Is it true before you know about it?

Posted on March 21, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Health, Musings, Philosophy |

ella's pie

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

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16 Responses to “Is it true before you know about it?”

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Thank you very much for this wonderful post and thanks for “coming back.” I too have been away from blogging and only posting a bit here or there, but I think I’m coming back as well.

I too have found ironies in my relationship with ella and getting word of her passing is causing me to start to set some stuff right in my life. I had sort of turned away from some of my family and friends, but it is time to renew those connections.

It is funny to think that in passing, ella has given us all one final gift.

Mahalo nui (thank you very much) Muse.

I still miss ella and still admire her for her courage, her wit, her heart, and for the way she managed to connect with each of us. There was something in her that drew us to her, some magic unique to her. I hope she knew that, always.

It’s astonishing how quickly things can go bad, and how bad they can go, when you have health issues or no employment security. I was homeless myself twice last summer, but thanks to reaching out on my blog to the community, all was set right in a couple of months. We know Donna/ella was a woman who drew lines and didn’t erase them; when she’d made up her mind, it was made up. Perhaps she wanted to walk away from the blogging world at a high point. We’ll never know for sure, but we can be sure she knew we would help. She was too smart not to know we would have helped if we had been asked. She didn’t ask us for her own reasons, and while I don’t understand them, I can at least respect to the end her right to self-determination.

She was loved. She died loved. And now her memory is loved. That’s maybe all any of us can ask for.

Om shanti, Muse.
What a wonderful piece. I have missed you. Of course, I, too, have been quite absent from the blogosphere……..

There but for the grace of god, go I.

Methinks, I’ll try to post more….

Thanks for letting us know, Muse. I did have a feeling this was what had happened but to have it confirmed makes it ‘real.’

From what little contact I had with Ella, she seemed to be a wonderful person. To find out where she passed…it’s hard to take. And that she was alone. That hurts.

She will be missed, never forgotten and I hope she knew that we were all thinking of her, that we cared.

I’ll never forget when I finally told her I rarely commented at her blog because I was afraid she would correct my grammar or grade me on it!

RIP, Ella. I’ll miss you.

[…] blog had died. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about the whole series of events, because Muse has written about it so eloquently… I’m not going to write a lot about our friend “ellaella,” or the […]

thanks for writing this and sending me the e-mail, muse. it saddens me to read this, that ellaella died alone. and that it took us this long to know that.

but that shows our digital footprints, though intangible, travel far and wide… we never know how we’ve touched people online but we do. and ellaella did.

I’m really sorry to hear about her death and the manner in which she died, but your thoughtful post is a worthy tribute to her.

You are very welcome, Richard, and thank you for your part in passing on this news. I got chills from what you wrote here, because I, too, have had some family relationships all but lapse, and I fully recognize my role in this. I did reach out to some cousins I hadn’t been in touch with for a while, because I was sharing news of my very ill sister; wanted to let them know about her while they still could communicate should they wish to. Now, with this recent news of ella, I’m extending that reach to more family, and some old friends. Much motion and healing can come out of tragedy. Perhaps we need these kinds of jolts to reevaluate from time to time.

Raincoaster, your comment was so eloquent, it brought fresh tears to my eyes. Your own predicament was unknown to me as I was taking one of my “blogging breaks” at the time. I feel somewhat petulant and self-indulgent about that now. I am very thankful that bloggers helped you! Your courage and resourcefulness; your willingness to be “totally out there” with who you are have always impressed me. ella was, as you say; different. The last sentences of your comment are of great comfort to me, and I’m sure to any that read them and knew ella.

yogini; so lovely to see you here. Yes, we both come and go, but you are always in my awareness. I agree, I think of how many others struggle financially in these times. What we all do have is our words, and our caring. Thank you for those.

BD, you are welcome, and as I and you attest, the grief is fresh, though the news is older. She was a wonderful person, and yes, LOL, she would have “noticed” your grammar, as she did mine, but thankfully, in my case, she mostly refrained from comment on it! 😉

Thank you so much for linking, Moonbeam, and I very much recommend your post as well.

Your last lines are profound, sulz, and I appreciate the nuances. We may think we know the results of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, and then something like this comes up to surprise us otherwise. Yes, it was sad that it took us this long to know for sure. ella’s real life colleague and friend, near where she lived, did know, but his email account had been hacked after ella took down her blog, so he wasn’t able to get in touch with us. Fortunately shoreacres tracked down a post from another colleague, and now the news is able to spread amongst the bloggers.

How are you, Ian? I’ll come over to find out. I appreciate your kind words about my post. You knew her too, and her influence is felt, and will be, for a long time to come.


Your tribute to Donna is marvelous and touching. One of the things that strikes me is how unique and individual each post has been over these past days. That makes sense, of course, because each of us had quite different relationships with ella/Donna. And that is yet another tribute to her spirit and her humanity – she took each person as an individual, and interacted with them as they were. There are people in this world who see others as interchangeable parts. That never was true for Donna.

It’s funny – when I first began writing my post in tribute to her, I titled it using “ellaella”. By the time I ended, I had moved to Donna, and now that seems the most natural thing in the world. I’ve referred to her as one of the best friends I’ve never met, and that’s perfectly true. I don’t understand it, but there it is – pure mystery.

I’m just grateful she came into my life, and I’m even more grateful to know she had family willing and able to lay her to rest at the end. And I’m glad, too, to be able, even now, to tell a few more people about her.

Thank you so much, shoreacres. Your words are wise. I have followed the continuing discussion on your blog as well with great interest. I think each comment evokes from us a little more of the story. And it IS a continuing story. I think ellaella (and for me too, it’s increasingly easier to think of her as “Donna”) is on her way to becoming a legend amongst bloggers. It is curious how comforting it is to US; we who never knew Donna “in the flesh”, that her cousins were able to claim her body and bury her next to her mother. We don’t know these cousins, either, or even that she had any until after the event, but it does help those of us left behind to know that.

Really beautifully said Muse and I am sorry for the loss of Ella from the world and the your blogging community.

She was very kind to my son when he started blogging, as were you, and I am very grateful for that.

I no longer blog in the interpersonal way as I did previously. I prefer Facebook and it’s immediacy and I am probably too reactionary to be a good blogger as I find it hard to hold back as you know from past experience.

I am sorry for the loss of Ella and especially for the way she died, I do hope she had her dignity at the end though ill health does take that away from us

MQ, I am getting chills. I logged in, after having been out at a rehearsal, and went over to Twitter, and found you there. I’d been thinking about you re: lost bloggers, etc. although I knew you were around. And then I came back to my blog and here you are! Thank you for your kind words; they mean a lot to me. One thing I’ve noticed in the comments here and on the other posts about Donna, is that we each react to these online communities in our own way. I did enjoy the blog posts you wrote. It’s interesting that you’ve found Facebook more comfortable; some have tried to get me on there, and I won’t go! 😉 It seems our level of involvement and how much we want to share is an individual thing. I remain intensely private, although I do spill my guts out here from time to time. There are those people that penetrate the surface though, and your family have been among these. I admire, respect, and am so very fond of CJ; that has not changed. I’m glad to see you. This whole situation has jolted me, and is giving me a lot of pause for thought. I hope to write from that place in the coming weeks. Take care, my friend.

I had noticed when the blog disappeared after having commented on her blog. I had loved and received wonderful comments about the pumpkin bundt cake on her blog. I noted her friendly reply to my questions and comments. I found your site today when I was again searching for a way to contact her, wondering again what had happened. After reading your story, I am sad that I lost that recipe since I feel like by making it I would think of her and remember her. But I will try to recreate the recipe and will definitely think of her when I make the new pumpkin bundt cake. I wish I had her own recipe (I remember she commented about making for more than 20 years), but I will still think of her often.

Hello Meera. I’m so glad that you did find my post, but sorry it confirmed sad news for you. We weren’t able to salvage ella’s links or blogroll, but I’m hoping that people like you that are still wondering about her will find their way here or to the other posts about her. I have links to shoreacres’ and Moonbeam’s above; they are both well-written and worth reading to get to know other aspects of this complex woman we knew as ella. I want to compile some of her recipes, because many are asking for them. I have fortunately been given knowledge of a few more than the two I had, and if I come across the pumpkin bundt cake (sounds yummy!) I’ll let you know. I have my own signature “ella” dish too, and I agree, using her recipes is a great way to remember her. I think she would be pleased. 🙂 Thanks for visiting, and letting me know!

Yoo hoo! Muse, where are you?

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