I have not been able to pass Gail Elliot’s picture, this past week, without stopping in my tracks, in disbelief. The photo, on the programme for Gail’s memorial service, has lain face up in my office at home since I attended the service at Sacred Heart a week ago. I have left it there, reluctant for some reason to let it go: I stop on my way out of the office and think, this is absurd, why don’t I just give Gail a call and arrange to meet her somewhere for coffee, and put all this silliness to rest.
But, despite the robust appearance of life that her photograph represents, she is gone: she died of a heart attack, after what by all accounts was a happy day’s diving in Madagascar, about two weeks ago – just barely into her fifties, five years younger than me.
Gail was a colleague and friend, and I worked with her often during my time at the NBI. I enjoyed her mind, her humour and intensity, her raucous smokers laugh. Others knew her much better than I, we were not personally close, but she was a fixed part of the world as I knew it, someone who was always there – and the person you knew without doubt you had to call, when a particular issue came up, in the realm of skills development and training.
Monday was my daughter Eve’s birthday, and yesterday was Jonathan’s: my two daughters and their partners came round for a braai last night, and we spoke to Jonathan in London. The evening was clear and chilly, but I had built a fire in the fire pit and built up a bank of coals, and we sat around the fire with our glasses of wine and our plates of food and watched as the earth’s shadow crept across a white-hot moon, turning it a rusty red. On the other side of the world, Rob was spending her last full day in Toronto before flying home, much later tonight, to me.
Planes cross the skies, the moon is clouded and coloured by the earth, and people’s voices ring out in the darkness. Life has to continue, and does, despite the losses and portents.