Wednesday, April 17, 2013

@IKENCEO As I Will Remember Her

Written from Southport, Connecticut, USA
Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Remembering Elizabeth:
“Thanks Rochelle XXX”—that was the last bit of communication I received from across the pond from my dear departed friend Elizabeth. It was her response to a link I had sent her to an uplifting hymn on YouTube that I had hoped would cheer her up in her illness. In point of fact, all I was doing was carrying on a custom that had developed between the two of us when, three years ago, I was dealing with cancer treatment myself. The removal of my malignant thyroid had led to the complete loss of my voice for three whole months as a result of paralyzed vocal cords—this mind you, while I was in the midst of a semester and continuing to teach at New York University where I am a professor.

Applying the logic that although I was voiceless, I could certainly listen to hymns of praise and glory, Elizabeth had sent me a link to a hymn every single day for two whole months. I would listen to it and often shed a couple of grateful tears—for her hymns encouraged me to count my blessings, despite serious illness and my vocal disability, and rejoice in them. When I heard from Elizabeth, about three months ago, that she was seriously ill, I seized my opportunity to return the favor she had once done me. In responding to the hymns I sent her during her final weeks, Elizabeth continued to correspond with me. She never once complained about her ill health but accepted it bravely, writing: “I am calm and at peace with it all”.

And that indeed is the @Ikenceo I will remember. We made friends as Twitter followers when I was introduced to her through Barbara Cookson who had been my next-door neighbor in Holborn when I had lived and worked in London. From our very first exchange of tweets (way back in 2009), I sensed that I had found a like-minded soul: someone who shared my zest for life and my love for poetry, travel, correspondence and classical music. On my return to London, Barbara, who had brought us together, invited us to her home for one of her husband Tim’s legendary dinners—at which I had the pleasure also of meeting Andrew, Elizabeth’s husband. Our friendship was cemented at that dinner and it grew closer over the next few years despite my long distance from the UK.

A year later, after my regular tweeting with Elizabeth had led to contacts with many of her Twitter Followers (Dr. Lorraine Warren who shares my profession, Mike Briercliffe—perhaps Elizabeth’s oldest friend in our little group and a fellow choirister, Louise Binns who had once lived and worked in my town of Fairfield in Connecticut), Elizabeth suggested “a Tweet-Up in Bristol” where she lived to allow me to meet them. I had no idea what she meant, but she undertook the organization of what turned out to be a most memorable weekend for the lot of us, as well as Barbara and Tim who had driven me to Bristol. Knowing that I was a foreigner in the city with a huge appetite for discovering new places, Elizabeth suggested we meet at the River Café (a very special venue for her and Andrew as they often ate Friday dinners there) and then undertake a wonderfully loopy walk along the banks of the River Avon which meandered through quaint old parts of the city with interesting old ships and sculpture and newer yuppie areas with boutique apartments and swanky cars. Throughout Elizabeth kept up a lively commentary as she introduced us to the history of her city and its favorite nooks and crannies. Our rambles ended at the marvelous Clifton Suspension Bridge over whose towering height we strode, took pictures, joked and laughed as we became better acquainted with each other. (See picture below: from left, Rochelle, Lorraine, Elizabeth, Barbara, Tim and Mike).

That evening, it was a jolly lot that entered Elizabeth’s beautiful period home perched high up on a hill overlooking the city. Again, being a visitor from the States, I was treated to the highest room in her house that afforded views over Bristol and all the way across the Mendip Hills. Elizabeth and Andrew were the perfect hosts: I will never forget the delicious Moroccan Lamb Tagine she concocted and the wine that flowed copiously around the table. There was so much warmth, so much friendship, so much camaraderie—most unusual among folks who were meeting each other for the very first time. The next morning, after we spent an extremely comfortable night, she and Andrew provided a bountiful breakfast with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. And being the thoughtful, kindly soul she is, her thoughtfulness extended to our feathered friends—she presented us with bags of bread crumbs to feed the ducks in the town of Wells, where we were next headed on our brief tour of Somerset. Throughout she was a font of information about the county, its towns and villages that were clearly dear to her heart.

We met again, the following year, over another wonderful dinner at High Holborn, thanks again to the hospitality of Barbara and Tim. Thankfully, I took pictures on all those meetings, sporadic and infrequent through they were. I shall treasure them now together with the memories they instantly bring of a faithful friend, a sage adviser and a humorous correspondent. Over the years, we exchanged email about mothering (and grandmothering), about raising daughters, about helping and supporting elderly parents, about dementia. The coincidences and connections are remarkable:  my Mother developed dementia about a year before she passed away in Bombay--exactly a year before Elizabeth did. Meanwhile, Elizabeth's mother is still  struggling with it--knowing how loyally Elizabeth had supported her over the past few years, my heart aches as I wonder how her mother will cope in Elizabeth's absence. We also discussed the impact of books and music in our lives and, as women of faith, the differences between Catholicism and Anglicanism. I always found her insights acute and her gentle advice helpful.

She shared my belief that life should be lived one day at a time but with so much passion as if each day were one’s last. That’s why she was so excited about turning 60 and celebrating it with her entire family in a windmill! Through our correspondence, I came to know her family members and shared her pride and joy in them. I look forward to continuing to stay in touch with all of them as a tribute to their mother whose friendship, concern and caring had meant so much to me at a time when I was at my most fragile.

Through her life, Elizabeth taught each of us how to live. And, at the end of it, she taught each of us how to die—with dignity and courage and grace.

Rest with the angels, my dear friend Elizabeth. I will miss you very much but you will always remain in my heart and in my prayers.

1 comment:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Rochelle - I am sorry to read this and my thoughts extend towards Bristol and her family. I remember your post/s about your time with Elizabeth and Andrew in Bristol .. and I'm so glad you have photos to remember by .. but the interaction of the music daily peaceful hymns or psalms - must have been lovely to receive ...

Challenges in life are never easy to overcome - and Elizabeth's going must wring your heart at the moment ..

With thoughts to you .. Hilary