It happened once before. An old Yellowknife friend, Vi Beck, learned that she was dying. From her bed at home, she invited friends to accompany her on her final journey via e-mail. She sometimes described the scene outside her window: dog mushers on the frozen bay, Northern Lights, an early winter sunset, a late December sunrise. Sometimes she commented on her failing strength or a word from a loved one. I hadn’t seen her in years, and yet the magic of the Internet allowed me to accompany her into death.
A dozen years have passed and I am on that final trail again, this time in the company of Gary Woolsey, a retired Anglican bishop, small plane pilot and biker here in Calgary. I met him through my husband, Bill, who had been an ecumenical colleague years ago. Gary’s wife, Marie, is my formidable online Scrabble opponent, and also a biker. Gary and Marie are both writers (he of sermons, she of cookbooks), and share a deep love for the North where Gary was a diocesan bush pilot. For some months now, Gary has been living in a hospice.
Lately, Marie has been e-mailing Gary’s meditations to a circle of friends and family. Their title, “From a Hospice Bed,” made me catch my breath, likely because of the stark honesty of it. His latest meditation began with a passage from Acts 2:16-17.
Now, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”
Gary continues: As my body has been getting stiffer, and swallowing more difficult, I have started dreaming of the end of my life. I was hearing in a semi-conscious dream, the Lord saying to me that it was time to come home; all the work that [God] had wanted me to do was coming to an end. I pleaded for a little more time as my wife, Marie, had gone to a wedding in the Winnipeg area and I wanted her with me. I was on the verge of pressing my call button to ask a staff person to call my sons, Todd and Drew. However, I held off and returned to sleep. I awoke to a new day and again returned to writing my meditations and receiving visitors.
Are dreams a way for God to prepare us for the future? Sometimes I enjoy looking at scripture passages in a non-traditional way. For instance, what if I read, "Gary, in the last days of your life, I, the Lord God say to you, I will pour out my Spirit on all people; your old men will dream dreams"? And so, God then chooses to speak to me in my old age with words of welcome and comfort.
Gary’s meditation ends with a prayer: Thank you for speaking to us in our waking and our sleeping.
Through these friends I’ve been given a small window to see beyond my day-to-day thoughts and activities. I’ve been offered visions to contemplate: the sun in a northern sky; the dreams of a grandfather. What strikes me is the generosity of both Vi and Gary who offer comfort and companionship to their friends and gratitude to the Creator, even as they walk their own lonely and sacred path. I am thankful for this.
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