My Journey In Grief by Rosie Ayliffe

Mia Ayliffe-Chung is the 21-year-old British backpacker who was stabbed to death in Australia last Tuesday at the hostel she was staying in. 

Mia, from Wirksworth in Derbyshire, was working on a farm in Queensland in order to fulfil requirements for her Australian visa. 

In the coming week, Mia’s mother, Rosie Ayliffe, will write a daily blog in The Independent as she prepares to travel to Australia and collect her daughter’s ashes. 

Here, in her own words, she talks about grief, how she is coming to terms with her loss, and the "nonsense" that has been written about Mia’s death and attempts to link it to Islam. 

We will aim to update this blog as it is published.

 

28th August 2016

A journey in grief: my daughter Mia, killed in a hostel 10,000 miles from home

 

Grief is a funny thing. I’ve been told by the family liaison police that I’m at the beginning of a journey and that I’ll experience many emotions. For the past few days the emotions have been at bay, to the extent that I was starting to question yesterday whether I was grieving at all. 

Now I don’t think that’s the problem. The problem is that I haven’t seen Mia for nearly a year, and so in my head she’s still alive, well and living in Australia, cracking jokes about throwing stones and setting up a stall to sell the rocks she’d picked up as part of her farm work. 

Mia was working on a farm in Townsville, completing her 88 days of agricultural service in order to stay in her beloved Australia. Whether it was because she was bored or lonely, I got more calls from her last week than I ever had before. The work she had been assigned was picking up rocks between the rows of sugarcane to prevent damage to the machinery. You’ve seen pictures of Mia, 5'5”, skinny as a bird, and meticulous about her appearance. And here she was on a chain gang... she kept referring to the experience as similar to the book Holes. “There's even a warden Mum, and snakes!” But she was actually relishing the experience. I could hear the same pride in her voice as when she called from her Duke of Edinburgh trek and said, “Did you know Mum, there’s lambs in these fields!”

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She said she’d been picked for work as soon as she arrived, whereas others had been waiting around for weeks. She said stone picking was the absolute easiest option (I had to wonder what they had these kids doing!). I asked whether she’d had any induction in what to do if she saw a snake (day four and she’d already seen a dead one and several spiders) and she said no. A little English girl in a cane field full of critters and no induction? I was concerned. I asked for the address of the hostel, told her to keep an online blog of everything that was happening to her. I looked the hostel up and befriended them on Facebook so I would be able to make contact quickly. I was expecting to be called out, I genuinely believed she was going to be bitten by a snake.

Yesterday, I was trying to think of someone to read the eulogy at the funeral, and the person who flashed momentarily through my mind was Mia.

Little things like that make me realise how I have hardly embarked on that journey they told me about. I’m fully aware that her body is on a slab somewhere in a cold dark place. She wouldn’t mind the dark, but she’s not good with the cold. I couldn’t bear for her to be kept like that for weeks and decided she needed to be cremated sooner rather than later. I know some of her friends are struggling with that, because they wanted her body brought home and a cremation or burial here in the Wirksworth area, but she has friends all over the place. Hence the plan to create a place of remembrance here, but also to give various people vials of Mia’s ashes to scatter in places dear to her or to them. That way she can visit places she hasn’t visited yet. Canada, New Zealand, Singapore. People are making huge journeys to mourn her.

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But she would have been the best person to speak at her funeral. Mia stood up and read a eulogy she’d written for my Dad at his funeral (I thought that was packed...) She had been a favourite with Dad. Towards the end, he couldn’t tell me and my older sister apart, but when Mia walked in he would say ‘MIA!’ in a voice full of joy and his face would lighten up. 

The story she told of him was about her finding a dead bird in the garden as a little girl. She was told by Grandma not to pick it up but she kept it and it decayed. Grandad had helped her bury it, and told her about the afterlife and what death meant. Mia told this story in a strong resonant voice without a tear while many in the church dissolved into puddles. She didn’t shed a single tear until she sat down. I wish I was that strong. In so many ways she became a better person than me. Now I have to become half the person she could have been. 

My brother Mark drove up from Cambridge yesterday, to “give me a hug”. Hugs, and indeed contact of any description, have been notable for their absence from our family’s life in the past decade or so, so I needed to rise to this in a spirit of love as he was doing. We walked around our beautiful Derbyshire village and Mark said he understood why I’d chosen to live here now. 

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My brother asked me what I would do or say in a hypothetical world if I could meet Mia’s killer. Much nonsense is being spoken in the press about her alleged killer. The TV engineer who visited yesterday said, “Well we know what that was about, it was that Moslemic terrorism!”. Thanks for clarifying. 

Smail Ayad – the French man being held on suspicion of my daughter’s murder – is not an Islamic fundamentalist, he has never set foot in a mosque. 

It appears he wasn’t allowed to appear in court this week because of safety concerns, so I’m unlikely to get near enough to have a conversation, and only if I were suicidal would I want to (I’m not).  

I know my brother’s message to Mia’s killer would be about hell, eternal damnation, and the salvation of Christ. Life’s easier in some ways if you live by the book. 

But having been raised as a socialist and within the Church, what I choose to take from the scriptures and from socialist texts is that forgiveness and reparation are absolutely key, or violence escalates into something uncontrollable. And the person who killed Mia now has to live with the fact that they destroyed my daughter. If they feel no remorse, then surely they’re a monster in human form, and what kind of life is that?

At the moment the only way I can really cope with our loss is to think, Mia’s time had come, and what happened in that hostel on Tuesday was her fate. It was always going to happen like that. She was lent to us for a period of time and now, in Ben Johnson’s words, she’s been “exacted by the Lord on the just day”. (I always struggled to teach that poem without welling up!) But I also think that wise little girl was here for a reason, and part of my journey will be to find out what that reason was. 

 

Rosie Ayliffe

This article is reproduced by the permission of the Author and was first published in the Independent on 28th August 2016

 

The challenges of creating a multi-faith funeral for my daughter Mia 

29th August 2016

 

On our way to Australia via Crystal Palace and by a trick of fate I’ve ended up in the very spot where it all started. Westows House in Crystal Palace is now an upmarket wine bar but back in the 80s it was a shady and insalubrious public house frequented by a series of up and coming small-time gangsters.

It was here I met Mia’s father. Two years later on a holiday to Goa - (a trip immortalised last summer in a photoshopped creation Mia sent  me from India: a montage of us  side-by-side on identical Royal Enfields) Mia was conceived, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now I’m back, 20 plus years later, putting the final touches to the plans for my daughter’s funeral with a group of family and friends, while we also finalise travel details for our forthcoming trip to Australia. News is coming in from Australia via Mia's sister Nicola, who is PR and PA person for the entire family, and an absolute rock. Apparently we're to have three police cars escorting us from the airport to the Hilton, as we're told the press over there are relentless about invading privacy. Given I've had to climb over an eight foot wall in our back garden to get to the pub this week in a scene reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead, I'm apprehensive.

This isn’t as easy as you’d imagine for reasons that may not be immediately apparent. We decided the service should reflect a range of faiths without realising what we were taking on. Mia was essentially Buddhist in outlook: she derived immense comfort from meditation, and she believed in reincarnation and other tenets of Buddhism. We have therefore decided on a prolonged, reverberating note from a Buddhist singing bowl to signify the beginning and end of a meditation on life and death.

Most of the family is Christian and the funeral is taking place in church, so we have chosen chapter 21 from Revelations. However verse 8 is something of a challenge: ‘But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death’. I pointed out to my brother, who’ll be reading this passage at the service, that this included a fair proportion of the congregation. We decided to leave that bit out.

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Rosie Ayliffe (L) and her daughter Mia (Rosie Ayliffe)

After talking about the misrepresentation of Mia’s death in the media as an act of terrorism on the part of an Islamic fundamentalist, the minister delivering the service suggested we include a Koranic reading, and he will find something suitable with a friend who is an Islamic scholar. I’m hoping this will be read by a friend of Mia’s, who is the son of the last of my friends to see Mia in Istanbul. His parentage is Turkish and Scottish. All good. We’ve also asked my friend Mark Glanville, an opera singer of Jewish descent, to deliver a Jewish text or song.

In addition, Mia’s Nan Ruby Chin and her father are Satsangies, followers of the Swaminarayan school of religious belief which is related to Sikhism, and Nan has kindly offered to read a text from their discipline.

To reflect Mia’s love of music, we’re intending to ask her lovely friend Elliot to sing in church. The  song which immediately sprang to his mind is both about obsessive love, which is a little jarring given the circumstances of her death. But Elliot learnt the song with Mia at his side  and it  has strong connotations of her to him. What to do? The decision was made as Nan Ruby loved the song, so it's in, with Elliot's careful amendments to avoid negative connotations.

The funeral plan is shaping up, although it's getting so long we may start impinging on Sunday worship. Anyway it's as well you can now get something decent to eat in Crystal Palace as it looks as if it could be a long night.

 

Mia looked like she was asleep. I stared and stared because I was sure every time I looked away she moved. It reminded me of a visit to a waxworks museum, where you send a child to ask directions of a fake policeman. But the pretty creature lying there in Mia’s best dress was a perfect replica. Mia wasn’t there.

We left quickly and walked to the beach with coffees. Luckily I was with the New Zealand branch of the family, my lovely, sensible and highly supportive cousins, so couldn’t head to a bar to order gins (a double would probably have sufficed: I’m a lightweight and have had very little food or sleep for two weeks). The temptation to greet oblivion for a few hours was strong. 

Before us lay the longest beach I’ve ever seen. Endless miles of white sand lapped by a feisty, furious ocean which crashed in my ears and prevented me articulating my thoughts. I left the others sitting in the dunes and headed down to the surf. 

And there she was! 

After that I felt so strong, and I could do all the things I’d resolved to do for the ceremony tomorrow. I shopped until I found the perfect outfit, blowing a month’s food budget on a Ted Baker black and floral dress. We found some jewellery Mia would approve of and then a new experience for me, I headed to a nail bar! My nails now look so chic, Mia would be so proud (‘ooh... get you momma!’) but I haven’t been able to use the touch screen on my phone since, so sorry if you’re waiting for a reply to a message. The only thing I can think they may be useful for is to scratch paint off the windows at home; but I’m really struggling to type here!

Mia’s friends Jesse Tahwi and Jordyn Barakin have amazed me with the strength of their love for Mia and their capable attitude to this situation. 

When I first met them on Tuesday they looked absolutely terrified. I’d had some contact with them, but part of it had been to beg them to take pictures of Mia and themselves in their work outfits (basque and suspenders) off their profiles, or at least to check their privacies. They were expecting me to be very hard work, there was no doubt about it. Gradually we’ve overcome our prejudices about each other. 

Now I can see why Mia loved these girls and her other workmates so much. While grieving, and they’re grieving deeply, make no mistake, they’ve organised a chapel service and a get-together, and they’re currently putting the finishing touches to their speeches for tomorrow.

A minor aspect of the press coverage in some of the less salubrious papers has been the portrayal of the nightclub in which the girls work, unfortunately named ‘Bedroom’, as a strip joint. I determined to visit and find out for myself. 

I was quite shocked actually: the place looks like a secondary school end-of-year disco without the glamour. No offence, but the youngsters who frequent the bar are dressed for comfort rather than style and favour retro dance moves usually the preserve of dads at weddings. The décor is reminiscent of a bedroom, complete with beds around the raised dais, but that’s where the promise of sex ends. It’s certainly less raunchy than a Friday night in the high street of any major British city. Mia was a table waitress, which could involve substantial tips apparently, before the recent tightening of laws governing the entertainments industry in Australia, which controls opening hours (3am is now the limit) and excessive drunkenness. There were two cops in the bar, in uniform, perusing the dancefloor. I have no idea why, possibly a consequence of Mia’s death, but manager Brad had told me they were subjected to routine checks on many aspects of their business practices.

Jesse and Jordyn told me their parents don’t like the outfits they work in and have similar concerns to mine about the staff uniform. It seems to me to be unnecessary to attract the clientele the outfit is serving, which is essentially high school kids at the end of Year 12, out to party. But what do I know? They’re running a successful business, and Mia loved their management style. She was hoping to return to Bedroom for management training at some point, and she was highly rated for her professional attitude to her work.

The girls came back to our flat and we talked candidly about their love for Mia. Jordyn is of Maori and New Zealand descent and she and Mia had share experiences of belonging to a minority cultural group in an essentially white society. Jordyn explained that in her culture the dead are kept among the living for days, and they are touched, kissed and embraced as if they are alive. Jordyn led the way in holding Mia’s hand and kissing her today, and Jesse and Jameson followed suit. I found this so touching. They kept marvelling at how alike Mia and I are, not just in looks and gestures but also in our attitudes and our humour. They described Mia delivering a killer punchline with perfect timing. I'm so proud to be compared to my girl.

I love these beautiful, strong, capable girls and look forward to welcoming them to Britain. I know Mia’s friends there will give these girls a true Derbyshire welcome, although I think they will need to cover up a little even in summer. Nobbut yer vest and kegs in that climate? You’d catch your death!

 

A journey in grief: At last I felt Mia’s presence there on the white sand, and in the crashing waves. She was everywhere

2nd September 2016

Mia looked like she was asleep. I stared and stared because I was sure every time I looked away she moved. It reminded me of a visit to a waxworks museum, where you send a child to ask directions of a fake policeman. But the pretty creature lying there in Mia’s best dress was a perfect replica. Mia wasn’t there.

We left quickly and walked to the beach with coffees. Luckily I was with the New Zealand branch of the family, my lovely, sensible and highly supportive cousins, so couldn’t head to a bar to order gins (a double would probably have sufficed: I’m a lightweight and have had very little food or sleep for two weeks). The temptation to greet oblivion for a few hours was strong. 

Before us lay the longest beach I’ve ever seen. Endless miles of white sand lapped by a feisty, furious ocean which crashed in my ears and prevented me articulating my thoughts. I left the others sitting in the dunes and headed down to the surf. 

And there she was! 

At last I felt Mia’s presence there on the white sand, and in the wild crashing waves. I waded into the water and she was there trying to surf with her friend Jameson. I turned around and she was lying in a bikini being photographed by a friend. From afar she was running and laughing with the girls from the bar, then collapsing into heaps of giggles. She was everywhere! The crashing of the waves chimed with my grief and I started to cry and just couldn’t stop. I ran and ran along the empty beach, sobbing and laughing like some crazy thing because she was there, and she always will be there. I knew then I’d be back and Mia would still be there.

After that I felt so strong, and I could do all the things I’d resolved to do for the ceremony tomorrow. I shopped until I found the perfect outfit, blowing a month’s food budget on a Ted Baker black and floral dress. We found some jewellery Mia would approve of and then a new experience for me, I headed to a nail bar! My nails now look so chic, Mia would be so proud (‘ooh... get you momma!’) but I haven’t been able to use the touch screen on my phone since, so sorry if you’re waiting for a reply to a message. The only thing I can think they may be useful for is to scratch paint off the windows at home; but I’m really struggling to type here!

mia-0.jpg

Mia’s friends Jesse Tahwi and Jordyn Barakin have amazed me with the strength of their love for Mia and their capable attitude to this situation. 

When I first met them on Tuesday they looked absolutely terrified. I’d had some contact with them, but part of it had been to beg them to take pictures of Mia and themselves in their work outfits (basque and suspenders) off their profiles, or at least to check their privacies. They were expecting me to be very hard work, there was no doubt about it. Gradually we’ve overcome our prejudices about each other. 

Now I can see why Mia loved these girls and her other workmates so much. While grieving, and they’re grieving deeply, make no mistake, they’ve organised a chapel service and a get-together, and they’re currently putting the finishing touches to their speeches for tomorrow.

A minor aspect of the press coverage in some of the less salubrious papers has been the portrayal of the nightclub in which the girls work, unfortunately named ‘Bedroom’, as a strip joint. I determined to visit and find out for myself. 

I was quite shocked actually: the place looks like a secondary school end-of-year disco without the glamour. No offence, but the youngsters who frequent the bar are dressed for comfort rather than style and favour retro dance moves usually the preserve of dads at weddings. The décor is reminiscent of a bedroom, complete with beds around the raised dais, but that’s where the promise of sex ends. It’s certainly less raunchy than a Friday night in the high street of any major British city. Mia was a table waitress, which could involve substantial tips apparently, before the recent tightening of laws governing the entertainments industry in Australia, which controls opening hours (3am is now the limit) and excessive drunkenness. There were two cops in the bar, in uniform, perusing the dancefloor. I have no idea why, possibly a consequence of Mia’s death, but manager Brad had told me they were subjected to routine checks on many aspects of their business practices.

Jesse and Jordyn told me their parents don’t like the outfits they work in and have similar concerns to mine about the staff uniform. It seems to me to be unnecessary to attract the clientele the outfit is serving, which is essentially high school kids at the end of Year 12, out to party. But what do I know? They’re running a successful business, and Mia loved their management style. She was hoping to return to Bedroom for management training at some point, and she was highly rated for her professional attitude to her work.

Rosie Ayliffe (L) and her daughter Mia (Rosie Ayliffe)

The girls came back to our flat and we talked candidly about their love for Mia. Jordyn is of Maori and New Zealand descent and she and Mia had share experiences of belonging to a minority cultural group in an essentially white society. Jordyn explained that in her culture the dead are kept among the living for days, and they are touched, kissed and embraced as if they are alive. Jordyn led the way in holding Mia’s hand and kissing her today, and Jesse and Jameson followed suit. I found this so touching. They kept marvelling at how alike Mia and I are, not just in looks and gestures but also in our attitudes and our humour. They described Mia delivering a killer punchline with perfect timing. I'm so proud to be compared to my girl.

I love these beautiful, strong, capable girls and look forward to welcoming them to Britain. I know Mia’s friends there will give these girls a true Derbyshire welcome, although I think they will need to cover up a little even in summer. Nobbut yer vest and kegs in that climate? You’d catch your death!

Tributes to my daughter Mia and her incredible life

Saturday 3 September 2016My family and friends are all in awe of the wonderful youngsters in Surfers Paradise and at Bond University, where Mia began her backpacking experiences of Australian workplaces, as a dinner lady, as she described herself. She was much loved at Bond and the chef once said, “they don't come here for my food Mia, they come to see you!”

Her work at Bedroom was ostensibly more glamorous, but the people she met there were as down-to-earth and capable as I could wish for her to meet.

Their incredible ingenuity to crowd fund her funeral, then arrange such touching gestures as the speeches extracted below, a slide-show and balloon launch, touched all of Mia's family and southern hemisphere friends.

We were also moved that Chris Porter, Mia's travel companion and friend, who was also injured on that tragic day, could make the journey to be with us despite being on crutches.

Unfortunately, Les Jackson, the father of Tom Jackson who was tragically killed along with Mia, could not be with us, but he is hoping to attend Mia's commemorative ceremony in the UK.

Representatives from the Australian High Commission and consulate attended and laid wreaths, and have since conveyed condolences from Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who has apparently been following Mia's story closely in the press. Rest in peace my lovely girl, you are sorely missed by so many people.

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Jamison Stead, Mia's boyfriend in Australia 

Life's too short to be doing things that don't make you happy, take a risk and enjoy the little things. On one of our first dates I skipped work, went and picked her up and we went to Currumbin Rock pools and bathed in the sun, relaxed in the water and then did some bush bashing. She asked if there were spiders and snakes. I told her there weren't any, when really there were spider webs everywhere with a few spiders in them, but she didn't see. If I hadn't taken the risk to skip work I wouldn't have had some of my most cherished moments with Mia.

Rachel Jackson, a family friend 

Mia had spread her wings with characteristic dry humour, contagious smile and particular courage and it sounds as though she carried her gift of unfettered joy with her as she travelled. She was stronger than she knew. More deeply beautiful than a camera could capture. More grounded and rich in wisdom than many with years of experience. My father would say she was “happy in her own skin” - and it would have been the greatest compliment he could bestow.

Mia lived her life to the full and her loss will leave an empty space in all who met her. Please fill that space with love and the fondest of memories...not with regret, or blame, or anger. Please do the inadequate and impossible things that give strength to those around you and gift the respect and peace to her family that she would want for them. For Mia. For Rosie. For us all. 

I loved her. I miss her. Goodbye beautiful lady.

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Sam Gostelow, a colleague at Bedroom Nightclub

She'd be the ear you could confide in, the shoulder you could cry on if you needed. You didn't really hear Mia talk about herself. She was always more interested to hear others, and how they are. 

So how do we live life now without Mia? There is without a doubt a hole in everyone's lives: she was the kind-hearted happy girl from the Midlands who in a second could become this incredibly tough, strong and decisive young woman who had found herself through spreading her wings and embracing more of the world than she could have known. That is what we have to hold on to. That is how we live on through this. Allow Mia's life to be a lesson to us all. She lived without limits, without regrets. 

Mia had a trait you don’t see these days with as much sincerity: that she genuinely cared for the people in her life, she loved children and said that would always be her future.

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Jesse Tahwi,  a close friend, colleague and confidante:

I first met Mia at work, in Bedroom. I was in the bar, and in the corner of my eye I saw a little person struggling to hold a tray up in the air. I walked over and asked if she was ok as I giggled. She turned around with that great big cheeky smile of hers and said: “Hello, I'm Mia.” 

She had such a strong presence about her and I felt instantly drawn to her. 

For me, I think confidence was the root of the many attractive qualities Mia had. Her sense of humour, her willingness to be who she was, no matter what anyone said or thought. She was caring, feisty, passionate and opinionated, yet very wise for her age. 

She always carried herself so well and this is so rare to see in young girls, so it is one of the many reasons why I admired her.

In honour of her, I will always keep Mia in my heart and live life as she did. To the absolute fullest, having fun, being open and most importantly loving.

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Chris Carr, Mia's science teacher 

I actually do still remember her arrival in an already established class. And she shone instantly. I teach hundreds of kids and only a few really connect. And only a tiny few connect like Mia. So it wasn't me or my style, it was Mia that was open, bright and responsive.

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Jordyn Barakin, Mia's room mate and colleague

She was strongly independent, free-spirited, fierce and always gave off a vibrant glow.

We all loved her stupid humour that would make us laugh so hard. We all loved her weird funny facial expressions that she would pull in almost every photo, as well as all the crazy Snapchats of her on nights out where she's being an absolute goose. 

And for me, it was when she was just mucking around the apartment like an idiot but yet bringing so much joy and energy into our home. 

This article is reproduced by the permission of the Author and was first published in the Independent in August/Sept  2016

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/mia-ayliffe-chung-mother-queensland-stabbing-backpacker-a7213821.html

 

 

 

Here is the link to the crowdfunding page for the memorial fund set up by a family friend:

 

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/MiaAyliffe-Chung?utm_campaign=post-pledge-mobile&utm_content=MiaAyliffe-Chung&utm_medium=socpledgemobile&utm_source=facebook&utm_term=ERkwBrZMx

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