Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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On living and dying

I had another blog planned for this morning, but then I read Diana Schwenk’s mention of Hazel Gillespie’s passing, and clicked on the link she shared to Staying in Touch with Hazel.

Before I worked at the homeless shelter, I had never been to a hospice. The first time I went, it was by accident. A long time client, a photographer who found his gift through participating in the art program I’d started, was being moved from the shelter-owned apartment he’d been living in as cancer eroded his body’s strength, to hospice one cold December day in 2009. That evening, I called the hospice to find out how he was doing and they informed me, ‘he won’t last the night’. I didn’t want him to be alone amongst strangers as he passed over and so I drove out to the country where the hospice was situated and held his hand while he let go of life. It was one of the most profound and moving moments of my life.

The next time, was just last year when Terry Pettigrew, a man I’d grown to know and love at the shelter, also moved into hospice for his final days. He lived two weeks after moving in, and this time, his brother held his hand, a brother he hadn’t seen in 34 years. It was a blessed moment. I spoke about Terry during a presentation I gave on Saturday for the This is My City Festival panel discussion, On Common Ground and wrote about my experience of remembering Terry on my blog at Recover Your Joy today.

Both experiences with hospice staff have left me feeling grateful for their amazing grace in our world — they make a world of difference. Their humility and compassion, their ability to shine a light on the ‘ending’ while holding space for life to slip away with grace, has inspired me and given me great comfort.

And then, this morning I clicked on the link to Staying in Touch with Hazel that Diana shared and I was moved again by Love. In the beauty and tragedy of our lives, it is Love that carries us through. And, it is the love of people who share our journey, who light our path, who surround us in care that makes the journey hard to let go of, even when we must. In Hazel’s last few weeks on earth she was surrounded by four women committed to holding her hand, to reading to her, laughing with her, being with her in Love. I read back through their stories at Staying in Touch with Hazel, and I am in awe of their beauty.

The world is in good hands when those hands are the loving hands of those who work and care for the dying in hospices, and those who care for the one’s they love as Vicky, Christine, Barb and Judy cared for Hazel.

What an amazing difference they make in our world. What amazing light and grace they bring to living and dying.

Blessed journey Hazel Gillespie. May Love hold you forever more.