The Death Letter Project
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Dorothea Ratcliffe | Retired Secretary / Actress

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. I said this prayer, the Lord’s Prayer & the God Bless Mummy, Daddy, and family for my first 16 years. Born & brought up in India’s British Raj, spent 11 years in Boarding school in the Himalayas, surrounded by views of the eternal snows & Mt. Kanchenjanga. Run by High Church Anglican Nuns, we attended school chapel every evening, twice on Sundays, strengthening my belief in God, Christ, death and Resurrection. Scripture - Old + New Testament were given almost as much weight as English, Maths, History, etc.  Voluntary Retreats for the senior school during Lent - to be silent, think, pray, read, eat less was spiritually uplifting. Home for 3 months in a different place each year.

Remote, jungley, black nights, well-water, no electricity, we listened to tales of ghosts and exorcism from Grandpa. Scarier villager's tales of tree demons, water spirits, king cobras & death by witchcraft. We believed all of it. 

WWII ended, but great turmoil of riots & killing began in India . We had Martial law/curfew in Calcutta. Witnessed horrible deaths. Schools, colleges, university were closed. Trains, stations deadly, dangerous. Massacres. 

1947. Independence/Partition. Slowly, back to social life of tennis, dancing, picnics, cycling, courting, church on Sunday. Joined Church Youth Group but during pre-marriage counselling started questioning everything, specifically the vow to “obey my husband”. Refused. Heated discussions. I won. From there on my beliefs started unravelling.

Married, we left India to live, work, study in London. Listened, learned, looked, cycled Great Britain visiting the historic sites, cathedrals, abbeys, but never attending a church service except for weddings. Discussed life. Religion, Death. No longer believed in heaven/hell. AGNOSTIC.

Amicably divorced after 20 years + 3 sons, both of us remarried. 13th January 1973 early on the last day after a week’s enjoyable film & TV course at Bathurst C.A.E. my former husband appeared, dressed in white, in a black dream. He said ”sorry, goodbye”, disappeared. I woke, sweat-soaked, crying. Heavy rain delayed our bus to Sydney.

Waiting increased my sense of dread. 9 am - I burst into tears.  On the bus, related my awful dream to my friend. Before Katoomba, bus was boarded by police. I said “that’s for me”.  It was.  A telegram from my new husband saying two of my sons had been seriously injured in a car accident and I had to go to Lismore Hospital.

Police escorted us to Katoomba and helped organise a tiny plane to Lismore. So much shock, phoning, it wasn’t till the last minute before flight I asked about Adrian.  He had died in the accident at 9 am. A violent electrical storm buffeted tiny plane. Prayed for my sons. Old customs die hard, never prayed again.

Been living in Sydney over 60 years, my dear family born here. Love them, my friends, books, music, chess, theatre, movies, travel, cooking, gardening, radio & LIFE. 

Take full responsibility for my LIFE, try to live one day at a time. Not afraid of Death or Dying - it’s just part of LIFE. “Afterlife” perhaps means being remembered. Many family & friends have died. Remember & miss them. My Living Will states “if my brains stops functioning - SWITCH ME OFF”.

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  • So proud. Read this with tears flowing. My amazing Aunty Dot. - Vikki Rabe (Facebook)
  • So beautifully written Aunty Dot. Tears welling. ❤️😘 - Donna Nutter (Facebook)
  • The prophecy of dreams...I remember dreaming of my grandfather dying when I was a very small child...There's so much we do t know about passing over/through/to...wherever it is. - Kirstin Guenther (Facebook)
  • Love this one - Sarah Malone (Facebook)
  • I dreamt of my father and woke suddenly, sitting upright in bed. About 20 mins later the phone rang and it was my Mother telling me Dad had suffered a massive heart attack and had died that morning. My brother also dreamt of Dad that night. - Julie Taylor (Facebook)
  • Beautifully said Mum. C Xxx - Clive Lochner (Facebook)
  • It’s a lovely letter Dot.xx Wendy Browne (Facebook)