Barb Wilkie's EHN Website
Last updated 2008

EHN Board President Barb Wilkie was very ill from chemically-induced kidney disease for several years. She passed away May 31, 2011. EHN presents this site both as a tribute and as valuable information. Many links and references will be out of date but Barb's research holds up over time. We will be transferring the site page by page, with updated details, to EHN's main site. If you would like to reach an EHN staff person, please contact us directly.

Elna Widell

Dear Friends --

It is with sadness that I bring you news of the passing of Elna Waddell. For many long years she lived with the devastating effects of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). I knew Elna through my volunteer work with EHN. If you know of others who knew Elna, but are not connected to the Internet, please share this information with them. Thank you.


Services: Monday, April 18 at 3 p.m., graveside at Forever Fernwood cemetery in Mill Valley; 301 Tennessee Valley Road. Take the Stinson Beach exit from Hwy 101 in Marin County, north of the Golden Gate Bridge (south of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge).

I learned from Elna while she was alive . . . and I learn again from her, in her passing. I had not yet heard of an "organic cemetery" until news came of her death and I looked up Fernwood on the Internet. Here is a sampling of what I found:

Forever Fernwood - About Us

Green burials

Ý No chemicals, no elaborate coffins, no carved markers-
ÝÝÝ just eternal rest in a peaceful nature preserve
ÝÝÝÝ BY JILL KRAMER; Pacific Sun; December 15, 2004

"... People can now bury their dead at Forever Fernwood in an eco-friendly manner, using biodegradable . They can also preserve the burial site in perpetuity by purchasing a conservation easement planted with a tree, native grass or wildflowers. Of course, the old cemetery is still there, and customers can opt for a traditional burial there, but the new part will be free of all of the usual stone and bronze markers. It will look like-and will be-a nature preserve. A global positioning system will record the placement of each burial site. Visitors will be able to walk the grounds with Palm Pilot-sized devices that will guide them to the grave and screen a video tribute, if one has been made. ..."

And, from Undernews . . .

"In what may be the ultimate expression of 'back to nature,' three entrepreneurs are creating what they say is California's first organic cemetery, hoping their ban on floral arrangements and formaldehyde will serve as a national model. Embalming fluid, metal caskets and marble headstones won't be permitted at Fernwood Forever. Instead, the dead will be placed in biodegradable boxes or shrouds and interred in nondescript graves that mourners can dig themselves.

"To ensure visitors pay their respects at the right spot, the cemetery will provide global positioning system devices and native boulders as markers. Besides offering environmentally conscious San Francisco Bay area residents a green alternative to identical plots on heavily landscaped grounds, the new facility will preserve 32 acres of open space between San Francisco Bay and Stinson Beach, said co-owner Tyler Cassity. Some proceeds from each funeral will be used for restoring and maintaining the meadows, oak forests and scrub hills that make up the property, a portion of which has been in use as a conventional cemetery since the 19th century."

Alas, previous major plans will keep me from attending Elna's services in person, but I shall be there in spirit.

love to all,



Elna's memorial service . . .

Celebrating the life of Elna Widell
April 18, 2005 3PM Fernwood Forever
301 Tennessee Valley Road, Mill Valley, CA

Written by Anne Greenwood in honor of her friend, Elna Widell.

Thank each of you for being here this afternoon to celebrate the life of Elna and to lay her in her final resting place before she returns to the stuff all life is made of.

Elna was born in New Jersey on October 16, 1933. Her family was from Sweden, and she lived close to her grandparents, who raised flowers commercially in New Jersey. She remembered to me in these last weeks times of being on that farm with pigs and chickens during her growing up, during the war, and times of Victory gardens. She says her parents didnÌt know really what to do with her and her curiousity, and she was very different from her one sister. She said she led a very sheltered life. But she applied to, and went on scholarship, to Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Mass, graduating in the class of 1955.

Although I was ten years younger than Elna, it seemed we shared some of the same conundrums of not knowing ourselves at the time, not knowing how to make sense of the male/female expectations of our time. However, Elna struck out bravely on her own path. She traveled extensively in Europe and Mexico, taught school in Italy and New York city. She told me the real love of her life was Ernst Haas, a renowned photographer When that relationship did not workãhe was older than she, and devoted to his worksãshe was also briefly married to David Wurtzel. Elna had no children of her own, but has two nieces whom she mentored in their early years. I have gleaned some of these details from some correspondence and writings I have found in cleaning up her apartment. If any of you know a different story, please correct me.

Elna found the values and the east coast not a fit with her growing understanding of herself. She came to California in the late 60Ìs and was part of the burgeoning alternative lifestyle community here. She became part of the Ïback to the land movement, homesteaded, designed and built a home of her own, raised sheep, conducted an experimental free school. She became fascinated with biology and began studies at Sonoma State to get a PhD in Biology. She also was a college instructor in this period and studied Buddhism. She began to get ill in the late 70s and had to abandon her cabin. She lived for a time in a trailer near Sonoma State, but was eventually forced to abandon that while she sought help for her baffling fatigue and medical conditions and moved to Berkeley.

I first knew her during that time in the early å80s, while she was trying to settle her affairs regarding the cabin and trailer and had made her way to the 1st Unitarian Church of Berkeley (up in Kensington).

Elna maintained a remarkable correspondence with many people, and made an unceasing search to deal with her condition. All the while, she wrote poetry, worked on a science fiction novel, delved into spiritual explorations, made new friends and worked tirelessly on behalf of the growing circle of people she came to know as „EIs¾ ã.those with Environmental Illness, who have multiple chemical sensitivities.

Those of us who have been her caregivers know what an excruciating task it was for her to deal with what we all take for granted ã.getting food, reading the mail, using the phone, getting a shower, taking a walk. Here, this vibrant, talented, brilliant woman was isolated, living on the floor in her kitchen or upstairs bedroom, dependent on others for the most basic needs of life.

But these troubles are not what we are here to memorialize. Instead we were all touched by this womanÌs courage, her grace, her smile, her love of life.

I read from a version of a poem she wrote:
II. The seasons of Dark and Light:
And one from a birthday wish for an aunt.
[I invite your sharing]

Words from others:

L -- 1980 met her, housebound Telegraph & Ashby. ...
"Elna used all her acute intelligence wisdom and artistic creativity both in her writing and in her life, to come to terms with and make meaning of the terribly difficult journey of a person with severe EI.

"Her highly evolved spiritual awareness allowed her to transcend her circumstances and provide inspiration for others. I consider her friendship and her being one of the greatest gifts I HAVE RECEIVED. I pray that Elna's spirit finds rest in all the beauty, peace, light and expansiveness of the divine essence."

From S, living in West Virginia:
"Elna, Thank you for your beautiful energy over the years. I send you daffodil and hyacinth energies. Love, S"

From G in New Mexico,
"Earlier on, when she was still able, her letters were incredibly lovely shared thoughts and poems and I have kept every oneof them. They were beautifully written and quite amazing, considering the circumstances of her life at the time, and always a testimony to the strength and bravery of a shining soul even as the body struggles through unimaginable discomfort. It was probably hard to see this towards the end, when pain was everything, but now she is free at last and we can shed tears of joy for her. I will be with you at the ceremony on Monday, imagining her soul in flight, dipping and soaring as a dove, until it finally disappears from sight but never from my heart.
Love, G.

Let us listen to words of one of her favorite poets:

Mary Oliver has written,
"Death, whoever and whatever you are
grant me these wishes:
unstring my bones;
let me be not one thing but all things, and wondrously scattered."


Goodbye to the morning light.
Goodbye to the goldfinches and their wavering song.

up the hill,
like a thicket of white flowers,
is coming.

Listen, I donÌt think weÌre going to rise
In gauze and halos.
Maybe as grass, and slowly.
Maybe as the long-leaved, beautiful grass

I look up
into the faces of the stars,
into their deep silence.
This is the poem of goodbye.
And this is the poem of don't know.

My hands touch the lilies
then withdraw;

My hands touch the blue iris
then withdraw;

and I say, not easily but carefully
the words round in the mouth, crisp on the tongue

dirt, mud, stars, water
I know you as if you were myself.

How could I be afraid?

We commend your body to the earth and thus to the universe you so dearly love. May the peace that passeth all understanding be with you now, and may your spirit join with all those who have gone before and will yet join you to spread joy, love and understanding in the world.

Death does not bring an end to you.
You live on in the memory of us all, and you are with us as we go forth
You are with us as we look upon the flowers,
You are with us as we walk in the street
You are with us as we shop in Berkeley Natural Grocery
You are with us as we shower
You are with us as we move to do good
You are with us as we strive to make sense of all
Blessed are we to have known you and blessed are we to carry on your spirit.
May love be the work of us all.

As each of you wishes please put earth into the grave and each of you is invited to take a
piece of the earth that Elna had gathered round her in her home -- shells and stones
she had gathered and that were brought with her and to her over the years.