Jan. 5, 1992

Dear Louise and Jack,

Words cannot express my feeling for the loss of your beloved daughter. Gale was a unique and extraordinary woman who fought her disease with an unrelenting positive outlook, or to use her analogy, a “Warrior” unwilling to “lay down her tools” until the very end. She lived her paradox to the fullest. Although Gale’s choice was to “stay,” the God and Goddess “on the other side” had different plans. Gale was unique in leaving her words as a comfort to the loved ones, friends and acquaintances she touched and left behind. Specifically, when she described the angels welcoming her and saying “Well, she’s here, and she and the world will make the best of it; in the end, it will all work out and be okay; nothing fundamental has been disrupted. For she has managed to ensure that her death will cause only inspiration and love rather than despair or hopelessness. And so wholeness and meaning are preserved, and the fabric of love is strengthened rather than torn.” Anything that I might even attempt to offer as words of comfort pales compared to those so beautifully written by Gale.

I also wanted you to know how much I enjoyed caring for Gale. Although many patients perceive the doctor-patient relationship as a very paternalistic one in which the doctor is the caretaker and giver, this is generally not the case. From each interaction and relationship, physicians learn and are enriched if they are open to this experience. My relationship with Gale was a symbiotic one in that we both gave to each other; having known Gale and having gone through the “process” with her, I feel a new dimension has been opened to explore. Gale is someone that I will never forget and her words and courage will always serve as a source of strength and wisdom throughout my life and career. I will always be thankful.

A partner’s wife once gave me a passage which she had found comforting when her husband passed away and I, in turn, would like to share it with you:

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!”

“Gone where?”

Gone from my sight. That’s all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!” there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: “Here she comes!”

And that is dying.


May Gale’s spiritual presence always serve as a comfort to you as I know she willed it to be. My thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time.



Editor’s Note: Dr. Deborah Toppmeyer was a Fellow in Oncology at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston who took care of Gale. She is currently a medical oncologist and internist practicing in New Brunswick, New Jersey.