Scottish Daily Mail
My Georgie returned to save her little sister from her demons
On Saturday, City ‘Superwoman’ NICOLA HORLICK revealed how her daughter, who died aged 12, is still a constant presence. Today, she movingly describes another extraordinary spiritual intervention...
death that there were times when I despaired of ever dragging her from the morass of her grief and loss.
A catalogue of childhood anxiety and adolescent angst had led to a six-year dependence on prescription drugs.
My heart was broken for a second time when I watched, helplessly, as my child’s emotional trauma continued and I didn’t seem able to do anything about it.
In my frantic quest to help her, I searched the globe for solutions. Inspired by a BBC documentary, I sent Antonia to a wilderness camp in Utah, in the U.S., in June 2011.
Then, swayed by the blandishments of an ‘educational consultant’ — a man I now know to be a smooth-talking salesman on a hefty commission — I was persuaded to send her to a therapeutic boarding school in South Virginia. This was a big mistake.
Now I am profoundly thankful that she has finally found inner peace. But she has done so not through any costly intervention by her mother or a school but much closer to home — through the help of her own lost sibling.
I firmly believe it was Georgie who, from beyond the grave, restored her little sister’s mental well-being and saved her from her demons. I make these claims advisedly. I am not an impulsive or fanciful person.
After taking a law degree at Oxford, I went on to marry Tim and have six children — our youngest, Benjie, was born within a year of Georgie’s death — while running a multi-million-pound investment company in the City.
I was known as ‘Superwoman’, an alias I never endorsed, realising I was fortunate — with an income of £1million a year — to afford a nanny, housekeeper and cleaners to smooth the path of my life. And, in a sense, therein lay the roots of Antonia’s distress.
When Georgie was in hospital during the final year of her life, I kept a constant vigil at her bedside while our nanny looked after our other children. Antonia — just 18 months old — was too young to understand why her mummy and sister no longer lived at home.
From time to time, our nanny brought Antonia into the hospital to talk to us from the phone outside Georgie’s room. But this was distressing and bewildering for a toddler.
When Georgie died, the impact on all my children was, of course, profound. But I soon realised Antonia — hit by both separation anxiety and the loss of her oldest sibling — was utterly traumatised.
My marriage was another casualty of our collective grief. Tim and I divorced, adding to the pressure Antonia felt. And the effects reverberated through the ensuing two decades.
At her junior school — although prodigiously bright — she pretended so convincingly that she could not read or write, I was persuaded she had a problem and searched London for a school that could accommodate her needs.
She was installed there in 2003 when she was seven, and only much later did she tell me this had been a ploy to get my attention.
Vulnerable and despairing myself, I was casting around for any solution that could help Antonia. At the time, it seemed that Carlbrook — a boarding school in South Virginia — would be her salvation.
Its glossy brochure assured me it was unique in providing an excellent academic education and sports programme, but also in catering for its students’ emotional needs: each had a personal therapist.
Antonia, aged almost 16 — in 2012 — was eager to go. But what I had not reckoned with was the damaging nature of the therapy.
Workshops involved pinning photographs of parents to pillows and punching them to release angry thoughts, and organising and attending their own funerals.
In my quest to help her, I could never have realised she would become embroiled in practices that I later discovered were based on a cult.
Physical and psychological abuse were built into the programme. Sleep deprivation, hunger and emotional manipulation were deployed as tools at the school.
Parents were invited to attend conferences twice a year and, of course, we were given a different picture of what was going on.
Students sat on the stage, telling us of how they had been redeemed from lives of alcoholism and drug addiction by the brilliant staff at Carlbrook. We attended our own workshops, which seemed very helpful and restorative and assumed that the workshops that our children were participating in were the same.
Carlbrook closed down in 2015, beset by financial problems resulting from the legal claims of parents who had discovered the level of abuse inflicted upon their vulnerable children. Many of the students graduated from the school in a worse emotional state than when they had arrived. Tragically, several of Antonia’s friends from her time there are now dead. Small wonder her troubles were amplified when she left.
By the time she arrived at university in Los Angeles in 2014, she was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which led to panic attacks that
were literally physically paralysing. A psychiatrist prescribed strong and addictive benzodiazepine antipsychotic drugs for her panic and anxiety — but these only masked the panic and led to physical addiction.
I’d phone her and she would be hysterical — and, as I was 6,000 miles away, this only added to my sense of helplessness.
She graduated from university in May 2019 and resolved to wean herself off the medication. She found this tortuous, but she knew she needed a solution to calm her, and, in desperation, she turned to Georgie.
The path to salvation came to her in February last year. Antonia was at home in London and awoke from a dream. ‘Mummy, I need to go to Tulum. That is where I am going to find peace,’ she told me.
I didn’t know anything about this ancient Mexican town with its Mayan archaeological sites at that stage, and I suspect now that Georgie was guiding her.
Antonia told me that it was a very spiritual place and we agreed that she should go — when your child’s mental and physical health are at stake, you are prepared to try anything.
So, despite the difficulties of the Covid pandemic, Tim and I booked her flight. It was there that a chance encounter with a young Englishman on a beach led her back, once again, to Georgie and the light.
When he asked what had brought her to Tulum, she explained about her panic attacks and anxiety; that she was trying to find a way of dealing with them without medication. He replied that he could introduce her to a spiritual guide who had helped others surmount similar problems by using breathing techniques.
She recalls the candlelit cave fringed by an ancient underground reservoir in which she learned, in the warm water, to immerse her head and hold her breath. The exercise felt at first disconcerting, then calming. She began to practise this special form of breathing. The breathing started to help, and then one day, under the tutelage of a spiritual mentor known as Abuelo (Spanish for ‘grandfather’), the head of the Mayans, she recalls ascending to a different, magical plane. It was then that we both knew Georgie was guiding her because she recounted to me — with a precision that was almost unnerving — details of a visit to see her sister in hospital that she could not possibly have recalled from the age of two.
Memories, we know from scientific studies, are barely imprinted on our growing minds until we reach the age of three. So Antonia and I have only one explanation for what happened to her: her oldest sibling was directing her from heaven.
Antonia later recounted her vision in detail. She was walking towards the door of Great Ormond Street Hospital. Then, with uncanny accuracy, she plotted the exact route to Georgie’s room.
She told me how she walked through the reception area to a bank of lifts. Entering one, she recalled, she went to the sixth floor, turning right and then left onto a ward. She walked to the end by a nurses’ station and then turned right again.
Further down the corridor, she turned right again and went into a room where she saw Georgie in her bed attached to a drip.
I was astonished. She could not possibly have remembered these details from when she was two and I had certainly never mentioned them to her. So we have only a spiritual explanation — that Georgie was guiding her little sister.
When Antonia arrived in her room, she says Georgie beamed at her, delighted to see her. Then Georgie’s expression changed and she looked at her sternly. ‘Antonia, I want you to forget this image of me. You have dwelt too much on your sadness and grief, and it is not serving you well. I don’t want you to remember me with no hair, attached to a drip.
‘I want you to go back downstairs and, when you leave the hospital, you must never think about me in this way again.’
Antonia left the room and retraced her steps. She went through the sliding doors and out onto the street and then she turned, wanting to go back and speak to Georgie again, but a huge boulder in front of the doors prevented her from entering.
Antonia took this as a sign from her sister. From that day on, she resolved never to think of Georgie as a sick child in hospital, but as a healthy one: like the smiling vision who came to her on her birthday last year.
Antonia spent five months in Mexico, and I joined her there for a holiday. By then I needed no convincing that Georgie was guiding us both, and one day while I was there she came to me — a celestial vision — and told me, too, to let go of the painful memories of her in hospital.
Back home in London I took down all the photos that showed her as a sick child and replaced them with ones of her when she was healthy.
The Georgie I remember now is a radiantly happy one. Antonia, meanwhile, still practises her breathing techniques every day and her panic attacks have vanished. She no longer takes prescription drugs, having been successfully weaned off them.
After 23 years of suffering, she has finally found peace and that is a huge solace to both of us.
And the irony is not lost on me that after we had trawled the world searching for solutions to her trauma, Antonia found redemption through the sister whose loss had caused her so much pain and who introduced her to the spirit world.
Neither Antonia nor I had a religious belief before Georgie came to us in heavenly form. Now we both know, incontrovertibly, that we will see her again — and that knowledge is powerfully sustaining. It has not lessened our sadness, but it has given us hope. And that is the greatest comfort of all.
■ Nicola Horlick is chair of anthony Nolan, the charity which saves the lives of people with blood cancer. it is looking for people to support its lifesaving mission by joining the stem cell register as a donor and funding their vital work. Find out how you can get involved at anthonynolan.org DID your lost child visit you after death? Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Georgie told me to let go of the painful memories