends and colleagues brought. As wondrous and magical as it looked, especially as darkness fell and the candles were lit, it was nevertheless very hard for me to look on this unwanted vision of beauty. Many tears were shed at that spot.

As people were arriving, somebody brought me a gin and tonic, and from that moment I was rooted to the spot almost to the end, the same glass virtually as full as when I was handed it. One after another, people waited to talk to me, to share personal memories, and some even recalling moments that had taken place over Elle’s last few weeks. No doubt similar conversations were going on all around that beautiful pool. It was uplifting to hear their stories and feel their love for her, but it also felt like I was in the wrong shoes. In that moment it was as if time had stopped as I collected these memories, as if I was now the repository for all their memories. The opportunity for me to say a few words at the start had by now rolled away. Peter felt he was unable to address all these people, but that someone should, ideally me, say a few words. Finally, towards the end, somebody led me to the microphone and I cannot remember exactly what I said. I was followed by Roseline, then Elle’s cousin James, and finally Greg, who had been trying to show me the words he wanted to say but I hadn’t been able to leave my spot to hear him out. Greg’s whole being was still in deep shock. Not only from his own sadness, but also from being at the heart of the aftermath. He had a need to say that individuals could come and talk to him if they wanted to know what had really happened, and I have come to understand that this may have been because he was much closer to the core of what some people of the island were saying than we ever were. The evening was exactly the occasion we wished for. Now it was time to pack up and go home. Somehow, we were going to have to find a way to live on without our girl.


We had pre-ordered boxes of pizzas from Enfarinate which is below our apartment in San Carlos, and a few of the menfolk collected to feed our houseful of guests. The next days were spent wandering between groups of family and friends sitting around the swimming pool at our ‘sanctuary’ as we all looked for ways to comfort and encourage each other. We needed to be gentle with ourselves, and music seemed to provide us all with a small anchor. As some friends and family members left, others arrived. Kate and Isaac moved into the villa with us from their retreat in the white apartment, and it felt good.

One hot, balmy evening a few days later, Claudia, Peter and I sat out listening to some of our favourite songs, each of us taking turns to put in requests as Peter played DJ. Around 11ish Graeme and Leah invited us to go to the beach to take a swim, and contrary to how I may have responded in the past, Claudia and I jumped at the idea. For me it was an opportunity to do something I had never done before—to swim in the sea in the dark— and do it for my girl. Peter stayed home with the music. As we walked down to the beach in the pitch dark, I noticed that Graeme was carrying a litre bottle of water. We dashed into the water to our waists and formed a circle in the calm sea, and up popped a bottle of vodka and lemonade. Perfection. We gazed up at the stars and shouted out to Elle—she must surely have heard and laughed at our antics! Claudia and I left the young ones and their bottle and stumbled a little less steadily home in the darkness of the new moon. Next morning we found the two young people nursing very sore heads!

All too soon it was time for Claudia to go home—a terrible wrench. We had travelled so deep, literally and figuratively, into our personal grief. We are now closer than ever.

A few days later Kate’s sister-in-law Evie arrived with her little baby Harry (about eleven days younger than Isaac) to spend a week giving love and support to Kate. Our loss notwithstanding, we managed to have a special time together, with babies sharing a blanket on the floor and keeping us all focussed on the new life that had arrived in our lives. The next day my friend and fellow traveller in spirit Christina arrived. I was meant to be joining her for a few days in Amsterdam, (the trip I finally happened the following year and written about on July 19) but under the circumstances she didn’t hesitate to join us instead for a few days. I needed to see her.

The villa provided us with a sense of being protected from the outside world. But eventually everyone went home, and it was finally time for us to move over to the apartment we had bought in San Carlos. When we viewed the apartment, after selling our house and just before we set off for Galicia, Elle told us she had sat on the second of the outside steps while waiting for a pizza, the same pizzeria that had supplied our guests after Elle’s memorial. There have been so many moments like this that seem to indicate forces at work in all our lives, and ‘crumbs’ dropped along the way to help us understand that there is a bigger picture available to us is we know how to look for it. The ‘crumbs’ have been so plentiful, both before and since Elle’s death, that I can’t help but wonder was this Elle’s marked moment, and that she is still with us every step we take towards our own marked moments, and for me, while I live with love, joy, pain and good intentions, that moment, when it comes, will be cherished. No fear or strangeness exist for me around death anymore.

I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

Chandelier, Sia


I don’t know how to bring this writing process to a close. Perhaps I will simply never stop.

A couple of things that have rolled into one just came up. While packing things away in our third bedroom, I found a book under a rug titled The Plague, by Camus, which Freddi and her boyfriend Dan must have forgotten. At first I thought it was modern fiction about zombies, and then looked more closely. I put it on a bookshelf, and the beaten up old paperback I moved to make space for The Plague looked unfamiliar, so I took it out. I have no idea who placed it on our bookshelf, but the title brought a rush of excitement—‘Five People You Meet in Heaven’ by Mitch Albom. On the back cover my eyes fell upon the words, ‘he feels two small hands in his—and then nothing.’ It connected immediately with the words I had already chosen for the subtitle of Good Grief—‘Take me by the hand’, with an old banknote I found folded inside Elle’s purse, featuring the hands of an adult and a child coming together. I had envisaged my little girl taking big me by the hand and leading me on a journey. I am more inclined now to see myself as the little girl.

I have been looking up into the face of the full moon. Since the first full moon after Elle died, I have managed to impose her face on it without any trouble. This is something I now do every full moon, and I tell her always how much I love her. I think it is possible to impose the face of any girl or woman onto the moon’s face, as it worked tonight for my mom’s face too. Most people see the moon as feminine and the sun as masculine—the sun, the giver of life and energy, good and bad, harsh or warming, and the moon in her gentility softens all, bathed in the reflected light of the sun and reminds us of rhythm, ritual and routine as she plays her maternal role in providing and then caring for the children who arrive to play their part in our rich tapestry, the evolution of humanity.

My writing closes on the thirteenth full moon—quite a journey from 1 January.

5 September

Surprise, surprise. I had to include this morning’s email exchange.

Dear Mrs Buckle,

I am just saying hello. I was aware that it was a year ago, last Wednesday, since Elle died. I thought about her so much last week. Actually something slightly coincidental happened. I was remembering when I went to Ibiza in early 2012. I met up and went out with Elle a couple of evenings. I remember telling her she maybe would like the music of Finley Quaye. I told her to listen to his ‘Maverick A Strike’ album. I said I liked the song ‘Even After All’.

I did not see Elle again for the next few years until May 2016, but we messaged and emailed occasionally. Elle messaged me after a long time and out of the blue and told me she still listened to a bit of ‘Finley Quaye’. I laughed! I thought it funny that she remembered! It had been at least a year.

Anyway, last Wednesday I thought about Elle and I was very sad. Many thoughts and feelings came flooding back. I listened to Finley Quaye again while I was on my laptop, remembering Elle. Later that day I helped a friend have a tidy-up at his flat. He asked me to get a plastic carrier bag filled with old stuff from under the sofa. I put my arm behind the sofa and reached to the bag. It was too bulky to bring up so I reached into the bag and could feel CDs. I pulled one out and it was the Finley Quaye album ’Maverick A Strike’. I was stunned! (Thing is, Finley Quaye is a long-forgotten artist from the nineties who only had one successful album, so it was a huge coincidence.)

I remember you said you all are writing your life stories around Elle’s. I hope I get to read some of it if I ever get the chance.

I wish you well, and also to all other family members.



My response:

Hi Sam, and please call me Jennie,

It is always lovely to hear from you. Elle, with one little aside of a comment, made sure I knew something about all the friends who were important to her. You are all important to us now, and I do hope that one of these days you will come and stay with us in Ibiza.

There is so much more to your moment of remembrance. We only have one song on our iPod by Finlay Quaye, and it is ‘Even After All’. It has gone onto my special Elle playlist now. Furthermore, he was on the island recently (about two weeks ago), and stayed in my brother Greg’s home. He slept in the house where Elle spent her last few nights. He seems a rather lost character now. Greg found him both kind and deeply troubled.

These moments are not so much coincidences but more that of synchronicity, and Carl Jung has a lot to say about this. My feeling is that Elle is communicating with so many of us, as she shows us the direction in which we should be moving forward. My year of writing has been an extraordinary journey of discovery, a million moments of coincidence, many moments of extraordinary synchronicity, and plenty of time spent remembering the past and looking into the future. If I have the good fortune to get my book published, I will let you know. Be prepared for a pretty crazy read. I finished laying it down yesterday on the 13th full moon.


It is the heart that kills us in the end
Just one more old broken bone that cannot mend
As it was now and ever shall be amen

The Pearl, written and sung by Emmylou Harris



Including Swo Boda’s story

Synchronicity and Consequences show the Way

I have been wondering for a while what to write in conclusion to my book. It had the potential to be, for me, the most important part of it because there has been a further passing of time between bringing my journal to an end and going over my draft endlessly. Naturally this has given me time for further contemplation and continued learning, and most importantly allowed for more revelations and processing of my thoughts as I travel on down this path through grief. I have written about my memories of a lifetime travelling toward the door that opened on this new journey—a journey I would never have chosen for myself and my family, but it chose us.

I wrote to find a way to understand what happened that caused the light in our lives to all but disappear, and I wrote to see if I could find a way back for Kate, her children, Peter, and all my family and friends. Over the past few months, and taking in the Christmas season, my travelling companion Peter and I have been feeling very low. We have struggled to follow our own constant advice and encouragement, and to keep faith in the signs showing us the way to keep moving forward. It is always the looking behind and down at our footsteps as we walk through the sands of time, that takes us to a dark and sorrowful place. There we see the Elle we love so much, whose footprints were cruelly wiped away forever. There we see our girl who will never age or have a chance to overcome the obstacles that caused her to hesitate, or to grow and to blossom. She will never have the family she dreamt of. If she were still with us today, I may have had the chance to say the following words to her:

It’s dark because you are trying too hard.

Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly.

Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply.

Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.

I was so preposterously serious in those days, such a humourless little prig.

Lightly, lightly—it’s the best advice ever given me.

When it comes to dying even. Nothing ponderous, or portentous, or emphatic.

No rhetoric, no tremolos,

no self-conscious persona putting on its celebrated imitation of Christ or Little Nell.

And of course, no theology, no metaphysics.

Just the fact of dying and the fact of the clear light.

So throw away your baggage and go forward.

There are quick sands all about you, sucking at your feet,

trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair.

That’s why you must walk so lightly.

Lightly my darling,

on tiptoes and no luggage,

not even a sponge bag,

completely unencumbered.

Aldous Huxley, Island

As we edged closer to Christmas once again, I was troubled by a sense of anxiety deep within my soul and if I was not careful I recognised that it could settle into a deep depression—not a place I was in any hurry to visit again. Together with our extended family we had rented a lovely house outside Bath that could accommodate us all. They were all keen to be with us over Christmas, just as occasionally happened when Elle was still alive. Following these five days, I was again left deeply disappointed in myself because I let my own needs get the better of me. I crumbled and ducked away from family because it felt that no one was mentioning or remembering Elle, even though I knew they all loved and missed her terribly. We did eventually talk about her, and what I got out of the experience was an understanding that instead of fleeing from my emotions and disappointments, I could have gently let the family know what I needed from them in that moment which was to hear Elle’s name mentioned now and then. I would probably have led them into a place they longed to enter by giving them permission to talk about her, something they were unsure of doing because perhaps we didn’t want to be reminded of our pain and missing. We are not diminished by suffering and I think it helps to lead others towards where we feel more comfortable.

Synchronicity continues to bring forth opportunities for learning, and a few weeks after returning home, I discovered something interesting about my need to mention or talk regularly about Elle and hear her name spoken. Peter and I caught an interesting programme on TV, ‘The Story of God’ with Morgan Freeman. At one stage he converses with an Egyptologist which brought to mind the day Elle asked to stay home from school. I suggested we visit a museum, and she chose the Egyptian rooms at the British Museum. Years later, after leaving school, she said she would like to visit Egypt with me and walk around the marketplaces. I regret to say I let life get in the way, and we never did travel to Egypt. What a missed opportunity that was!

But more importantly, I was struck by something the Egyptologist said while Morgan Freeman was touching and repeating the name Ramses II aloud. She said the ancient Egyptians believed that saying the name of a dead person added energy to the deceased’s Ka, or soul, and if you added enough energy, the person could return to earth. I couldn’t help considering if this was why it mattered so much to me to hear Elle’s name spoken often—perhaps an echo from a past Egyptian life? Is she already back in someone’s arms somewhere on the planet as I complete my writings? But don’t worry, I won’t be looking for her because her earthly future is no longer part of mine.

Today I am not satisfied to live out my days sliding deeper and deeper into a black hole. I intend to stop making excuses for not starting my spiritual meditation practice, using my time more efficiently, becoming more self-disciplined and finally giving up smoking. I want to get busy on other projects and new creative outlets. Maybe I do have another book in me. Today we received the final certificate for our foundation Angels&Elephants (written as we have registered it—all joined up) and on Friday we will sign the bank account papers. The time has come to put our ideas into action. There are times when I am full of ideas and feel competent to get the foundation up and running, and there are those days when nagging doubts and fear sneak back in and whispers to me that I am not competent to carry through this task. But I have arrived at an important realisation—just start, and you may be amazed at what you didn’t know you could do.

All my disappointments are connected to looking back to the past, for that is where the earthly Elle resides. The longer I spend with her, the more likely my disappointments will engulf me and lead me into that dreaded depression. The heavenly Elle is happy, present, transformed into her higher self, at peace, and from what I have been told by the two mediums who found me, she is also working very hard! I assume that she works on behalf of what is best for us all. Not an easy job when we continue to make such a pig’s ear of life on this magnificent earth, the earth we are put here to learn from and take care of, including of all the animals and plant life. There really does seem to be a big attempt to shift our consciousness to a higher level. Many believers feel that ‘facilitators’ are constantly entering and leaving our world in order to pave the way for this to happen. When I spend time with the heavenly Elle, I feel lighter and a lot more hopeful, therefore more joyous. I have something to aim for, and everything around me seems relevant and alive.

I continue to look for interesting road signs and to listen to the voices in my head that regularly open conversations, often leading to amazing realisations. I also pay attention to my dreams, both while asleep and semi-lucid, and maybe one day I will understand more of what it means to be alive and present in this world. I have made many new friends, both through Elle in one way or another, and through Angels&Elephants. Our first fundraiser exceeded all our hopes, and we now have a few events planned for this summer. It feels like the first small steps have been taken.

I have learnt, especially through rereading my manuscript many times, that I was not as aware as I believed myself to be, and that my lack of solid knowledge meant I was quite naïve. I also understand why I wasn’t able to help Elle during her meltdowns. I acknowledged this during her last year. Now I know that what would have been more helpful to her was to hold her in my arms and let my mother’s love flow into her, rather than trying to always ‘fix’ her——the inability to do so leaving me feeling inadequate and frustrated. While this knowledge comes too late for Elle and me, I have another daughter, and I am grateful for any understanding that has grown with me over the last few years. And one final biggie: we are all inclined to get caught up in the dramas around us, and Elle was good at identifying these moments to me. ‘Don’t fuss, ma’, she would say. I have learnt that every word we utter is important and must be truthful, at least to us, the words we choose to use matter greatly, and that when we engage in gossip or other people’s dramas, we do harm to them and ourselves. It is better always to be invited to give a view or advice. This takes a lot of perseverance and practice, but I feel I am making gradual progress.

For many years Elle worked deeply on herself. From time to time she found herself in some level of distress. In the last years of her life she filled her notebooks with her concerns about her ‘shadow selves’. She appeared to be regularly disappointed in herself, and searched for ways to overcome her fears and reach for her higher self. There were references to a number of archangels and to vibrating into the fifth dimension. I was surprised that she had never discussed any of this with me. She knows I would have been a willing and interested listener, but I can accept that she had her reasons—maybe she tried and saw in my eyes that I was not getting it, but I do know she had conversations with a few close friends about how she was interpreting the world around her. This inner turmoil, as it seemed to me, was perfectly juxtaposed with what she showed outwardly to us all, which was equally her true self. She was highly intelligent and attractive, with natural charm and a beautiful smile. Her eyes drew you in while holding you at arm’s length. For my part, I found her eyes constantly challenging my authenticity. She listened easily and rarely became assertive or interrupted while others were talking. There was always a space for silence in her relationships with those she was close to. People were attracted to her, but sometimes it was a struggle to find the door’s handle. Very few of her friends were allowed into her inner sanctum. She did not judge people according to their academic qualifications, status, wealth or manner, and was not particularly interested in the status quo of the world, but rather had a close personal relationship with all people, animals and nature, while keeping sentimentality at bay. It was remarked to me that when observing her create, no matter what materials she was using, she seemed to have an innate understanding of the process and a relationship with the materials that was quite sublime. She showed no interest in ownership or accumulating personal things or property. She gave love but seemed never to own it. It was almost as if she didn’t feel worthy of love, or perhaps more correctly, didn’t have the correct vessel to keep it in for herself, but I accept that I may be totally wrong on this point. She talked about needing to open her heart to love, but found it hard to do. Probably the most important thing I can say about her is that she had a way of making people feel better about who they were, and to think bigger about what they were capable of achieving. Maybe it is not possible to instil self-belief in others unless you yourself have a good understanding of all suffering.

Something I keep coming back to is that through it all, she was also one of the strongest people I know. She completed the full ten-day Vipassana at SamyeLing, a Buddhist centre in Scotland, without much ‘training’, when more experienced meditators often have great difficulty getting past day three. Every morning during that retreat, Peter and I would look at each other and say, phew, she got through another day. I think I am correct in saying that she began the retreat on 1 January 2015.

On this journey through my grief there have been many moments over the last few years that have caused a tightening around my heart, including the gluing back together of the red vase, the photo left in the back of her car, strange remarks made to people in the months and days before her death, and the notes and papers she left behind. These and so many more memories have led me to think that she may possibly have had a premonition of her own death. This is hard to come to terms with. I hope that it may only have occurred at a subconscious level but I am not sure.

A while back I met up with Swo Boda, the man Elle allowed to get closer to her in the last months of her life. He was visiting the island at the invitation of their Wing Chun master, and contacted me before arriving. It is always good for me to talk to him, and we write to each other at every full moon. I believe Swo Boda when he says that they seemed to be one and the same. He also told me that he couldn’t help noticing that Elle had the same birthday as his first and young love which oddly aligns with Elle having had no significant romantic love that came between her first young love and him.

As we sat across the table from one another I could see his authenticity shining through his eyes, which brought on a need for me to be fully present in my response, much like with Elle. He also says nothing for effect. There are no superfluous words, and he makes no attempt to protect himself from the world. He has a manner that moves around gently and doesn’t push in without being invited—another trait I recognise. Oh, and his beautiful smile. When we are together I feel it would be far better to talk through my eyes, not my mouth. He, like many of us, continues to struggle in accepting finally what happened, but I am pleased to be able to say he has found a way forward for himself by returning to a calling he had followed before, the UN Peace Corps.

He and Elle met at a Wing Chun studio in February 2016. I know virtually nothing of this period of time, and I don’t think anyone else does either, except perhaps some witnesses in the studio. I remember Elle saying to me a few months later, ‘Mom, when you do Wing Chun with someone and touch hands, you know everything about that person.’ I couldn’t stop my heart from hoping while I played nonchalant with Elle. I thought that perhaps she had finally found someone she would allow into her heart. Another time she said ‘Mom, I have some news…’, then added, ‘no, I don’t want to jinx it…’. Much later I put these two moments together, and they seemed to say that she had indeed met someone, but wasn’t ready to commit to it being a relationship.

If Swo Boda is right to say that they were one and the same, then perhaps their meeting was always meant to be. Perhaps she was both delighted and baffled by what stood before her. On the one hand here was a future, with the opportunity to have a family of her own, which she had been waiting and preparing for, but on the other hand, it also felt unsafe. Swo Boda presented me with many insights and remarks, sentences and questions they both had for each other, and while very illuminating on this point, I choose not to reveal them all. For him there was no question that he had been waiting for her all his life. He was quite a few years older than her, and although she considered him out of her ‘preferred age range’, she appeared to forego this concern. Why had he entered her life at this point? The night before she died Elle told him, ‘It feels as if all that has gone before has led me to this moment in my life.’ At the time he heard these words as referring to them and their future together, but since the accident, he said, they have taken on a different meaning. Another question she asked that last day was, ‘How much ego does one need in order to live?’ Taken by surprise, fearful and concerned about Elle’s state of mind, and finding himself in strange surroundings, he answered that a Japanese Zen Buddhist, in answer to this question, had replied, ‘As much ego as one needs not to get run over by a car.’ He said he changed ‘bus’ to ‘car’ from the original quote because it felt more relevant to where they were. Later, he needed to call this out to her again when she carelessly crossed the road in front of Greg’s home to get to the pond on the roundabout.


In harmony with something other than your ego

Courage by Villagers

He was thrown into a state of confusion from the moment he found Elle after their Wing Chun master alerted him that something was amiss with her. The confusion continued when eventually he found himself walking into the home of someone Elle described as her uncle. He knew very little of her family except that we were living on the island, and that one day she would introduce him to us. He felt uncomfortable in Greg’s house because there was nothing familiar about it, and strange people were always coming and going. Elle loved Greg’s home, so I have no doubt it was a good place for her to be. I think back to Greg’s description of walking into the kitchen to find Elle gazing out of his little window with a faraway look, before turning to him with a beatific smile, and saying, ‘I love you, Greg.’ They hugged and she cried. Had she just returned from a moment spent elsewhere, somewhere where she felt surrounded by love—a place of oneness? Was this what initiated that beautiful smile? For me, it appears as if in that moment Elle was in her heart space, a moment of touching the Divine, of pure perfection, and when she turned around, there was Greg, and he received the full power of her love. I am so grateful that he shared that moment with me, and although I am a few steps away from it, I have been able to manifest something of that love she was experiencing in that moment. Perhaps she regularly visited an otherworldly place during moments that those around her described as her going ‘missing’. I can see how this could work to alleviate fear.

Swo Boda tried with all his might to stay awake that last night with Elle. He was anxious every time she got up and would ask where she was going. Finally Elle asked him, ‘Don’t you trust me?’ To which he replied, ‘I love you and so must trust you.’ To prove his trust he turned to face the wall, and sometime later he fell asleep. Was she waiting for this to happen so she could leave the house without worrying him? She had been for walks in the forest on previous nights. Just following the accident, and out of earthly time sequence, did her spirit return to stand by the bed where Swo Boda was still asleep, and gently stroke his cheek before disappearing in a bright flash of light through the window, as had been reported to Greg by a guest some months before she died? Greg and I talked over this possibility a few months after Elle died.

Elle had bought supplies the previous day, Monday, for a children’s art workshop, to be held at Pikes on the Wednesday. Swo Boda told me that they had decided to do the workshop together. Her last meaningful words to him were, ‘Tomorrow is another day.’ She died before the dawn of that tomorrow. I am grateful that he allowed me so much access into their relationship. It has helped me to have a fuller and more comforting picture of her last days, weeks and months. My wish for him, although I don’t know what form it should take, is that joy finds a way to weave herself back into his life. I couldn’t bear it if he stayed sad forever. I feel as if everything that has happened in my life was in preparation for this moment in time, and I suspect Swo Boda feels the same. Elle had certainly said the same of herself.

I also believe that her last moments with Graeme earlier in the year were a whole-hearted goodbye. He related to me how their hearts beat powerfully together as they hugged for the last time. Graeme told me of many influences that came to bear on this meeting between the two of them. It was not to be that they were to open their hearts to each other again. Elle knew that Peter, Kate and I always hoped that they would find a way back to each other. She had told Kate and me that she would always love Graeme but didn’t see them getting back together. When she said that I gave up my hopes for a reunion, but again understand that I have no way of knowing what lay behind her statement.

As her mother I claim an entitlement to have a view on what may have happened to my child, but I don’t need to be right, and I certainly don’t need others to conform to my view. The Dalai Lama says that people receive a premonition or a dream two years before they die. Experienced and highly qualified scientists in their respective fields, although rejected by many for straying from the materialist view of science, such as Dr Peter Fenwick and Dr Ron Moody, have both come to interesting conclusions around death and the spirit. Between them they have nearly a century of research studying near death experiences (NDEs) and other phenomena that take place around the dying. In the majority of cases, around five days before death, the dying will move between the two states, earthly and heavenly (for want of a better word), along with bedside visits by deceased relatives and spirit entities. It is not only the dying who experience these bedside visits—often it can be the carers and hospice workers, and therefore it cannot be explained away by the usual ‘oxygen deprivation’ explanation. There can’t anyway be many who believe this causes the same ‘hallucinations’ in all who report their experiences. This is thought to be in preparation for the ultimate transition. It is also now known that it is not only the dying who experience NDEs, and the likelihood is overwhelming that people have reported them since the beginning of modern times. Plato’s ‘Republic’ is largely based around an NDE, and a few advanced Buddhist monks have been able to bring on the experience through deep meditation. ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’, a book that was noted on her ‘to do’ list in her bag at the time of her death, is considered to be an illustration of what happens before and during dying, and post death. I feel I owe it to her to read it. The research also shows that an important preparation for death is the process of detachment from all possessions, from your life and from everyone that is ‘earthly’. This ensures an easier passage. I am not saying that this is what took place, but through all I uncovered in my writing, I can see that this may well be what happened. Things could have been different if we had returned before she died, but we didn’t. The Buddhists also say that we come to earth with a finite number of breaths. If so, had she spent her final breath? Were the rest of us players in her destiny?

I have pieced together a theory, and that is all. I will probably never know more than I do now, three years after her death. It is my view that Elle found herself in a form of psychosis or fugue, brought on by both opening her heart to love and the fear that this intensified in her. What I can never know is more of what lay within or behind these two emotions. This makes perfect sense to me because of what I did know about her. Not one person I spoke to could give me Elle’s own thoughts on anything in the days and weeks before she died. The only person who may have been able to has chosen to be still. Elle’s dream, the one in which ‘Jurgen holds the keys’, in her final notes helped inform my view. This feels like the right moment for me to explain something about one of my intentions behind what I have written. I have made a lot of statements and raised many questions throughout my book which some may feel stand on rocky ground, contentious even, but I have never plucked my ideas out of nowhere. What I have been trying to do is illustrate my inner and outer journey to join up the dots as I have read them, in an attempt to reveal a map of meaning that reflects back on me, one that is only personal to me, and contains all who have ever come into my sphere.

I have witnessed a number of mental breakdowns in my life, and I see that there are many reasons for them. My assessment is that they usually have to do with issues that cause us to stumble and/or fall in our attempt to cope with what life has revealed to us, or is stressing us in order to be seen, and this can take as many different forms as there are people. I do not see them as simply a ‘brain failure’ for no reason. Everything I have learnt from the time of her death about the months, weeks and days leading up to the last five days of Elle’s life, does not fit with a mental breakdown. Even her conversation with me struck me as odd at the time: ‘I am having…’, then a long silence before adding ‘a breakdown’, followed by another silence and then adding, ‘it is serious’…another long pause, ‘and it’s going to take the whole family to work together on it’—with stress on ‘whole’. Her words left me confused, especially as she sounded so deliberate and lucid as she said them. I back up my confusion by recalling that Kate, after speaking to her at 9 pm, just hours before she died, intuited no indication that Elle was suffering a breakdown—her recollection was only that she sounded terribly tired. Kate is as intuitive as Elle was. I also know that Greg was able to get her to take in some nourishment.

If there is one conclusion that fits with all the facts I have brought together, I am drawn back to the bliss I saw shine through her eyes, albeit tinged with sadness. Not only was it something I had not witnessed in others before, but also a word I had never said out loud until that moment. And it was certainly not what I was expecting because all I knew was that Elle had told me she was having a ‘break down’. Jurgen named the photo Papa Smurf and it was taken after Ellen had trimmed her hair on the Thursday before she died. I am prepared to say that just maybe she had reached enlightenment, her ego had become inoperative, and she was struggling to keep her feet on the ground. There are gurus who warn of this, and for good reason. Nothing within our mind or our body is there without good reason. Whatever intelligence we think we have our Ego is more intelligent. While it is something to be wary of, it is also necessary to our survival. The answer, I believe, is to not allow it control of who we are, i.e. to become an ego-driven persona we believe ourselves to be, but that we should become highly tuned to its operating system and observe the signboards it holds up to us, thus lighting the way back to a special path that is true to our authentic self. Without its help we may never know that this path is always there whenever we need it and wherever we are. I cannot help but be reminded of Elle’s question to Swo Boda the day before she died: How much ego does one need in order to survive? A question like that doesn’t come from nowhere and implies that there was forethought. I can therefore say that she may have been aware that she was operating egoless. I cannot say what exactly that might mean, and I cannot say for definite that she thought she may die. And now, for me, it is as it is.

Elle´s pinboard

Elle had this card pinned to her vision board at the time of her death. I like to think her answer would be an emphatic yes. I accept that, driven by my grief, I have morphed Elle into an angel, but what does it matter? Who are you, my darling Elle? Who are any of us really?

If there is one conclusion that fits with all the facts I have brought together, I am drawn back to the bliss I saw shine through her eyes, albeit it tinged with sadness. Not only was it something I had not witnessed in others before, but also a word I had never said out loud ‘til that moment. And it was certainly not what I was expecting because all I knew was that Elle had told me she was having a ‘break down’. Jurgen named the photo Papa Smurf and it was taken after Ellen had trimmed her hair on the Thursday before she died. I would say that just maybe she had reached enlightenment, her ego had become inoperative, and she was struggling to keep her feet on the ground. There are gurus who warn of this, and for good reason. Nothing within our mind or our body is there without good reason. Whatever intelligence we think we have our Ego is more intelligent. While it is something to be wary of, it is necessary to our survival. The answer, I believe, is to not allow it control of who we are, i.e. to become an ego-driven persona we believe ourselves to be, but that we should become highly tuned to its operating system and observe the signboards it holds up to us, thus showing us the path back to our own true authenticity. All that said, it is not for me to judge the whys and the wherefores because those I can never know. It is as it is.

Slowly, I am allowing myself to be led away from the ‘earthly Elle’ and up onto a new viewing platform high in the canopy of the lushest rainforest, free from the pain of losing her, where I can imagine climbing on the back of our own cosmic dragon one day and flying off into the sunset. It is not for me to say whether Elle was, or is, an angel with a particular mission that she had completed, who was enabled to return ‘home’. But there can be nothing to stop me from choosing to consider her in this light. Perhaps she was more of a blue alien, as I found myself recently painting a portrait of her. I cannot function productively as long as I keep looking backwards, stuck in the quick sands of my grief. But I also cannot function in this earthly reality if my feet are not touching the ground, so I cannot live with only the heavenly Elle. Sometimes I will feel a need to access to my sadness—I am here to find a way through suffering, amongst other things, and it is what makes me human. I have learnt that our emotions in their duality are really one, and my joy stands arm in arm with my sadness, equally accessible to me at all times. But by looking forward, singing along to my ‘Elle’ playlist, enjoying the company of family and friends, getting our foundation up and running, and keeping Peter and me fit and healthy, I hope to hold myself somewhere in that fragile space between the earthly and the heavenly Elle.

Heavenly Elle, my Pearl, was called home to the Great Garden in the Sky. She grasped the offer of a helping hand firmly. No angel is asked to suffer in death after a lifetime of confronting herself in order to benefit those around them. No angel can sprinkle light without absorbing some of the darkness. Her soul was gloriously released from her body a moment before the moment, and I knew what that looked like. Without her body her energy level was raised so quickly and so high that she was able to dart back to her lover and ‘co-worker’, her other half, to close her circle of life on earth with the stroke of a hand. For days, maybe even forty-nine, she stayed close and attentive to all her loved ones, supported by a heavenly and earthly choir of angels——the pine trees that fill all available space on our island. Eventually it was time to move on, and as she receded further, over the following earthly months, she dropped notes, dreams, visions and signs into the realms of each of her loved ones. It is up to us whether we recognise from whence they come and what they have to teach us, each accompanied by a barrel of courage to help us stand up, turn ourselves round, and move forward. More time passed, and her presence was passing out of view. We were not all she had to think about. Problems were mounting far and wide throughout the cosmos. All hands were needed on deck. Time was fast approaching when Earth could be lost forever. Light is under siege like seldom before. Never before have the stakes been this high. It is time we discover that our journey has not been one of progress but rather one that is speeding up back to the Beginning, and naturally, the closer one gets to the finish line the more there is to lose. Now is not the time to accept the loss of all the good that has been amassed along The Way.

The most recent and important message I have received from the Heavenly Elle is that actions and words of heartfelt kindness, freely given, is the presence of Love. We just have to learn to live in it.

I have finally discovered the space between the earthly Elle and the heavenly Elle. I can talk and write about her. I can miss her more comfortably. But I cannot move back to where she lived on my timeline. It is facing the wrong way. Keep moving forward.


So said Jim Morrison

Author: jenniesredbook

Someone who is trying to find the stepping stones that will make a difference to her in this lifetime.

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