Heaven’s scent

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The first time I smelt it was at sea. One of my dearest friends had drowned there a few days before with her baby and two small children. Her husband’s ship, trading between New Zealand and the Islands, had caught fire in a heavy storm just off the coast not far from here, and they had had to take to the life-boats. Their mayday signal was never picked up, and the life-rafts, which are reputed to be safer near the coast, had broken away. So my friend and her children didn’t survive the mountainous waves.

Her heroic and tragic story before this happened, is too long to tell here, but her partner, a French sea captain, did survive. He came to stay with us for the next few days until the body of one child was washed ashore.

We all trekked up to Northland, and after the heart-wrenching funeral, Jean asked us to take all the flowers to a nearby bay. There, a police launch was waiting, and with a few close friends we loaded the flowers into the cabin – then thankfully shut the door on the overpowering scent of freesias, jasmine and other spring flowers, and took off for the bay where my beautiful friend had died.

When we reached the spot where she had slipped from his grasp, Jean stopped the launch, and then, in an old Breton custom, went to toss the flowers into the sea. As the launch stopped, the sun was shining, the blue sea was calm, and the line of golden sand on the shore, still guarded by a watching policeman, lay ahead. Only another mile from here, but a mile too far for my friend.  We sat silently and breathed in the heavenly fragrance wafting around us. Exquisite. Then the door to the cabin was opened and the scent of the flowers inside was entirely different.

When we talked about this to a friend, he told us about the writer Rosamund Lehman, whose daughter had died suddenly – of polio, I think – in Indonesia. A heavenly fragrance permeated the hall outside Rosamund’s flat. People didn’t believe it until they went to visit her, and then were overwhelmed by the perfume.

A few years later, we began to experience the same wafts of flowery perfume in our sitting room. I searched for the source, but it came from none of the flowers in the room. The scent cut through the smell of the coal fire, and every other momentary odour. In the end, we gave up, and just accepted, as a friend said, that we had angels there. After a week of this, one of our cavalier King Charles spaniels was diagnosed with an untreatable disease. We gave ourselves five agonising last days with him, and then took him to the vet for the last time.

When I got back home my nine year old daughter was waiting on the veranda, home with flu. She couldn’t wait to tell me. “The flowers came from that patch on the floor where Sheba used to lie to get cool,” she cried. (Sheba was an afghan who’d died the previous year) “She was warning us about Benedick.”

When we went inside, the fragrance had gone, but later, as I sat by the fire crocheting and wiping stray tears, I suddenly smelt a strong scent of lavender. Knowing well that I hadn’t got any, I still searched my knitting basket for a bottle of lavender. I called through to my daughter in bed – ‘have you spilt some lavender water?’

Then we realised that my son had picked a bunch of lavender and camellias to go with Benedick on his last journey… the scent was a last message from his little dog.

Since then we’ve heard of other instances of these heavenly perfumes. In her beautiful account of a year living in the Blue Mountains, Australian poet Kate Llewellyn, describes sitting next to two nuns on a train, and their gentle simple conversation with her. After they had left, she felt that she could smell violets… “the odour of sanctity,” she called it.

The Catholic Church calls it the ‘odor of sanctity’, but always associates it with the bodies of saints who have died. But these heavenly scents are like a gift sent from who knows where, and have nothing to do with sanctity. Rather, they are like gifts from a benevolent and loving source who for some reason allows these emanations of beauty to visit and to comfort. No-one has to be holy or to deserve them, they are simply a manifestation of another order of beauty and wholeness that we may be conscious of, but can never see or grasp.

They are the moments that we can hold onto in a world where man can create so much pain and misery. Beyond this world created by man is this other level of love. And how exquisite that it’s the fragrance of flowers that delivers this message of hope – that the world doesn’t have to be the way we make it – that there are other worlds of truth and beauty and peace that these fragrances remind us exist.

Rabindranath Tagore talked of the air filling with the perfume of promise… sometimes I wonder if that is what these flowery messages are – both a consolation and a promise.

Food for threadbare gourmets

With a family of gluten free addicts, I’m always looking for recipes without wheat. This is a lovely chocolatey treat. I melt 125 g of butter and 150 of dark cooking chocolate gently in a large saucepan. Stir in half a cup of sugar and a teasp of vanilla. Next, stir in three egg yolks and a cup of ground almonds. Beat the egg whites until peaks form and then beat in two tablsp of sugar.  Using a slotted spoon, gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture. Line a 20 cm cake tin with a base of cooking paper, and bake at 180 degrees for 25 minutes. The cake will come out soft, and will sink and firm when cool. It’s very rich, so a sprinkling of icing sugar on top is all it needs.

Food for thought

In a rich moonlit garden, flowers open beneath the eyes of entire nations terrified to acknowledge the simplicity of the beauty of peace…

Aberjhani, American historian, novelist, poet and blogger

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45 Comments

Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, flowers, great days, life and death, love, peace, perfume, philosophy, poetry, spiritual, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

45 responses to “Heaven’s scent

  1. What a wonderfully poignant piece of writing Valerie – I felt great sympathy for you and the husband of your dear late friend – such a tragic story but so full of touching beauty too. I found myself coming out in goosebumps when you mentioned the odour of sanctity… I have also very occasionally smelled exquisite scents that can have no possible rational source and have been utterly intrigued. I wonder how many others have had similar experiences?
    with warm wishes from Elly

    • Elly, what a lovely comment – thank you so much, so good to hear from you… yes, judging by the comments it’s an experience many others have had… lovely isn’t it…

  2. Thank you Valerie, what an ordeal with the loss of your friend and children. I have a good sense of smell but have never experienced the phenomena you’ve described. I would love to, however. I’m certainly aware of other kinds of reminders of other worlds. They add greatly to one’s understanding of life.

  3. Sometimes, yes, I do catch lovely breaths of perfume without explanation, usually when I am sad and don’t know how to pray, heaven is much closer than we think.
    A fascinating post. Thank you.

  4. I have no sense of smell yet on occasion I get the scent of flowers in my bedroom where I never have any and they would fight with the scent of cigarette smoke. When Yvonne visits or even when she’s at home,there are occasional smells of Lily of the Valley which Ju loved because it was her mother’s favourite. Yet, she’s been gone a year this month and no smell would linger that long. Yvonne is sure it’s a comfort sent by Ju for us to know she’s fine.
    Thank you Valerie.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Hello David, so good to hear from you, and apologies for my tardiness at the moment… life has got the better of me !
      How lovely to have that reminder from your beloved wife… I’m sure that Yvonne is right… hugs to you too…

  5. Dear Valerie,

    Three years ago we lost a dear friend quite suddenly to cancer. She was diagnosed on Friday and left us the next day. I can’t say that I experienced unexplained perfume in that instance. However I have on other occasions smelled aromas that I couldn’t explain. I like the thought that they emanate from angels among us.
    I savor the sweet aroma of your writing and am touched by your friend’s story and your generosity in sharing it.

    Kia Ora,

    Rochelle

    • Hello Rochelle,
      thank you for your lovely comment, so good to hear from you, and my apologies for being so tardy in my reply… not getting on top of life at the moment… will do better !!!! love Valerie

  6. Dear Valerie,

    From my distant and lofty remove I send you thanks. I am reminded of Gordon Lightfoot’s lyrics from The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald where he asks, ‘Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?’. Perhaps it goes to flowers.

    A lovely, sad, beautiful post that keeps your friend alive in much the same way as scent gives rise to memories from long ago.

    Kia Ora,

    Doug

  7. This was a lovely post thank you Valerie, although quite heartbreaking … I very occasionally smell an unexpected fragrance whose source cannot be determined – I’ll be more alert now as this surely seems as if a moment of Grace has appeared.

    • Dear Susan, thank you so much for your comment – so glad you enjoyed it… am very behind with my blogging duties… so apologies for this late reply, warm wishes, Valerie

  8. “No-one has to be holy or to deserve them,” Perhaps, dear Valerie, these lovely fragrances are simple reminders that we are ALL holy and deserve them. Just a thought…xoxoM

  9. What a heartbreaking story. I never heard of that story of mysterious scents appearing; what a great comfort it must be.

  10. Such a touching, beautiful story. Fragrance, as you know, connects us with the most primitive place in our brains; linking smell with memory forever.

  11. Lovely post, as lovely as the flower and its heavenly scent.

  12. your thoughts have made a sadness beautiful in remembering…
    I have (since I died and came back) a fragrance like none hear on earth…
    it is usually when I am working in the gardens, absolutely breath-taking…
    it and the colors are what I am always drawn to when I think about that moment…I look for the colors and the scent….but cannot find anything close….I mixed jasmine and rosemary one time, it was heavenly but still not what I am searching for….
    Thank you for sharing such a personal moment of yours….
    Take Care…You Matter…
    )0(
    maryrose

  13. Juliet

    What a beautiful post Valerie. The drowning story is so devastating, and yet what you evoke around the perfumes is mysterious and comforting. Thank you.

  14. My heart broke for the loss, tragic and terrible. Like you scent has been my last and lasting impression more than once, it is why wherever I am if possible I plant Lavender and why Peonies are one of my favorite flowers. The unique scents are tied to my memories.

    As always Valerie, you lift me up.

  15. Just recenetly a good friend confirmed this, she woke up in the middle of the night and had this faint smell of her lost beloved ones. Very touching story Valerie, so sad.
    Big hug
    Dina

    • Dina, thank you so much for your comment, so good to hear from you… it’s interesting how many bloggers have had this experience – lovely too, isn’t it…love, Valerie

  16. Sorry, I don’t know why, but this PC (not my own) will not allow me to give you a like it. But I do!

  17. Luanne

    I don’t even know what to say. This is so sad and so beautiful. So rather than saying something inane, I will print the recipe and make it for my gluten free husband.

    • Hello Luanne – hope he enjoyed the recipe ! Thank you for your heartfelt comment… sometimes no words are like that magic moment of silence at the end of a sublime concert.

  18. Through sadness you brought about beauty – as I sit here I can smell the heavenly scent of roses – my mother, father and husbands favorite flower. The fall before my husband passed away we noticed the one rose bush was not going to make it, but hubby always hopeful decided not to cut it down and give it one more summer. As you know he passed away last spring, and I forgot about that straggly rose bush. Until around June when we noticed not one bud but three and all three bloomed full of color and beauty after 2 years of no flowers. I did not have the heart to cut it down during the summer months and low and behold we had one last large rose in Oct – I never saw a rose bloom in Oct before. We knew it was the first of many gifts that Tom has left with us.By November though the main stem wilted and I knew it would be no more so we cut it down but that lasting gift will remain with me forever. So many touching stories of loved ones, thank you for sharing this one. Hugs!

    • Dear Patti, what a wonderful comment and wonderful story… thank you so much for sharing it…and how wonderful to know that your husband’s love is still surrounding you… as I’m sure you always knew..
      May you have the scent of roses around you from beautiful bushes forever, love Valerie

      • :) thank you – after I commented I started writing a little verse on the blue rose…still tweeking it. Thanks for inspiring me!

  19. In his sermon this week, our priest talked about having similar experiences. After his mother died, she “returned to him”, once in the scent of her White Linen perfume and later in the scent of her lavender soap.

    I’m so sorry about the tragic death of your friend, her baby and her two young children.

    • Isn’t that wonderful, that he felt he could share such an un-orthodox belief / experience… the times they are a-changing , aren’t they !
      IN other times, we’d have ended life precipitately as witches for voicing these thoughts.! Thank you so much for your comment, friend…

  20. What a heart rending story. I am thinking about the scent of flowers and I think that has happened to me but I couldn’t figure out what it was!

    Valerie, you really should write a memoir. What stories you have!

    • Hello Maggie – thank you… so glad you knew what I was talking about… isn’t it interesting how many people have had that experience ??. a memoir… aahh.. I have a bit more riotous living to do !!

  21. Thanks for sharing this, Valerie. A heart-rending story but also mysteriously uplifting.

    janet

  22. Thank you Janet, a lovely comment… I would always want people to feel that about the flowers !!

  23. Beautiful beautiful beautiful! Xxx

  24. My dear, dear Valerie! I have been away from blogging for a few days to be with my mother who has just come our of the hospital after surgery. When she heard that she had cancer, she turned to my sister and me – “I have lived a long and exciting life. There is no reason to be sad for we celebrate each day.” Your post reminded me of the generous complexity of our lives. That we live, give and receive love, that we understand joy and sorrow, that we breathe the essence of our world. What a gift we have been given!!! I have smelled the fragrance of flowers when I needed them the most. Perhaps it is as Edvard Munch once said, “From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.”

    • Dear , dear Rebecca – which is how I feel – what an exquisite comment… you’ve said so much, and every word so precious and life-giving.. I felt my hear lift and dance as I read your beautiful words and thoughts. Your mother sounds wonderful no wonder you see life the way you do. I hope she’s feeling the way she would like to, and that you can also look after yourself as well as her… which is the challenge I face too…,much love, Valerie

  25. What a great post, thanks for sharing.

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