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Obituaries >


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Valuing life: Dr Denise Inge on pilgrimage this year with her husband

Valuing life: Dr Denise Inge on pilgrimage this year with her husband

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 2008.

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 more delicious."

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 glory.

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