Be Free, and Fare Thou Well, Arriel Whittle

A note from Bill Whittle…

Hi Everybody,

My mother passed away peacefully in her sleep last Friday evening just a few weeks short of her 91st birthday. She had been suffering for many years from Alzheimer’s Disease, and been under medical supervision for several years. No one can really say with certainly when the onset between the simple forgetfulness of advancing age began to manifest itself as something more ominous, but it had to have been at least ten years ago, if not earlier.

For those of you not personally familiar with Alzheimers, It is a strange and terrible disease; one that leaves a loved one in an increasingly awful state of being both here and not here. When my father died suddenly —very suddenly — in 2002, the news of it was like a light going out. This news, on the other hand, has been long expected and feels more like a decade-long fade to black, where the moment between here and not here came so gently that it passed like a whisper. Even in terrible wasting diseases, such as cancer, the person you love is still there right until the moment they are gone. With this disease, they have left you long before they have gone. While none of us would call her passing ‘happy news,’ I think all who knew her well found it a relief to hear that such a light and airy spirit had been finally released from this confinement. That’s certainly how I feel about it. 

My mother grew up in Malta, was in London during the Blitz, rode a camel around the Pyramids in Egypt and personally entered the tomb of Tutankhamen. She had a very close brush with death during the Suez Crisis, and served as an auxiliary in the Royal Navy in the years following the war; her father, my grandfather, Alfred Potts, OBE was a good friend of James Bond author Ian Fleming, who likely used him as a character reference for Caractacus Potts in his Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and was, as those in the know can tell from the initials, awarded the Order of the British Empire for his work in Bond’s pre-007 career as a Royal Naval Intelligence officer. As one of the first women stewardesses for BOAC, she won widespread praise for her cool heroism when her Stratocruiser lost three engines over the mid-Atlantic on Christmas Eve and a nighttime ditch in the North Atlantic, not far from where the Titanic was lost, seemed a near certainty before a second engine could be restarted at 800 feet above the waves. She had four children as the wife of a hotel manager in Bermuda, and watched the moon landing from the manager’s penthouse in the Plaza Hotel. She spent the second half of her life in Florida, with a brief spell in Southern California, and once half-kidding told me that her greatest achievement in life had been that she had never had to live anywhere cold. 

Mom was on this earth for 33,191 days. I know this is the absolute height of stating the obvious, but while I have known her every day of my life, she had not known me for every day of hers. I arrived on day 10,417; Steve on day 10,832; Evan on day 12,292 and our little sister, Melanie on day 13,127. All four of us, now, are moving on from the day when we all knew our mother for all of our lives. No one knows how many days we have ahead of us as orphans, obviously; I for one will be terribly disappointed if I don’t make it to 700,000 but everyone is different in this regard. 

I know, I know: you were told there would not be any math. But the reason I did it was because while I had known my mom for 22,774 days, one photograph taken on one instant on one of those days captures how I have always remembered her, and that is the photo you see here. This is how I have always remembered her, and always will. I will post many pictures in the next few days, but this is the one that will be in my heart and mind forever. 

One final, fun fact: mothers and fathers get to name their children, but I am one of the very few children on the earth that had a chance to name their parent. My mom was born Edith Alice Potts, and was known as Edith Whittle for most of her life. But many years ago, as she began a spiritual journey that she had long postponed in order to raise her four children, she told me that she had always hated the name Edith — she said it always struck her as too frumpy for a person with as adventurous and light a soul as hers. She asked me if I had any suggestions, and it came to me without thought, like a lightning bolt that arrives and is gone before you can say “oooh!” The dearest person in her life, her brother and my dear Uncle Ted, often used the old English description of her as being “off with the fairies.” And so I said, “what about Ariel?” “I love it!” she said. “You damn well better love it, Mom — it’s Shakespeare,” quoth I. Ariel, the spirit of the air, from the island in The Tempest which is widely held to have been based on a shipwreck in Bermuda. Her slight qualms about sounding like the rabbit ears antennas on on old TV were quickly assuaged by the addition of a second ‘R,’ And so Arriel (AR-ee-ell) it was and Arriel it remained. 

Shakespeare closed The Tempest, the last of his great plays, thus:

PROSPERO:

I’ll deliver all,
And promise you calm seas, auspicious gales,
And sail so expeditious, that shall catch
Your Royal Fleet, far off.
(aside, to Ariel)
My Ariel, chick,
That is thy charge. Then to the elements
Be free, and fare thou well! — Please draw you near

— BW

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