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A Eulogy for Jane Winslow Eliot (9/27/26 — 7/31/2011)


Time and space do not exist.

I heard these words as I washed the breakfast dishes this morning.

I was thinking of Jane Eliot.

It had been just over 40 days since she died.

I wanted to try in meditation to accompany her through the bardos.

But I couldn’t.

Maybe it’s that I do not experience death the way that Tibetan Buddhists do.

Or maybe to some extent I do, but I don’t have the inner stillness to stay on that journey for long.

Or maybe my sense is that Jane had already moved through a panoramic review of her life while she was alive.

I remember her deep honesty in her memoir, “Around the World by Mistake.”




It’s extraordinarily difficult to say who someone is, to approach describing their identity.

What is her effect on you? Is it lightening? Darkening?

Does he give you energy? Take it away?

Maybe we know others mainly through their effect on us, inspiring or disheartening.

Richard and I came back to Paris from the joyful celebration of our friends’ Loire Valley wedding, and heard from a mutual friend that Jane Eliot had died.

It often seems to happen this way. A great upsurging of joy, then sadness, sorrow breaking through.

I left out what happened at our wedding in Crete. Alex and Jane had encouraged our notion of being married there, because Ancient Crete was one of the last partnership cultures. 



During our wedding dinner, one of my relatives said to our friends that she wished their oldest daughter had been there. Both parents were storm-tossed with sorrow at her sudden death in her early 20s. Steve wept at the table. Rain ran into the nearest bathroom. Some of us followed her. Some of us comforted him.

And one of my family said, softly, “Oh, I wish they hadn’t ruined the celebration this way.” But no, I thought, and said, There are always these parallel channels of grief and joy. The day is richer for their tears.

And Jane Eliot? Her death was different. Her life was long and rich, fulfilled.

I’m circling and circling my memories of her.

Whatever you brought to her, she greeted it, surrounded it, examined it, enlarged it or lovingly tossed it away, laughed or seriously addressed it.




I’m circling and circling memories of her:

In the very first week of blossoming love between Richard and me, when we discovered that we lived only four blocks from each other in Venice, California, he invited me to a neighborhood block party at the home of his friends, Jane and Alex Eliot.

There was an odd symmetry to where they lived in relationship to Richard’s place. He and they each lived in a house on the same block of Paloma Avenue, each one house away from the end of the block.

The block party was the first social event, besides the poetry readings where we’d met, to which we’d gone as a couple. Jane and Alex, a generation older than we, instantly became the couple with whom we were closest.



What did we talk about at this party? Not the neighborhood. We talked about our love for myth. Alex had written a number of books on myth. We talked about the mythosphere, a term Alex coined for the place where myths live, where the stories of the soul dwell.

In those first days of our new life together, Richard and I discovered much about one another through the mutual passions we shared with Jane and Alex: mythology, especially Greek myth, Greece and the Greek islands, Venice Beach, poetry, art, a marriage of kindred souls that included lively spiritual and intellectual dialogue, writing, room for solitude for writing, as well as for romance, a contempt for mean-spiritedness.



We laughed at the same things, especially dumb, pompous human behavior and dismissed the same things as a waste of time.

We saw each other at our home for dinner and parties, and at theirs for the same. Jane’s specialty was a smorgasbord of meze.

We met at Figtree’s Café on the beach for breakfast, or the Rose Café for lunch or Lula’s for Mexican dinner.

During the three years that we and three friends ran a weekly poetry reading series at the Rose Café, I don’t think Jane and Alex ever missed a single reading.

When I think of Jane, I hear her laughing—a merry boisterous laugh which delighted in generosity, surprise and beauty, and had a touch of scorn for human idiocy. 

Jealousy? She understood that she was unique and so is everyone else.

Jockeying for power? She and Alex had been at the pinnacle of power in New York City and gladly given it up for creative freedom and time.



Greed? What does anyone need beyond food, shelter and time for love and creativity? And adventure!

Snobbery? She didn’t see people in hierarchical terms at all, much like my father. If you are really aware of each person’s uniqueness, how can you put anyone above you or below you?

Unkindness? A sure sign of unkindness towards oneself.



I called her Athena. She was a Libra, and shared that sign’s affinity for the goddess of peace, earthy intelligence, inventiveness and fierce strength. Nike!

Wherever you walked with Jane, she exclaimed over the beauty of her natural surroundings—birds, trees, the sea.



Well into her 70s, she’d walk down Paloma several blocks for a swim in the Pacific Ocean, which is colder on winter mornings than you can imagine. (Or so I hear.)

What Richard and I loved best to do with Jane and Alex was to sit at Figtree’s or the Rose Café (whose names, naturally, come from nature) and talk. Really talk. Talk that ranged all over the world—the earth and her creatures, humans they had known—Dali and Gala, Frida and Diego, for starters, or their noisy neighbors—and spirits of the mythosphere.

To Jane, the invisibles were as real as birds, as people. You felt relieved in their company to escape the tiny cage of rational materialism.



With Jane—and Alex—I could talk about the mythical vision I’d spent years discovering. When Richard and I shaped our combined mythical knowledge into a workshop at the C. G. Jung Institute, Jane and Alex were in our first class of students. (Oh, the irony, "teaching" these two masters of the mythosphere.)

Alex and Jane had lived all over the world, been top journalists in NYC. She had worked at CBS for Edward R. Murrow and at Time magazine; he had been Art Editor for Time, until his pension and a Guggenheim Fellowship allowed him to retire early and take his family to Greece. For four years they’d lived in Greece with their two young children, writing, home schooling the children, and exploring sacred sites.

There was only one respect in which they seemed to be bound by the conventions of their generation. Alex continued to write and publish books on art and myth, and now was working obsessively on a poetic memoir.



Yet she, when we first met them, was not as disciplined a writer as he.

She had published a book on children’s education, Let’s Talk, Let’s Play and written a highly original cookbook, Beyond Measure; A Cookbook for People Who Think They Can’t Cook, and published other books and journalistic articles in such magazines as The Atlantic, Smithsonian, Horticulture, Travel & Leisure.

But the assumptions of her generation mostly held: the woman would care for the home, children and relationships, while he worked.

Yet you could hear in the leaps of imagination, the sensory precision of Jane’s conversation that there was a longer story she needed to write.

And then she suddenly did it: created a studio for herself on the top floor of their duplex (so that was why she never managed to find the right tenant), and wrote, edited and published her memoir, Around the World by Mistake.

The title delighted us, containing all her qualities of humor, adventurous spirit, trust in serendipity, and largeness of experience. And the story itself unfolded in sparkling, sensuous prose, a vivid sense of weather and the sea, absolute clarity about others’ character, and the most brilliant example imaginable of how to inspire children.



The memoir tells the tale of how, in the summer of 1963, the couple, with their two young children, signed on for a trip around the world. The Yugoslavian freighter was scheduled to deliver goods from Yugoslavia to Osaka and back, a trip of seven months with sixteen passengers. But this is no ordinary trip. They discover that they are in extraordinary danger. But I won’t spoil the story, when you can order it and read it yourself. That’s Jane on the cover with a seagull on her head.

And then, Jane listened with great sympathy and understanding to my account about the last few years of my father’s life, his deepening dementia. She understood my longing to stay connected to his soul, beneath the dismantling of his rational mind.



And she rejoiced with us that my father was able to die at home, most certainly aware of his family’s love.

Jane’s mind, which was so alive, original, and warm—began to fade a few years after my father’s death in 2006.

By then, we had moved to Playa del Rey. In the sad way that driving distances separate people in Los Angeles, we saw Jane and Alex less often. They didn’t like to drive at night. One of us didn’t like to drive at all.

We’d bring dinner to Jane and Alex’s or meet at the Rose Café. Her mind wandered in conversation, but Alex, and we, assured her that it didn’t matter, she was still Jane.

And when we walked back to their house on Paloma, always, always, she pointed at birds, trees, the sea, with love and glee.

She was my wise woman. Magnificent Jane.

After the first sorrow, after the tearful call to Alex, a strange thing happened: I haven’t mourned Jane at all. It’s as if she hasn’t died. She is present, alive, vivid, much as my father continues to be.

Honestly, I don’t think we know a single thing about death. All I know is that Jane is still here, and oh, how we loved her. How we keep on loving her.




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Reader Comments (34)

Beautiful circle of memories of Jane.

Saturday, October 8, 2011 at 18:59 | Unregistered CommenterSister Ann


I love how quick you are on the draw. And "a circle of memories of Jane," that's a memorable phrase. Thank you!


Kaaren & RIchard

Saturday, October 8, 2011 at 19:34 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

What a beautiful tribute. I wish I'd known her. And I wish I had more time to know you. How lucky I am to read these journals and get to know you better each time. Your voice is so Kaaren. I hear it in every entry of your journal. Your love of myth, your generous love of people, the way you revel in life's mysteries. Jane is dancing in heaven, hearing how you remember her, and so proud of you for living your dreams and writing your memories.

Saturday, October 8, 2011 at 19:40 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Sherry

Oh, Diane,

This thrills me. Mission accomplished if Jane is dancing in heaven (or reincarnated as the first female Dalai Lama or whatever the mystery of death might reveal). It was a great great honor to know Jane.

I feel the same way about your voice. No one but you could have written Elephant Milk. And as far as our getting to know each other--we are! Through your writing and mine, and you can stay close to Paris through Richard's photographs.

Thank you so much.


Kaaren & Richard

Saturday, October 8, 2011 at 19:59 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Thank-you for the memories of Jane. She was a magnificent woman; her depths were bottomless and her humor quick. How is Alex doing?

love and miss you both.

Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 1:03 | Unregistered CommenterTristine

It's as if I've shaken her hand through your remembrances. Thank you.

Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 1:48 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Asyre

Oh, Kaaren (and Richard),

I'm so sorry to hear about Jane's passing. I know from our talks how dear she and Alex are to you. But what a loving way to honor her and her spirit. It is no surprise that the four of you were so simpatico. (And though I did not know them, I do hope that Alex has good support... losing a soul mate/life partner can be devastating.)

And, Richard, the images, as always are stunning and perfect - that statue of Nike is especially striking. But my absolute favorite is the tiger-child with red polka-dot maracas! What a sweet face... what a sense of pure anticipation and fun... and, well, s/he is just so darned cute!

Sending you both lots of love,


Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 2:09 | Unregistered Commenterdawna

Thank you for illuminating what so many experience as darkness and finality, Kaaren. It is a "knowledge" not a "feeling" that both your wise woman and mine are forever present! Death is a passage, to be sure. But death is not out to steal spirits such as these, only to lead them into a wide open space in which to become even greater. Blog on!

Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 7:54 | Unregistered CommenterAW

Dear Tristine,

That is just it: bottomless depth and quick humor.

I wouldn't dream of presuming that I could sum up how Alex is doing, but when we last talked, we were so moved by his depth and beauty, as always.

Love and miss you too, Tristine.

Much love,

Kaaren & Richard

Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 20:50 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban


We're so glad this brought you closer to Jane. There was no one else like her.

Thank you for your kind words.

Kaaren & Richard

Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 20:54 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Dear Dawna,

How I wish you'd met Jane. You two would have loved each other. Alex has two creative, loving children, Jeff and Winslow, who were there right to the very end of Jane's life, and who continue to be there with Alex. You can begin to glimpse their spirits by reading "Around the World by Mistake." Jane home schooled them, and they traveled all over the world with their parents. Alex and Jane told them myths and folk tales from many cultures; Jane inspired them to keep collage journals while they traveled on the freighter. They learned the constellations by looking up at the sky at night. They wrote and made costumes and performed dramas for all the adults on board. Kind of the perfect education, and for the first years of their lives, outside school.

Aren't those wonderful photos? You know, Athena was considered a better warrior than Ares because she had a cooler head, was a master of strategy and diplomacy, and only resorted to war as a last resort. That was Jane.

And that little tiger Richard photographed reminds us of Jeff and Winslow in their exuberant imaginations. How else could you be with parents like theirs?!

Thank you so much for your words, Dawna.


Kaaren & Richard

Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 21:34 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban


I'm so happy you made this distinction between "feeling" and "knowledge" that someone's presence is still here, though they've physically gone. After publishing this, I thought about the way it ends, and mused on something I hadn't explicitly said: that it's not just a mind memory, it's a palpable sense of presence. The initial sorrow falls away and behind that there's the astonishing realization that she is still HERE, now become one of the invisibles. It's like having an experience of the gods or goddesses: they are NOT abstract. They are real, just not corporeal.

I want to hear more about your wise woman. They are rare, aren't they.

"But death is not out to steal spirits such as these, only to lead them into a wide open space in which to become even greater." This is terrific, reminds me of Rilke.

Thank you so much, Amy!


Kaaren & Richard

Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 21:53 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

A moving tribute to a great big spirit, an original. I got a sense of who Jane Eliot was from her memoir, Around the World by Mistake (such a great title), but lucky you and Richard... getting to know her through your walks, talks, myths and imaginations.
Thank you Kaaren and Richard, for the eulogy and the stunning photos.


Monday, October 10, 2011 at 1:02 | Unregistered CommenterJane Kitchell

Dear Kaaren and Richard, Words can't express how moved I am by this tribute. My mother was indeed an extraordinary woman, and so dear to many of us. Your eulogy and the pictures help us all to move forward with love and gratitude for her and for each other - as she would have wished. Love, Winslow

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 0:01 | Unregistered CommenterWinslow Eliot

Dear Jane,

Thank you for the earlier private conversation about the eulogy, and for this. Having read Jane's memoir, you know just what "a great big spirit, an original" she was. Isn't it wonderful that there are people in life whom it is an honor to know? Lucky is the word.

Much love,

Kaaren & Richard

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 17:15 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Dear Winslow,

We are so grateful to you for letting us know that our tribute to Jane moved you. That gives us hope that it would have pleased her, too. We know that many other friends felt as close to and inspired by Jane (and Alex) as we did, and do. Jane approached everything in life with love and gratitude, and you're right, our way of honoring her is to continue doing the same.

Much love,


Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 17:27 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Joanne and I met the Eliots only once, during a most illuminating evening at their home with Phil Cousineau and Gregg and Mary Sue Chadwick. It grieves us not only to hear of her death, but to not have made an effort to see them again, and again. I loved Jane's book—what a wealth of experiences the Eliots offered their children!

In regards to your own father's passing, "She understood my longing to stay connected to his soul, beneath the dismantling of his rational mind." She was the perfect person with whom you could share your loss. Beautifully written, and with exquisite photography!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 22:13 | Unregistered CommenterStuart Balcomb


We say Amen! to the illumination of being with Jane and Alex, Amen! to loving Jane's book and the wealth of experience they gave to their children, and Amen! to Jane being the perfect person with whom to share a loss.

And thank you for your appreciation of the eulogy and photos!


Kaaren & Richard

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 16:22 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Dear Kaaren,

What a deep and heart-felt reflection of your beloved Jane, as well as upon your life in relation to hers. There is such an honoring in your recollections. I’m sure she would be very touched, — I certainly am. It’s taking several days and readings to soak this in.

The questions that you pose are ones that require careful thought and quietude. How true it is that it’s not only difficult but perhaps impossible to say who someone is. Do we even know ourselves? We can sense other’s effects on our world even though we may not always be conscious of the meaning. Perhaps we need pre-awakening to fully appreciate people in our lives in the present moment, to recognize their value now and not later….

The sweetness of your love for Jane and Alex are a testament to the special bond that you had with them and of the lasting importance of that precious relationship in your and Richard’s lives. What incredible value there is in having a mentor, someone (a bit older) to look up to and learn from. It is absolutely delicious what you gleaned from Jane, her free spirit and joy of life landed on and around you and entered your heart. What a gift. And, you were receptive, ready, and appreciative, which is what made it possible. This is a precious experience that you will carry always. Jane is present, and her presence was and is a present to your life. I’m sure as you circle around you will galvanize this great ring of love into the perfect symmetry of a treasured memory. Athena in real life, myth close to home.

Thank you for this beautiful portrait of a wonderful woman and dear friend. I feel charmed to have just met her a few times. Now I have a deeper sense of her and am so glad that she was in your life in such a profound way. A blessing indeed. Could that more people have these meaningful connections, their lives would be filled with more joy, more color, more fullness.

Happy sailing Jane!!! We are all brighter for your gifts.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 21:19 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne Warfield

Kaaren, Thank you so much for your loving thoughts and reflections. I met Jane but a handful of times (with Phil, who met the Eliots through you and Richard), yet adored each visit. She was truly a refreshing calm, a wise Athena-crone. When Jack, as a toddler, was a little too fascinated (and hands on) with the stacked miniature houses she carefully created, she assured me all was well. I recall her generous gift of a copy of Let's Talk, Let's Play, as well as her gift of some first-hand as well as Steiner-inspired tips regarding raising young children. It was appreciated! I'm sure there are many like me who were touched by her generous lived-in wisdom. Thanks again to you and Richard for the sweet, and beautifully illustrated, tribute. (Miss you!)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 23:35 | Unregistered CommenterJo B.

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