Thank you so much for your cards, your letters, your telephone calls, your visits. We, and then I, have received from you such giant waves of love, support, shared grief, and gifts. What a blessing it was for Gale during her 40 days in her bone marrow transplant room, which she transformed into a peaceful and healing sanctuary, to receive your heartfelt and delightful messages on her answering machine, day after day. And for those of you who managed to visit, thanks for giving Gale the obligatory foot massages. The two large bulletin boards at the foot of her bed were covered with cards from all of you, images of birds and monkeys and mountains and angels and the earth from space. Thank you for reaching out to me, in calls, letters, or just in your thoughts. You have all helped me in my healing.
So what’s happened since Gale’s October 1991 letter?
Gale did have her transplant. But Dec. 14, a week after her victorious return home, we discovered the tumors had come back in her abdomen, and soon after, they brought with them fevers. She pressed on, with the help of some quickly arranged radiation, also with hopes of her platelet count rising so she could qualify for an experimental treatment called ricin, which occasionally has had dramatic results. She spent Christmas day at home, a blessed day of not having to go into the hospital. She put in order her 1000 pages of journals she had written about life with cancer and handed them to me. We watched our wedding video, which we had never seen. We knew we didn’t know how much time we had. Her breathing was quickly worsening, but she was fairly comfortable.
I thought she might not make it through the night. I will never forget how, in one timeless moment, she was so filled with grace that she actually managed to comfort ME. When I emerged from my morning shower, I was amazed to see her dressed and sitting by the door, ready for another radiation treatment. She walked through the hospital but later consented to my pushing her in a wheelchair. Shortly after the doctors caught up to her, she was on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask, typing on her laptop computer what was to be her last journal entry. I called her parents, who arrived with her brother that night.
We had our last conversations. She asked me to print out her journals of her last two weeks and share them with those who would come. “My bags are packed,” she told her family and friends who gathered around her the next two days. When we pulled in chairs from the sanctuary, one of our favorite places, which was next door to her room, I said, ‘We’re bringing the sanctuary in here.” She said,” And I’m the flowers on the altar.” The next night I slept in the sanctuary, grateful that her family, friends, and an entire institution had relieved me of the unceasing work I had done for so long. Her father held her hand all night and expertly managed the morphine. I was summoned at 4:30 am; she was turning blue despite maximum oxygen. I heard that at midnight, she had awakened and sang a few words of a Russian lullaby with Laurel. I tried to comprehend that I had missed her last words.
Suddenly she opened her eyes and looked at the ring of people around her. “Oh!” she was surprised, “people here!” I told her it was morning, the sun was beaming onto her bed, her mother and brother would return shortly.
“I feel triumphant,” she said slowly.
Later she murmured. “Goodbye everybody, I have work to do.” At 10 a.m. on December 28, three hours before she died, she sang with us “Amazing Grace.”
Paul sang a long chant about the beauty of the earth, the wisdom of the forests, the timelessness of Mother Ocean. It stunned me to hear a chant so beautiful and new. I absolutely knew Gale would react the same way. I knew it would be breathtaking for her, too.
Sing this Song, Children of the Earth
To Thank and Praise Mother Earth
She Who Gives Us Seasons Four
Summer, Winter, Spring and Fall
Life and Death and Rebirth Forever More
We Shall Live in Harmony with the Earth and with the Sea
Sun and Moon Together In Unity
One Spirit of the Planet Abides in all Living Things
Birds and Plants and Fish partake of it,
And unto her Spirit all Creation Sings
Great Wisdom of the Forest Resides in the Ancient Trees.
Listen to their Voice on the Wind,
Teaching us the Secrets of Eternal Peace.
If We Live and Die Respectful Unto Nature’s Cycle
As Winter Turns to Spring, We Shall be Reborn.
And the same moment he finished, her breathing became regimented, automatic. In that magic moment, she had left her body. I know deep in my bones why it was that moment: for Gale to discover a new song that conveyed her deepest beliefs about beauty and earth was to see that there are other poets, other artists, who will continue the Work. She doesn’t have to do it all. The Great Story will go on.
As I now read her journals for the first time I understand what she meant by “triumphant.” She didn’t only mean triumphant for having held on until morning when the rest of her family would arrive. She also meant triumphant for having made even her dying meaningful, beautiful, a blessing, in its own poignant way. It was timeless, soul-moving, profound beyond words, for us to follow Gale to the boundary of the universe of free will and encounter grace itself. We walked to the great veil, and beheld as it lifted and she, “nervous but not fearful, like when I went to the U.S.S.R. by myself for the first time,” said goodbye and full of trust rose in the arms of the Goddess. What a dramatic exit! It was among her finest hours. Even amid my tears, I felt a grace-filled joy. I was so proud of her.
Someone told Gale during the final 29-hour bedside vigil. “You look so peaceful.” She answered: “It sure beats being resentful.” Like Gale, I felt and still feel the infinite tragedy of her dying. I feel immense sadness. But, as Gale articulated so well, this is not the same as bitterness, or being cheated, or betrayed, or punished, or victimized, or faithless, or cynical, or hopeless.
Amy asked Gale in the final hours if she had any thought about a memorial gathering. Gale said she was content to leave it in our hands. “I’m sure you’ll do a bang-up job,” she said.
Indeed we did.
A jewel among us has leapt to the sky.
A call goes out:
Calling all souls who will be called.
They turn and burrow toward the red glow.
Mycelial strands in a hidden
Network of threads
Converge and take hands.
Listening, hugging, crying they rise,
Bursting through the surface in song.
The magnificent fruiting body
Open to starlight
Beholds what cannot be named
In morning: scattered spores of possibilities
Lie on the earth.
Excerpts from a letter by David Kreger, who was Gale’s husband.