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Tribute to Vivienne Silver-Leigh

by Adam and Mark Reeves(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 116 - October 2005

On June 14 Vivienne Silver-Leigh, our mother and regular contributor to Positive Health passed peacefully and gracefully into spirit. Vivienne meant so much to so many people, and we, as her sons, would like to share with PH readers something of her life and death.

Vivienne was born into a middle-class Jewish family in north London in the early 1930s, but was evacuated to an all girls’ boarding school in Worcestershire during the war. After leaving home she trained as a speech therapist.

Vivienne was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1979, when the two of us were 11 and 13. She had lived through a broken marriage and traumatic divorce followed by ten years of single motherhood and always faced challenges full on. Courageously, she refused a mastectomy, opting for a lumpectomy supported by a course of homeopathic mistletoe.

After a visit to The Bristol Cancer Centre, she embarked on a new holistic lifestyle, much to the bemusement of the two of us. Frozen pizza and fish fingers were out; nut roast, mung beans and muesli were in. If she wasn’t concocting some peculiar wholesome dish in the kitchen, she might be found standing on her head in their living room. She also took up the harmonica. Despite the slight embarrassment of having a quirky mum, actually we were both proud of her courage and originality. As a single mother, in a time when it was not commonly accepted, Vivienne did a brilliant job.

Her illness did not deter her from activities in the community. During the 1980s, she ran support groups for parents, was involved in a local cancer support centre and taught a disabled yoga group.

During the 1990s, Vivienne blossomed. Free of parenting, she seemed to us to become an entirely different person. She increasingly saw life from a deeply spiritual perspective. She became a Quaker and left her English teaching job to be a psychotherapist and breathwork therapist, as well as training and supervising counsellors.

After 17 healthy years, the cancer made a re-appearance and Vivienne was again forced to face her biggest demon. She had a course of radiotherapy and now had to learn to live with cancer again.

In March this year, Vivienne discovered she had cancer of the womb and was admitted into hospital for a hysterectomy. What should have been a straightforward operation led to complications, which necessitated a second operation. She was in hospital for six weeks, a very difficult time, but there was light in the darkness. Vivienne was profoundly touched by the realization of just how much she was loved and fully allowed herself to receive the support that was flooding her way.

She was forced to let go and put herself in the hands of others while endeavouring not to give her power away to the medical profession. Throughout the toughest challenge of her life, she maintained her dignity, which was expressed through her surrender, her humour and her refusal to be anything other than herself.

Bravely, Vivienne discharged herself, simply announcing she’d had enough and was now going home. After three challenging yet comforting weeks where she was cared for by close family and friends, she was suddenly admitted back into hospital. We were now told categorically that she was dying.

The following days, although immensely sad, had an exquisite beauty and magical quality.

We kept vigil, making sure that in her unconscious state, she knew she was surrounded by love. It dawned on us that she had brought us into the world, and we were now being called upon to gently help her journey into the next one.

As she breathed her last breath, the atmosphere was radiant and full, with a feeling of lightness and joyous release.

The next day we were launched into full organizational mode. Planning a funeral can be overwhelming and strange, when all one wants to do is reflect and be still. Suddenly you are catapulted into the role of coordinating an event. It seems like the last thing in the world you want to be doing but no one else will do it for you, so it just has to be so.

We were doubly blessed with help from the Quakers, who stepped in to orchestrate the funeral service, and also alternative funeral directors, Green Endings (www.greenendings.co.uk). Rather than providing a conventional undertakers service, they became personally involved in helping us to create an event in keeping with the spirit of our mother. From the outset, funeral director Roslyn Cassidy was sensitive, caring, emotionally connected and fully with us in our process.

The Quaker service is one whereby all sit in silence for one hour, and at any point anyone present may stand up and speak if they feel so moved. This felt more inclusive than having someone lead the service and all who wanted to were able to actively participate. Later that day, Vivienne was cremated at Putney Vale crematorium. The auspiciousness of the timing did not escape us; it was midsummer’s day and a full moon. Her bamboo woven casket was adorned with fully bloomed flowers and ivy from her garden. It could not have been more beautiful.

For us, the experience has been one of letting go of her human form but allowing ourselves to feel at one with her spirit, which has been very much present in our lives these last few weeks. She would often joke about when she finally ‘popped off’, as if it would be just like popping to the shops. Strangely, it does feel like she has just ‘popped off’.

Vivienne was always a prolific writer. Her column in Positive Health was a way of her expressing her feelings about life and she hoped that at least some readers might resonate with her viewpoints. Her experience as a psychotherapist, healer, teacher and mother were synthesized and expressed passionately in these pages. Thank you to all of you who followed her column. We hope her words touched your lives, just as her presence touched ours.

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About Adam and Mark Reeves

The sons of Regular columnist in Positive Health magazine, Vivienne Silver-Leigh

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