Caroline Chartres writes:
DR DENISE INGE, who died on 20 April, aged 51, was an author,
academic, and adventurer who grew up in a "large and rambunctious"
family, the descendants of Mennonite settlers, on the east coast of
America. She crossed the Sahara, charmed snakes in Marrakech, and
cycled the Adirondack mountains, before coming to England as a
tourist, and meeting John Inge, the friend of a friend, "and that",
as she wrote, "became my future."
She had first encountered the work of Thomas Traherne, the
17th-century poet and mystic on whom she became a leading
authority, as an undergraduate at Gordon College, Wenham, Mass., in
the United States. She was later awarded her Ph.D. for research on
Traherne at King's College, London.
She shared with Traherne a capacity to experience everyday
things, especially in the natural world, as rare and precious. One
of her three Traherne books, Happiness and Holiness, was
named in The Spectator's Book of the Year competition for
When John was appointed Bishop of Worcester in 2007, the family
moved into a house built on top of a medieval charnel house.
Discomfited by the thought of living over other people's bones,
Denise characteristically addressed her fear full on, embarking on
a tour of charnel houses in Europe and on a journey into the
meaning of bones themselves: "From this belly of our house I began
a kind of quest into fear so that I might overcome it and learn
about living life unfrightened."
When, less than a year ago, she was diagnosed with an inoperable
sarcoma, the question of living well in the face of mortality
abruptly ceased to be hypothetical. She faced gruelling
chemotherapy with clear-eyed courage, concern for others, and above
all the unshakeable conviction that "Alleluia is our song."
She wove her own experiences into an account of her
charnel-house tour: "What seems so strange to me is that I wrote
almost every word of this book before I was diagnosed with cancer.
Did meditating on mortality somehow conjure the disease? I don't
think so. But I do think in some ways it prepared me for it.
Contemplating mortality is not about being prepared to die,it is
about being prepared to live. And that is what I am doing now, more
freely and more fully than I have since childhood. The cancer has
not made life more precious - that would make it seem like
something fragile to lock away in the cupboard. No, it has made it
She had just finished revising the manuscript when she died,
after her condition deteriorated suddenly and unexpectedly, on
Easter Day, with her family - including her beloved daughters
Eleanor and Olivia, and her mother and her sister (who had just
arrived from the US) - beside her. Her brother Dwight wrote: "She
was granted the final healing at home, with her family around her -
without months of terrible pain and more humiliating treatment. It
was a mercy. A severe mercy, but a mercy."
Her book, A Tour of Bones, to be published in November,
is a passionate testament to the conviction "that living is more
than not dying, and that contemplating mortality is not about being
prepared to die but about being prepared to live. . . There are so
many things I do not know. But one thing I hold close: living isn't
something outside you that you will do one day when you have
organised your life a little better. It comes from deep in the
centre of yourself. You have to let the life in, there at the
deepest part, and live it from the inside out."
Denise did just that, and inspired others to do the same: our
hearts go out to her family. May she rest in peace and rise in