About a year before Esther passed away, we’d watched the film “The Wings of the Dove”, based upon Henry James’ eponymous novel. It told of the betrayal of the doomed heiress Milly Theale by her impecunious “friends” Kate Croy and Merton Densher. Knowing that Theale was terminally ill, this betrothed couple tricked her out of her fortune by Croy encouraging Densher to seduce Theale into a sham marriage. The plot would allow Densher to inherit the money he needed to marry Croy after Theale’s death. After an acquaintance of Theale’s joined her in Venice to expose the scheme her health nosedived and she died, unfulfilled in love and heart-broken. In the film as we watched the poignant scene of Theale’s body being transferred by a majestic funeral gondola across lapping waters to Venice’s cemetery island of San Michele Esther had turned to me:
“That’s how I’d like my funeral to be”.
It was an odd thing to say and maybe that’s why the memory has remained with me. Yes, she had wanted a private funeral and it had to be at the Jewish cemetery at Groningen, but she was one for a sense of occasion and expected a beautiful, dignified send-off. Her funeral, if you could call it that, on 8th January 1999 stood to be nothing of the sort. Aside from that I’ve seen the film again recently and I wondered if at the time she’d also felt some sense of empathy with Theale. As the lily-bedecked coffin arrived at the island quay to a tolling bell the narrator read the verses from Psalm 55 from which the story got its name:
“My heart is sore, pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me and horror has overwhelmed me. And I said oh that I had wings like a dove for then I would fly away and be at rest.”
Life for Esther had become a torment by day and by night, dreams dashed and nightmares rampant, trusted friends conspicuous by their absence. In 1998 she’d reached the point where she just wanted to fly away, albeit with a little style.