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Obituary: Juliet Saunders, 25

June 9, 2020

A very moving tribute by a loving mother.

My daughter, Juliet Saunders, who has died unexpectedly aged 25, had an enormous capacity for creating love and happiness, and for expressing her distinct personality without words, thus transcending the limitations of her condition.

She was born to me and my husband, Francis, in Goodmayes, Essex. I was teaching French at a girls’ comprehensive school and Francis was the purchasing manager for a paint manufacturer. Soon after her birth, Juliet was diagnosed with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, whose features include short stature, hearing impairment, feeding and learning difficulties.

Prompt intervention by her GPs in Seven Kings, Ilford, and by Maria Smith, a community paediatric nurse, led to the life-transforming insertion of a gastrostomy tube at Great Ormond Street hospital when she was less than three months old. Thereafter, Juliet was able to develop until – with our determined support and that of her childminder – she could eat the pureed food on which she subsequently relied.

She attended Newbridge school until the age of 19 and then transferred to Eastway Romford for day care. Both offered a warm, nurturing environment, with numerous stimulating activities, making Juliet happy and safe; so many staff members exceeded their professional duties to offer affection.

Juliet had an immense capacity to connect with others: noisy football fans who made her laugh; boisterous Spanish boys who wrote a kind note in uncertain English; musicians in Avignon who played just for her; guides who greeted her on visits to Audley End House and Eastbury Manor; National Gallery personnel who presented her with a special badge; staff at the Ritz who unwisely let her play their piano – every outing offered an unexpected kindness.

Juliet was a full member of society, albeit with support. She enjoyed entering public spaces (including the People’s Vote march in 2019); she couldn’t speak, yet she had a voice. She was unaware of her disabilities and only wanted to be happy. And she was: she adored art and photographs, often seizing the ID cards of security guards, and loved toy shops, her Riding for the Disabled sessions, music and presents – becoming impatient with those who unwrapped too slowly.

She is survived by me and Francis, her grandmother Lilian, five aunts, four uncles, 10 cousins and her childminder, Dawn Smith, who took her into her heart and family for 25 years.

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