Starting over

Five others who have found a new beginning
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The Independent Culture
Soul sister

Seven years ago, TV executive Sue Bowes, 43, had a miraculous escape when the two-seater aircraft in which she was flying with a friend crashed. She now lives and works in Sussex as a bereavement counsellor.

"It was a beautiful evening in August, and we took off without a hitch, but I wasn't feeling easy. Even then I must have been aware, because a voice in my head was saying 'get out of the plane'. I knew something was wrong and, sure enough, at 2,000 feet the propeller stopped and I saw the colour drain out of my friend's face.

In my head, I found myself saying goodbye to my old life. At the time, I owned my own television company, lived in London, had a mortgage and was governed by money and the need to prove myself. Now I saw my unfulfilled and rather disastrous life strewn behind me - an unsatisfactory relationship with my parents, friendships which weren't based on love, a divorce, and my two young sons whom I'd left with their father in order to seek 'the glamorous life'.

The plane hit a tree and then catapulted into a field, where everything exploded around us. Miraculously, we had crashed on army land, and within seconds they were there to get us out.

I emerged uninjured, numb and, to my surprise, not in the least elated. While the plane had been plunging out of the sky, I had seen my life exactly as it was and had come to the conclusion that dying in a plane crash was perhaps the best way out - at least it would have meant a heroine's death. Now, as my friend rushed off to phone his girlfriend, an appalling loneliness swept over me.

Part of my psyche was blown open that day, and everything altered. I couldn't function at all, couldn't get out of bed, couldn't bear people to touch me. As shock recedes, if you don't express it, you implode with it and become suicidal. One day I was contemplating how to kill myself when it was as if a sentence was dropped into my head, and the words 'you will become a bereavement counsellor' came out of nowhere. It was as if I'd had to go through the plane crash to open up to the spiritual, intuitive side of me. It blasted the cobwebs away. Immediately, I gave up the TV business, handed the keys of my flat in to the mortgage company, and sold everything I had. My previous life had been based on fear but, having survived a plane crash, I was no longer afraid.

I ended up in America, where I found the work of bereavement counsellor Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and back in England started her very intensive training programme. Having been raised in a nice, polite middle-class family, I'd never been allowed to show any emotional reaction and now, at the age of 37, I discovered I had rage.

As I began working as a bereavement counsellor, I learned more and more about myself. I realised I hadn't had intimate relationships before because I didn't know how to relate to people. I also learned to take responsibility for every single thing that had happened to me.

I was given another extraordinary mystical experience two years ago when I was on a train and suddenly able to look back on my life aged 76. I saw it as a beautiful yellow colour, and I knew it had been an incredible experience. Since then, my life has been geared towards inspiring people to understand that there is no death, only physical mortality.

I don't follow a religion because I have no need of deities. Nature has provided me with a huge spiritual awakening. I now live in a cottage in Sussex with a man 14 years younger than me, which is an extremely empowering relationship. I also have a very close relationship with my sons, now 16 and 17. I'm no longer the mother with all the answers - I'm just me.

That's not to say I haven't hugely upset people along the way. If you become your true self, a lot of people suffer. Practically all my friends from my old life have dropped off along the way. But life for me has become a huge adventure. Before it was a battlefield." Marina Cantacuzino

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