Isn’t it strange how life works out sometimes. I had planned to go to St Andrews briefly on Sunday (between finishing my permaculture course, going to the SCCAN un-conference, and attending the International Permaculture Conference here in London – more about all that another time). I wanted to drop in on Louise whose cancer I knew had worsened. I wanted to give her a big hug, tell her about all the excitement that life has, and let her know that she isn’t alone. But I never got the chance. She died on Saturday. I was a day late.
There is something about her ending that is so sad, so tragic. She ended up spending her last days alone and refused to see anyone. She had given up and felt betrayed by life, she said that she was too young to die, but towards the end she was so miserable with her existence that she wanted nothing else.
I met up with Donald, who actually managed to visit her on Tuesday. He said that she didn’t seem to be in any pain at least. Donald and I went over to her flat in search of a will. We looked through drawers and book cases and found so many clues of her past life – a life that seems so rich, exciting, and filled with lovely people, as well as traumatic events. We found her birth certificate. Her mother was a waitress and Catholic. There is no mention of a father. We found her school grade card. On it she has a different surname, the one she was given when she was adopted. She returned to her mother’s name when her adoptive parents de-adopted her, we don’t know why they did that. The third surname she used was her husband’s, which she also gave up when they divorced.
We found wedding photos with smiling faces – where are they now? Who was her husband? Should we contact them to let them know what has happened? We found course certificates from Germany and Scotland, she was well educated in a wide range of alternative medicines and care methods. What was all of that skill used for?
We knew her as a slow, slightly confused, lady, who all the same had a very sharp, perceptive mind and was not afraid of expressing it – much to the disquiet of those who have grown accustomed to communicating in euphemisms and platitudes. She seems to have accomplished so much. We found a letter from Oliver Sacks, complimenting her on the care home for amnesiacs she had founded. We found contracts and deeds regarding property she’d bought and sold, presumably for the Camphill projects she helped run. But she lead such a simple, quiet life. Where had all the inspiration and drive gone? All of her past seems to have just disappeared from under her feet, and she came to Scotland a few years ago, seemingly not able to restart life.
No matter how much we build, how much security we surround ourselves with, how many degrees we complete, legacies we create, it can still all crumble. We find ourselves, as we found Louise, living in the ruins of a past life with only ourselves for company, and had better make sure that, independently of everything else, that life is worth living.
Oh, and we didn’t find a will. I doubt that there is one. She didn’t really care about material things – she had life sussed out pretty well after all.
The last time I saw her she gave me this poem for my book. Let’s remember her that way.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
You can find the whole poem here
Love and light,