My father, trusting in his intuition twenty-nine years ago, left me with a priceless, parting gift.
Only months before the close of his earthly life, my dad shared a hospital room with a terminally ill man named Frank who readily admitted that he was terrified of death. The man’s wife asked a hospice volunteer at another local hospital if she would pay him a visit. The woman, Gayle O’Key, had had a calming effect on Frank during his earlier hospitalization there.
The hospice movement was a fairly new phenomenon in the U.S. in 1987, but Gayle was already training volunteers to support dying patients’ transitions. She taught a course called “Care for the Caregiver” and served as a liaison between the chaplaincy and the hospice programs at the hospital she served. My parents knew little of this, but saw her using therapeutic touch on Frank—a healing modality not unlike energy work I’d talked about and tried with them.
They might have reasoned that she would be a capable person to call on as my dad stood on the threshold between life and death. But, no, the reason they proclaimed to Gayle that meeting her had to be a case of divine intervention was that both sensed how much she and their daughter had in common—including the same hairstyle! To them, it was surely fate that she lived only two blocks away from their home, adding to the likelihood that our paths one day would cross.
My dad was especially convinced that we were to meet and decided not to leave our encounter to chance. There was excitement, even a tone of urgency, in his voice when he called me about her. Despite having very few details about Gayle to back up his hunch, he told me he knew our friendship was meant to be. Introductions followed soon after, as I was traveling frequently between my home in Minneapolis and theirs in Illinois.
Thinking back to that first meeting as Gayle and I stood in my parents’ living room animatedly talking, I remember being so immersed in conversation that we needed a reminder that my dad, confined to his bed, was eagerly waiting for us to join him. I looked toward the bedroom door at the end of the hall to find him beaming at us.
Gayle was a godsend in the following weeks. She magically appeared in his hospital room’s doorway at so many times of deepest need that I began to seriously wonder if she was an angel. He was right—we were kindred spirits, with Gayle a way-shower—a meditator, two hours a day, for example, at a time when meditation was not the mainstream practice it is today. Our friendship deepened at warp speed, forged in the intense experience of my father’s passage. I remember the time as incredibly hard, but deeply holy.
In an email, Gayle recently described the time for her as “transformative,” recalling my dad’s eleventh-hour rally, in particular. (This phenomenon can occur close to passing when the patient may mystifyingly and fleetingly appear to again be healthy, revitalized.) “It’s as if the person gets to be what they were, one last time in this life before moving on,” Gayle wrote. “I see it as grace.” In my dad’s case in those final hours, he suddenly awoke out of a seemingly unconscious state and sat up. My mother, Gayle and I, and two dear friends of the family, in the hospital room at that moment, gathered around him in astonishment.
“It all happened so fast, coming out of nowhere. He had been so sick.” Now, “perfectly lucid, his voice strong,” Gayle recalled.
Here he was, giving full expression to what was in his heart and soul! My dad had always possessed an innate wisdom, coupled with a sense of humor that endeared him to others, but his heightened state of consciousness now was positively Buddha-like. To put it another way, he embodied what Jesus repeatedly taught, that “the kingdom of Heaven is within.”
He spoke eloquently of his gratitude for the love he and my mother had shared and promised to be “waiting at the gate” whenever she crossed over. He expressed his love for his children. He marveled at the privilege of having been alive on this earth. In stunned silence, we absorbed every word. Then, as suddenly as he had revived, he peacefully lay back, closed his eyes, and went back into the deep-sleep state.
“It was an object lesson,” Gayle told me, “seeing someone transcend what I thought must be the universal and inevitable fear of dying and replace it with love. He seized the lucid moment to tell everyone in his orbit how much they meant to him and to thank them for being in his life. Even me.”
“I agree that your dad had an intuition about the friendship and sensed the value for both of us,” Gayle also wrote, reflecting, too, on our instant rapport. “Perhaps on some level, he remembered that we had all been together in another life and would continue to be a source of mutual love and support.”
“This feels quite true as I write it though I guess we’ll never know for sure,” she continued. “I just know that he loved you so much and didn’t want to leave you. Perhaps it was a comfort to think you’d at least get to have an old and trusted friend who was a kindred spirit.”
It’s what Gayle has been and still is for me, going on thirty years, thanks to his confidence in the intuitive prompt he then acted on. This old and trusted friend has heard me say, too many times to count, that the treasure that is our friendship was my father’s last earthly gift to me. That, and the gift of intuition itself, handed down through the generations in our DNA.