A journey in grief: Mia can't dance anymore, or have babies, or travel, or fulfil her ambitions

'You have to dance for her now,' writes Mia's mother Rosie

Mia Ayliffe-Chung had been in Australia for six months
Mia Ayliffe-Chung had been in Australia for six months

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.

Mia’s mother, Rosie Ayliffe, is writing a daily blog in the Independent as she travels to Australia to collect her daughter’s ashes.

Here, in her own words, she talks about having to make the most difficult decision of her life.

You can read Rosie's blog from the beginning by scrolling to the bottom of this article

Mia’s family is raising money to create a fund for charity in her memory. Click here to donate or find out more.

As we disembarked at Brisbane airport, I noticed a line of policemen in the tunnel leading to the arrivals area. We had been promised an escort to the hotel, which was so reassuring, and there they were. We must have looked like we were being arrested for some heinous crime but we were all past caring. The police had been well briefed and refused to answer my first question, which was, 'How's Tom Jackson?' That job was left to Megan Hunt from the consulate. None of us took the news well. It was devastating to hear that this heroic man had died trying to save Mia's life and I, for one, dissolved again into the hopeless sobbing that had plagued me for most of the flight.

Tom Jackson and Mia 

And incredibly, the 6 foot 5 burly Regional Crime Co-ordinator Ray Rohweder from Queensland Police Department, who visited to give us a thorough account of Mia's last moments, today broke down himself and wept. Having investigated every aspect of Mia's private possessions, his tributes to Mia were probably the most heartfelt I'd heard. It was the most comforting moment of this sorry nightmare and I will never forget it.

The biggest decision for me now is whether to view Mia's body. I had decided emphatically not to, felt I didn't need to. I am not afraid of death and had derived great comfort from being with my father as he died, and I had not wanted to leave his side in any hurry. But my father wasn't stabbed brutally several times, he was still warm, and aged 84. Mia's Nan, Ruby, is trying to make me reconsider as she thinks I need 'closure'. What is this closure? Acceptance of death? I don't accept it. Mia's alive here in my heart. She tells me every day what to do. Does it matter that I talk about her in the present tense? Does closure mean I will forget her?

On the other hand, naysayers say if I see her that will eclipse all other images. But how could it wipe out the image of Mia tottering off on her first independent bike ride? Or Mia acting out a demanding role on stage? Or Mia coming home from her first science lesson at Anthony Gell, blown away by a teaching style she could actually comprehend? Nothing will eclipse those memories. Could I live to regret not seeing her? I just don't know on this one and for once Mia, who generally has an opinion on everything, is silent.

Even over here, the tributes are pouring in on Messenger, email and Facebook. A beautiful email from a friend of mine who has know Mia and I for many years. After a gap in their contact, he describes reconnecting with her:

“I remember being astonished when I saw Mia. She was so impossibly glamorous, like a girl out of a Bond film. And yet clearly so down-to-earth. And so like you in lots of little ways. I remember thinking you'd done a great job bringing her up... and that you two seemed to have a great bond.

“When I saw the little video of her driving on Facebook a few days ago, again I was struck by how like you she was. Little facial gestures, movements of the head that were you to a tee. She would have been about the age you were when we met, so it was like seeing a young Rosie, and it made me smile.”

Many further from colleagues and friends who themselves are losing sleep and suffering on our behalf.

But the most eloquent comments come from the many young people who Mia befriended. They are eloquent because they love Mia and are lost and awed by this grief they cannot comprehend.

From school friend Nicholas:

“Mia will always be a huge part of growing up to me and I'll take a lot of her personality and confidence with me along my journey. Your daughter touched a lot of people and is loved by many. She had a lot of strength that she obviously gained from you and I hope you take that with you in the next couple of weeks.”

From travelling companion Anna, who is bizarrely the living image of Mia:

“Hi Rosie, I woke up to your post. I have not much to say… it turns me into a speechless crying child. I just wanted you to know I loved her so much, we all did.”

Mia Aycliffe-Chung

From work colleague at Monk Bar, Matlock, Siobhan:

“Such a beautiful girl who was truly so happy! When I surprised her at work over in Australia, her face lit up to finally see someone from home. She jumped on me and wouldn't stop hugging me. We then spent the next evening eating pizza, watching the Incredibles and talking nonstop for hours on end. She missed and loved you and everyone back at home so much, and was saying how happy she was; she couldn't stop smiling and giggling, such a beautiful girl.”

My advice to these young people is to follow the lead of the recent party who met at Monk's Bar in Mia's honour: raise a glass to her memory, dry your tears and celebrate her life. Laugh, dance on the table, but above all, build bridges in her name. You need each other.

Mia was notoriously blunt and many of you will have experienced the sharp side of her tongue, but she'd try so hard not to let the sun go down on discord. Those of you who had things you needed to say may be suffering more than others, but it's all water under the bridge. Mia can't dance anymore, or have babies, or travel, or fulfil her ambitions. You have to dance for her now.

Day 4: We'll meet Mia again one day, sooner or later, in our own bright places full of love

Mia was no angel. Anyone who spent time with her before 11am can vouch for that. She only really became truly human as the day progressed. Her bedroom was so untidy you had to wonder whether it involved health risks. This was particularly galling after we went away on holiday and came back to discover she had kept the whole house immaculate for the duration. She told me a friend had left a used teaspoon beside the kettle and Mia had said to her, 'Are you intending to leave that there?'

Chatty, funny, the ultimate socialite, teachers gave up moving Mia because she was one of those kids who would just make a new friend wherever she sat. And she didn't have a competitive bone in her body. She'd rather lose the race than lose a friend.

But her aura was a captivating one and many of my friends commented on this. When we left London for the sticks, a friend of mine with a long list of qualifications and achievements commented that she was devastated, not because I was going but because I was taking Mia away from her. I was in no doubt that she meant it. Mia was six.

Mia wanted to move up to Derbyshire, but not without her beloved friends. In one school day she had six children lined up at the gate of Clement Dane's school with their coats on and bags packed. A couple of them were quite vulnerable children, so staff were most concerned when they realised the children had intended to slip out of the gate into the streets of Soho and hitch hike up to Derbyshire to live with Mia. One understandably cross mum questioned her daughter.

‘If Mia told you to jump out of the window, would you?'

'I didn’t!'

'What do you mean you didn’t?’

‘She did ask me to jump out of the window, but I didn’t!'

And thus terminated a beautiful friendship. I explained years later why we had to drop it and Mia was highly amused and forgave me at last.

It was around this time that my grandmother passed away, and Mia reacted badly to the news. I've often felt Mia and I, as a single mother and daughter combo, were almost umbilically linked, and as she witnessed my face crumpling with grief I saw its mirror image in hers. 'Does that mean she's under the ground like William's grandad?' she wailed.

'No,' I said emphatically, 'she's in heaven with God.’

Mia Ayliffe-Chung (right) before her death, with work colleague Amy Browne

It was at that point I decided Mia needed to go to Sunday school. I was a committed agnostic, however I reasoned that primitive minds need the consolation of faith. Mia attended Sunday school until the day she told me she intended to convert the other children to Buddhism. Then I decided enough was enough.

And now, what of this new grief? How am I holding up on this interminable flight to retrieve her body? Well, not so well.

The tears are a relief, and I don't really care that my face is swollen like a swollen thing. What's harder is that the least suggestion of pain and violence on the film I'm trying to watch brings horrific visions of Mia’s final moments into my head.

If you want advice about how to talk to someone in my place, avoid saying, ‘Don't read this article.’ Whatever it is could easily become compulsive reading material. If I hear that a negative comment has been made, my exhausted body once again becomes awash with adrenaline, or cortisone, or some other substance that feels incredibly damaging, and I'm again suffused in a clammy sweat . Anyway, I ended up inadvertently reading a description of that attack.

In case you've managed to avoid it, I'll spare you the details, but the images are playing in my brain. I was told by the police that Mia was unconscious after the first blow, but my brain refuses to believe that, and instead it plays and replays that ugly scene for me until my whole being seems to be swelling up with grief. Post-traumatic stress probably.

I'm fearful of what the days to come have in store. I know people in Australia and at home are confused, distressed and angry about Mia's death and looking to blame someone. If I seem to deny them the right to retreat into xenophobia, will they turn on me? Will the press start to dig about or make up things to hurt me? Who knows? I don't care as long as they don’t discredit my girl. The thought of that brings back the fits of sobbing.

And what of that consolation I knew my little girl needed? Maybe it's not just important for children after all. Maybe we all have a need for a belief system at a time like this.

And what do I choose to believe now, in this time of overwhelming need? I believe that I need to go on, first and foremost for Mia's sake and for the sake of others around me, particularly for my lovely partner Stewart who deserves so much more than this. He's already carried five coffins, bless him, and one was his own brother.

I also believe Mia is with me on this journey. She asked me to come over in our last phone call and I agreed I would, now here I am. I believe we will hold each other again one day, and that the many who are grieving for her now will be with her again one day too. We'll meet her again one day, sooner or later, in our own bright places full of love.

Day 3: I'm aware of how surreal my life has now become since Mia was killed

We're flying with Singapore Airlines in a few short hours. I'm looking forward to their legendary hospitality but wish we had more time in Singapore itself. I'd like to catch up with my cousin, currently working in banking in Singapore, and his wife and their beautiful children. I tried to persuade Mia to visit them but she was in a hurry to get to Australia, and what she omitted to tell me was that she'd actually lost her passport and was travelling on an emergency travel document from Thailand, so she wouldn't have had that option. My cousin, however is in a terrible state of, 'What if'.. and 'If only'.

I'm trying to move people away from that point as it's the most painful of all. It happened as it happened. Mia could have walked out of the front door and been hit by a car, and a few weeks before she travelled she narrowly missed exactly that. Just before she left the UK, she witnessed a bloody and near fatal crash in Cromford, the village where we live. I was so proud of Mia's reaction: she went to find out what she could do, and stayed to offer support and care for the injured parties. She came home quite surprised with herself at what she'd managed to achieve in terms of comforting the victims, and said she felt she could possibly work as a paramedic, she'd felt so useful, having held herself together.

The point is that she could have been injured or killed in that crash, but she wasn't. She lived to make her journey and fulfill 'a small part of her dreams' as a Brisbane friend has said.

Mia as a baby

Looking back over the last few days I'm aware of how surreal my life has now become. I learnt of Mia's death a lifetime ago, on Tuesday, in the middle of the night. Two policemen arrived at our doorstep and broke the news as best they could. They were devastated, one of them had a daughter the same age, and I knew this would be the worst job they would have to perform for many a long day. They knew very little apart from the fact that Mia was dead, and it was only when I phoned the consulate that I found out she had been attacked and killed. I was in shock for a long time.

I was aware that the story would hit local news at least, because stories about UK nationals dying abroad were always newsworthy, and the Australian press were already reporting it during the night, but with no names or details. I drank tea and ground my teeth a lot. Then I decided to start messaging people, so that they wouldn't learn of her death in the news. The motive was good but the method could have used some refinement. I'm still ashamed when I read the first message I sent to someone who loved Mia dearly. 'Mia's been stabbed. She's dead’.

I started - to absolutely no avail - trying to get her Facebook profile closed down, because I suspected it could be pillaged for photos. Before she left the UK this wouldn't have been a problem as she was careful about what she put on Facebook, but the youth culture in a city is different to that in a small-town environment like ours, and Mia's Facebook was getting a lot racier than I'd have liked. I didn't try to control this as the last thing I wanted was for her to feel I was being judgmental or to 'unfriend' me so that we would lose contact. She's a beautiful girl, and how she chooses to dress is (was) her business. But I was afraid she could be exploited for her looks in a world where people can be commodified, and to some extent she could be naive and vulnerable, despite her adult appearance.

Case in point: just before Mia left Surfers' for Townsville, she thought she'd been approached by a modelling agency which she herself had contacted weeks previously. She'd been rejected as she didn't have the look they wanted, and she didn't give it another thought. However in the email, ostensibly from their Milanese director, she was offered a Skype interview.

I've never wanted Mia to work as a model, as I felt it was a cruel and superficial business, and really quite a boring job. However, this could be a way around her doing farm work, which I thought would be physically harsh and hard to find. It could also bring her closer to home. I admit, I was prepared to let her follow this career path for my own ends... evil mamma!

We checked the man's LinkedIn profile, and it all appeared to be genuine, and the email looked official. But our suspicions were aroused because on the modelling agency's website it says they never offer Skype interviews. If we hadn't checked quite thoroughly and if she hadn't been able to run the whole thing past a photographer friend of hers in Brisbane, she could have fallen into a trap which could easily lure a vulnerable traveller to take international flights into the hands of unscrupulous people. I contacted the agency, and sent them the email Mia had received. My hope is they are dealing with this issue as I feel they may have an internal problem, since Mia was the one who contacted them initially.

Mia Ayliffe-Chung in 2007

Anyway, the Wednesday following her death was the most surreal of my life to date. The police liaison officers arrived first and were very sensitive, but it started to unfold that Mia had died in a horrific manner. This was tough to hear. After the police left, the street started to fill up with vehicles, and I realised I was going through one of those nightmare scenarios you think are the preserve of others, never you. The phone rang, and journalist after journalist found ways throughout the day to ask for interviews. The worst were the implied threats. 'If you talk to us, you get to choose what we say, and which pictures we use'. I remained resolute, I certainly wasn't talking to papers I knew would have no compunction about lying and distorting what I said. As it transpired, it didn't matter anyway, they absolutely just make stuff up. Direct quotes, the lot. Yes, I should go to the Press Complaints Commission, because I have so many free hours at my disposal. Maybe I will in a few weeks time, or maybe I don't have to now I've been given this opportunity.

I told everyone the only paper I would speak to was The Independent. (Ironically, being decent and sensitive professionals, they were one of the few who didn't approach me, so eventually I approached them). Then my family and friends started to phone to ask what they should do as journalists were hounding them and their children. A family member started to pressurise me into giving a statement. The result was a botch job really. It didn't even make sense, and I pride myself on my good English. Devastated! My advice would be, if you're ever unlucky enough to be doorstepped, wait until you're compos mentis enough to make coherent sense, and say what you want to say. Then take control to the extent you're able to.

Day 2: The challenges of creating a multi-faith funeral for Mia

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.

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.


Day 1: My daughter Mia was 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!”

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.

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.

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 thy fate 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.

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