First, a few words from my heart, written on June 29, 2016, after reading her husband Richard's post, quoted below.
The best strawberry blonde I ever knew left us today. Over in Sheffield, England. Energetic, responsible, curious, lover of fun and people and life--a brilliant woman, long-legged and ready to step out at any given moment when she felt compelled to participate personally and intensely in life, about Isobel I could go on and on. But, the bottom line is this, Isobel is gone. We have our memories; we are blessed by these, and I'm going to share some of mine with you a bit farther into this post. What we must do now is hold her Richard and her Mary close like Isobel must have done many times over the years to ease whatever pain or heartache came into the lives of these two she held so dear. We'll stand in for Isobel while we share their loss. We'll do that for her because we love her, now and always. And we'll cry. But, like I wrote to Richard several days ago when he first told me about the sickening cancer taking her away from those who love her: Crying, it's OK for us to cry, I know that it is. To me it happens when the love we hold gets loose and wants to come out into the sunshine no matter what's going on out there because it just has to get outside; crying makes room for the rest of the love that grows inside with every moment that we know and love those we hold dear. I'm feeling philosophical having faced my own mortality so closely in this last 15 months. I profoundly wish that the doctors had been able to kill that cancer making Isobel face hers, but I am equally certain that Isobel understands much more about life than I do and about how to live what she has left--look how splendidly she's lived it all so far.
In no particular order, my memories and photos of Isobel Bowler whose husband Richard Taylor posted this on Facebook on June 29, 2016.
Isobel Bowler passed away this morning, comfortably and at home with her closest family.
Thank you to everyone who sent messages during her illness. She was so loved.
Your eyes to me are like precious stones On a face that's made of solid gold When I hold your hand I want to cry And your loving arms to protect me from the cold
I will follow you to the end of time I will be the blood running through your veins I will ride with you to the end of the line You will be my everything, my world.
I met Isobel on my first student trip to Europe when I went as a parent whose younger son took Latin from the teacher who organized the trip. My family was already friends with Richard because we'd taken care of him when he visited Jackson, Mississippi, on a trip to record church choir music in the year between, as I remember it and I hope I'm right, university and law school. Forgive me, Richard if I'm wrong and know that if I were British, I believe I'd have more of a chance at remembering correctly.
Anyway, one of our nights in London Richard had arranged to meet us at our hotel--me, my son Leland and his high school buddy Chad--and then we'd go for dinner in Chinatown. As we walked from restaurant to restaurant, Richard paused to look inside the windows adorned with defeathered ducks, hanging by their necks, waiting to be cooked. Somewhere along the line, I asked him, "What are you doing, Richard?" He replied, "Looking for lots of Chinese people eating--that's where we will eat." He smiled his delightfully charming smile as his eyes sparkled. Somewhere along the line, he mentioned that a friend would be joining us. Seems that we had found the right restaurant and had been seated before his friend arrived; since this was well before cell phones, I can only imagine that he had given her a complete set of instructions as to how to find us. I like to think of Isobel going from restaurant to restaurant, looking for us among the Chinese diners!
I remember thinking this is a dynamic young woman with outstanding long legs, an engaging smile and great conversation, plus the ability to make you feel like you were the most important person in the room. Pun intended, Isobel flat out bowled me over, that's all there is to it. I've never told this to anyone, but I thought that night that I now have my own private Sigourney Weaver here, complete with beautiful reddish wavy hair. I remember thinking that she and Richard just might be more than friends--he glowed, reflecting the bright light that came with Isobel into the room. It didn't surprise me to find out some years later that they would marry. It didn't surprise me to learn that their family would become three with the birth of a child, their darling daughter Mary. It didn't surprise me how pleased I was to be able to visit them in their London home when Mary was not quite two months old on what turned out to be my last student trip to Europe, this time as the teacher in charge.
Extremely proud of myself for finding my way all alone on the Tube to their home, I walked up to their door certain that I was about to make some good memories. I held Mary in my arms, smiled at her sweet baby face, took deep breaths of that divine baby smell. Later I dined with Isobel and Richard and at least one friend who had been Isobel's boss at one time--seems like a couple more were there, my memory isn't what it used to be, this was back in 2001. The former boss had recently received an honor from Queen Elizabeth for work in his field which, I hope I remember correctly, had to do with national health. He gave me a ride back to my hotel in a London Black Cab. The entire evening I'd felt like I'd been cast in a movie being shot in London and, although I cannot remember details, I do remember how Isobel treated me, like a good friend welcomed with love and caring into the home she'd created with Richard for their family. She made me feel special.
By inviting me to their home, Isobel also gave me the chance to publish in the Jackson Free Press, the alternative newsweekly in Jackson, Mississippi, where I wrote, proofread, edited, photographed as a part timer who adored every single moment I spent on it, but none more so that when I was able to tell editor Donna Ladd in a brainstorming session for our "Six Degrees of Separation" that my miniature dachshund Duncan was that very distance from the Queen of England. I rattled it off before she had time to close her mouth which had dropped wide open at my statement: Duncan, me, Richard, Isobel, her former boss, the Queen of England. Thank you, Isobel!
Over the years, we've kept in touch through e-mails and Facebook. I've delighted in those moments of contact because I knew that we'd always be friends. In fact, when I got the chance to go to the UK in October, 2014, they are the first couple I e-mailed about the details of the tour because I desperately hoped to be able to see the two of them and Mary.
That hope was never in doubt once Richard and Isobel found out when I'd be there, where I'd be closest to them. She got me a ticket on the train from York to Sheffield so that I could leave the tour and rejoin it a day later, riding to London all by myself on a train with another ticket from them. She made certain that I had the train schedules so that I could make good time getting to Sheffield. Isobel found me at the train station giving a uniform patch from the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office where I work to a 6'6" transit policeman standing near the station entrance. Immediately I had the joy of experience Isobel as her usual self, energetic, vivacious, smiling and talking and making certain that all was well with me. We soon walked over to a nearby venue for Richard's book launch. Such serendipity to be there on that particular evening. There was a good-sized, attentive crowd at the event; we joined some of their friends for a nice meal afterwards. The next morning they drove us to visit Chatsworth House, a stately home in Derbyshire--I felt like I was cast in an episode of Downton Abbey of a more opulent sort as we walked through that magnificent place after lunch in the stables--reborn as a very nice restaurant. Before lunch Richard and I toured the massive gardens on a golf cart while Isobel walked their dog Freddie here and there, then putting him to bed in the car before joining us for a short walk once our tour was complete. After a blissfully wonderful time with my two friends, we headed back to Sheffield and my train. As my husband LeRoy used to say, we split the whistle getting to that train's platform and finding my reserved seat. Isobel never doubted we'd make it; she encouraged Richard to get me to the train on time, that she'd park the car, that she join us there as we reveled in our success. See the photos below for proof positive.
Isobel and her friends at Richard's book launch--Kim, I think; Vanessa; and Isobel. I hope I have the names correct for the friends. I do vividly remember how smart these three women were. Smart, articulate, powerful women. The entire time I sat there impressed to the hilt, honored to be in their presence.
See what I mean about the long legs, the wavy strawberry blonde hair. Isobel on the grounds of Chatsworth.
Isobel and Richard on the grounds. The fact that they're in the photo is another bit of serendipity. I was focusing on that huge urn and didn't even notice them until I uploaded the photo to Flickr.
Freddie and Isobel beside the Carriage House.
We did it! I got to my seat in time, thanks to my inspired, intrepid friends! I waved to the two of them when I realized that they'd come up to my window for our last loving smiles at each other. In my excitement, I couldn't get my camera to focus on their faces instead of what was around them--well, it sort of is in focus on a single photo--but I do so adore them as they are! We'd talked about my coming back some day, maybe doing a tour of their making in a rented car. Me, driving a car in the UK? What a wild thought that was. But that's what Isobel did! She led you to believe in all the wildness that the future could hold. The best kind of wildness there is--hope and excitement and self-belief in what you could accomplish. Here are all of these wonderful photos.
Here are a few more photos that I want to share.
Freddie and Isobel at home before we left for Chatsworth.
Richard and Isobel, at home before we left for Chatsworth. Mary left for school before I even thought about taking a photo, I was having such fun being there that I completely forgot! Trust me, she's a lovely young woman who does both parents proud.
As I've typed this post on Wednesday night here in Portland, Oregon, my heart has been full. Full of disbelief that cancer took this vibrant woman from her husband, her daughter, the family and friends who also love her. Full of anger that cancer takes so many who are as well-loved every single day, around the world. Full of prayer and hope for Richard and Mary to be able to find the strength to get through this experience that they are too young, truthfully too young, to be going through now. What has happened has gone against the natural order of things. Death should have been delayed many years from now.