Is it true before you know about it?
Today I received a message from a blog friend. It was concerning another blog friend. It made me realize, once again, how strong and magnificent our community here is, and filled me with regret for not participating for a while. I don’t think regret, on its own, is a bad thing. It gets us—or at least me—to think about priorities. Regrets can stifle our growth, though, if we hold onto them, so I am letting go some of them here.
This message informed me and few others that our blog buddy ellaella had passed away, nearly a year ago. ellaella had a blog called From Scratch: Food Plus Politics for some years. Her writing was witty, terse, and full of recipes! Now, I am no cook, myself, but, ella’s charm, sophistication, and political acumen won me over so that I read her posts about food as well. I got to know her as I have my other blog friends, by exchanging comments on our blogs. We discovered we had much in common, and I developed an affection for her that non-blog people find hard to understand. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t meet in “real life” (whatever THAT is).
As I’ve said in other posts about her, we exchanged emails, and took the dialogue to a more personal level. She was living in a house in New England at the time, with a partner that was becoming increasingly impatient with her health issues. She didn’t like the winters there, and was getting tired of her partner’s attitude, so she decided to move back to Washington D.C., a city that she loved, and where she’d had the bulk of her professional career.
It turns out that the woman I knew for several years, with whom I’d shared life observations and biting humor, had been a broadcast journalist! She never mentioned this on her blog; which was about food; with political commentary mixed in from time to time, as its name suggests. In addition to being a journalist, she was a musician, poet, and, of course, an excellent chef.
I waded through her recipes to get to her wit, and it was well worth the travel. I knew, from vague references, that her health was quite challenged, but didn’t know too many details. ella, like many bloggers, was fiercely independent, and just as fiercely private. She was frugal with what she shared. She got to know and trust people slowly, with small bits of personal information at a time. I can understand this, as I am that way myself. It is my perception that she enjoyed this type of online friendship; that she found it refreshing as she could be thoroughly who she was, without the scrutiny that a public figure such as herself would have, or from a family who had known her forever!
It strikes me, after reading what I just wrote, how many bloggers I’ve come across that would rather not have their family read their blogs. This is a place we can feel safe to express, without the microscopic examination that families can sometimes provide.
Before her blog disappeared over two years ago, ella had posted, and had sent me emails, about how happy she was to be in D.C. again. She had found a lovely townhouse to rent, with a big enough kitchen for all her pots and pans! She hoped to find some work in her former career there (I still didn’t know what that was then). She had been experiencing some medical issues. I didn’t know how severe they were. She wrote of the shopping in her new neighborhood. She knew I didn’t like to cook nearly as much as I liked to eat, but she sent me a message that she had thought of me she she discovered a Trader Joe’s near her, a specialty market we both loved, but she’d not had in her old location.
She’d thought of me! While shopping! And had to let me know! And that was the last I’d heard from her. The final post on her blog was one of holiday wishes, in December of 2009. She said she’d look forward to “seeing” us in 2010. We did not see her in that year.
Several bloggers became concerned about ella as the months passed. They posted comments on her blog, asking her to get in touch. She never commented there again, nor did she answer any of my emails. A former colleague of hers tried to get in touch as well, and he’s the one that let us know that she had serious congenital heart disease. He had not been in touch with her for years, but spoke to her on the phone just once, when ella was seeking to renew her broadcast license.
And now, a year later than that, I have the news that ella passed away in April of last year. This dear person died alone, without family or friends, in a homeless shelter. She did HAVE family, but apparently was too proud to, or perhaps an aspect of her her illness caused her not to get in touch with them. The only reason we know this is because a shelter caseworker had discovered another former colleague’s number on ella’s phone, and called to let him know the sad news. This man had called her too, and emailed, but never got a response.
I was left with wondering how her physical life could have ended this way. She had been a good, lovely, intelligent, charming, talented person, with a successful broadcast career. She had family that cared about her (fortunately, one of her several cousins did claim her body, and make funeral arrangements for the family). She had old friends within a short distance of where she lived. She had us blog friends who certainly could have done something to help; I’m sure of it.
And yet, I only speculate, ella’s health must have deteriorated quickly after her move. She couldn’t find work because of this, and had to give up her townhouse. She (knowing her) probably felt great shame in this, even though some of her friends knew of her predicament, and did not look down on her. They would have been very willing to help.
We’ll never know exactly what was going through ella’s mind towards the end, and as a another blog friend said “It was her own path, and no one could walk it for her.” This does not keep me from feeling sad, and a little more alone, but it is good to share, and at least have the knowledge of her physical fate. It was very hard not to know for these two years.
I think of the “old days” before the internet; before telegraph, telephones, or even reliable mail service. I live in a country of immigrants, and when many of them set off to come here, they would be bidding goodbye to their families for the last time. The only communication was the mail, and a letter could take months to reach their old homes. People would write of a friend or family member’s death, but the recipient might not hear about it for a very long time. In her or his mind, the person was still alive, until getting the news. It did not alleviate the grieving to know that the event had happened, perhaps, last year.
I feel a bit this way now. My dear friend, one I only knew through this blog, has been deceased for nearly a year. That is a fact, but the news is fresh, and I grieve for her. Her absence from the blog and lack of communication for the prior year, I will admit, had angered me a little. Didn’t she know we cared, and had wondered what had happened to her? Was it too much trouble to write to at least ONE of us, so that person could tell the others? Apparently it was. She may have been afraid of saying too little, or too much.
In my disgruntled state, I emotionally withdrew from the world of blogging quite a bit. I was angry. I had invested emotional energy in this person, and I had no recourse when she decided not to respond! I’d always known this was her right, and did not begrudge her that, but I became jaded. Blogging had lost its magic; its glow for me. I note the irony that I reacted to her withdrawal by withdrawing. It wasn’t the only reason, but it was a big one.
Now, I feel differently. With this news, and the ability to communicate about it, I am rejuvenated in my sadness. I realize how precious is every soul I meet and share with, in whichever medium the meeting takes place. I also realize that, should I continue to be blessed with blog friends that care about me, I would not want them to wonder, were I no longer around. I am thinking of ways to ensure this won’t happen, but for now, I don’t intend to disappear!
It’s been good to see you!
R.I.P. ellaella, a.k.a. Donna