Maggie Passes Onwards
© Tom McRae
End of the beginning
A new start to my life
My beloved Maggie, wife of over 35 years passed on to a Higher level of
Existence at 2.20 a.m. Australian time on Sunday 20th July 1997. In the
hours thereafter I had the most wonderful, meaningful experience of my life.
It is amazing to recall that just five weeks before she'd been her usual
vibrant bubbly self, before agonising back pains started without warning. In
the early hours of a Sunday morning I rushed her to Emergency Services in
our superb public hospital where she was diagnosed as probably having passed
a kidney stone. On the following Friday she told me she was still in pain
with some nausea but we both assumed this was a recurrence of a bad attack
of shingles she'd suffered a couple of years before.
On the Tuesday our G.P. sent her for an ultra sound scan which revealed
round growths on both adrenal glands this led to a CAT scan the following
day which disclosed a large tumour on one adrenal, a smaller on the other,
and a primary tumour in the right lung that had given rise to the others.
Thursday found us at the Queensland Radium Institute where full diagnostic
procedures came into place while drugs to control pain and nausea were
applied. We opted to have it all done on an Out-Patient basis and a
series of scans and needle biopsies over the following week confirmed Maggie
had malignant tumours of the worst type. A course of radiation
therapy was proposed for the larger adrenal tumour and future plans were for
chemotherapy once this was reduced or destroyed. A further week of planning
followed then the first dose of radiation was scheduled to start on the
Monday, by then she was still so nauseous and in pain that she was admitted
to hospital to have those symptoms brought under control.
On the Wednesday an incredible chain of events began to network around us.
Out of the blue I received a phone call from Frank an American professor of
Religious Studies domiciled in Korea. A friend from Religious Studies here
in Brisbane, Eddie Crangle, had taken up a visiting professorship at Seoul
last December, Frank was his friend and had been told on no account to miss
meeting me while he was attending a conference here. We duly linked up and I
found he was a specialist in death and grief counselling so I'd a lot to
talk to him about when I drove him around the place.
On Monday 14th July he asked me to take him to Karuna Hospice a Buddhist
run facility to assist the dying and their relatives. I was vaguely aware
that such a place existed but had no idea where. As the facility was near
the hospital I took Frank to meet Maggie and watched her smile for the first
time in days. She was free from pain and nausea and able once more to
participate in intelligent conversation. Frank took the Korean mantra
bracelet from his wrist and put it on hers while saying appropriate prayers,
I wear this as I write.
At Karuna we met the wonderful nun who runs the place, the Venerable Yeshe
Khadro, and multi -denominational support staff. Karuna has no in-patients
the policy being to get patients home with their loved ones where all are
assisted on that final journey. I took the opportunity to discuss our crisis
with them and asked for full details just in case I needed their support
further down the track. We left this wonderful place filled with the love
and compassion that overflows there.
At the hospital Maggie was getting better and better, fed via a nasal tube
she was putting on weight and looking more like her normal self... then came
my Wednesday 16th visit. She bravely told me the tumour was not responding
to treatment but was growing and that the doctors wanted to discuss some
options with us. At this meeting we were told that secondaries had now
entered the brain, they might be reduced with radiation but this meant she'd
have to stay in hospital until the end. She could gain only a couple of
weeks, but she'd suffer from vomiting, hair loss, giddiness, etc. We
concluded that as the other tumour had not responded there was little
advantage in taking this course. We opted for home where she'd be with me
and her beloved cats and I asked the hospital to contact Karuna. From then
onwards the amazing networking continued.
I left the hospital in a state of shock, returning to my empty house.
Initially I was filled with despair then God took me by the shoulders and
raised me in strength for the times ahead. At long last I understood the
real meaning of the Psalm in which David tells how God raised him from a
fearful miry pit, set him on a rock, and showed him the way ahead. His pit,
like mine, had been hopeless despair.
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End Of The Beginning
I brought Maggie home on the Friday morning and was she glad to be out of
hospital ! Tired after her journey home I got her to bed and sat back to
wait for a feeding machine to be delivered and for our Karuna nurse to
arrive. The machine was duly set up and I was instructed in its use. Maggie
was quickly back on the liquid feeds from which we planned to ease her back
The Karuna nurse arrived, he looked familiar and he was. Eighteen months
before a friend had set up a night of spiritual meditation and John had been
one of those involved. We established a link that night but time and
circumstances had broken the connection. He, of all people, was looking
after Maggie who took to him immediately. I later discovered he is the
professor of nursing at our Catholic University, he does this wonderful work
in what spare time he has available.
After John left Maggie's condition began to deteriorate as the brain
tumours did their work. I managed to get her seated in our front room for a
while where we sat and talked of many things although her speech became
progressively more incoherent. At 21.00 I got her to bed but by 23.00 she
was in a state of confused dementia, desperate to write notes of thanks and
goodbye to all her friends. I ended up by joining her in bed and holding her
close and she periodically dropped off for a while before awakening and
demanding she be allowed to get up into the very cold night.
Next morning she was so bad I contacted John, he consulted with our GP and
they put it to me that the feeding tube be removed and a slow dispensing
syringe connected up to keep the medication going until the end. It was
obvious this would be fairly soon so I asked John to organise volunteer
carers from Karuna as well as a counsellor for myself. I don't know what I
would have done without that afternoon carer as by then I was shattered with
stress and lack of sleep, Una did lots for us while I stretched out and
relaxed for a while.
At night a new carer arrived, Birgit, a wonderful German lady who
immediately started cosseting me in the best hausfrau way. Soon afterwards
the Counsellor arrived, Gabriel, despite the name this was a lady who,
believe it or not, was another participant in our Spiritual Meditation group
of 18 months before. We had also developed strong bonds at that time and
this new link in the chain was quite unreal, we fell into each other's arms
in a mammoth hug.
I talked things over with her until around 22.00 we joined Birgit in the
bedroom with Maggie. Cancer death beds can be smelly places with all that
sweat and urine but we three all noticed that Maggie was emanating a subtle
spicy perfume as she lay there comatose and totally at peace, it reminded me
of the accounts of saints passing on. I then went to the cot I'd made up in
the spare room while Birgit stayed with Maggie.
At 02.20 she called me to the bedside as My Love had just gurgled briefly
and stopped breathing. The temporal pulse was still active when I got there
and I held her hand, telling her of my love for her as she slipped off. It
was beautiful, totally peaceful. No gasping for air, discolouration or
convulsions and she looked beautiful. We rang Gabriel and she turned up
shortly afterwards with bags of material she considered important demanding
a cup of tea. I sat a little longer with Maggie, holding her hand, until the
ladies asked me to get them clean sheets and nighty and leave them for a
Once those glorious people had done all that had to be done they came and
conducted me to the bedside. My Beloved of 35 years lay there like some
Oriental princess with a jewel on her forehead, this was actually a precious
crystal pendant belonging to Gabriel. Ten candles burned in two wavelike
holders on the bed head with a stupa in between them. A lamp dispensing the
perfume of heated oils. Each in our own way we participated in an ancient
ceremony to guide the soul to The Light of the New Life. Gabriel has a
lovely singing voice and she sang the Tibetan invocation mantra created for
this purpose. I made my own input from Rosicrucian sources and the three of
us spread The Light over her body, endeavouring to communicate with the
spirit that remained at this stage within the body.
A Miracle then took place, Gabriel saw a golden light emanate in all
directions from Maggie's head, my eyes were closed but at the same time I
was overwhelmed by wave after wave of pure love flowing through me as Maggie
poured her love of 35 years into my inner being. It was ecstatic and
impossible to put into words, I tried telling my friends what was happening
but that was inadequate, the love flow continued to build up in me and my
body shook so much with the experience that I had to sit down.
Tears filled my eyes, not of grief but of joy as the wonder just kept
flowing into me. Pure love proving beyond a doubt that my wife was not dead
but had attained a new level of existence. Aeons later the wondrous waves
stopped but the pent up love remained within me. We ended our service,
Gabriel left, and Birgit resumed her vigil. I spent the rest of the night in
my cot bound with my wife in the most intimate bond that two people can
experience, the total union of our souls. I didn't sleep, just revelled in
this wonder although I did worry in case she wished to bond forever and
become earthbound, I needn't have worried. As morning broke she gently
detached herself although enough Light was left within me to sustain me for
the days ahead.
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Next day formalities had to be met but I was able to ring our closest
friends and invite them to pay their respects. I'd been dreading this
bereavement and was amazed at my inner peace and at the way I could conduct
each visitor to Maggie's side.
All our guests greeted my Beloved and held her hand, most commented on
the incredible power within that room. Around 15.00 it was obvious that the
soul had finally quit the body although it was still with us. Friends left,
Funeral Directors removed the empty shell, and I was on my own yet far from
alone. Both God and Maggie were with me, what else could I need? Wednesday
came and Gabriel arrived so we could plan the funeral service. This we
intended to be more meaningful than the usual sterile Christian event. We
would not be mourning a death but celebrating a life.
I placed my hands on Gabriel's head and gave her the personal triple
phonetic name that I felt best described her role in my crisis. "Arch" short
for that Archangel Whose name she so worthily bears, "Arc" for that segment
of the Wheel of our life in which she'd joined, guiding us both to
Enlightenment, and Ark as she had truly been my Refuge and support, I don't
know what I would have done without her.
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Next day, we held the funeral service at the local crematorium, I
anticipated some raised eyebrows as what Arch and I had planned was far from
the usual funeral service. The chapel was packed out with our friends, this
alone was intensely moving, and we played them in with a lovely pop song
emphasising the Miracle of Love between two people. I was amazed at the way
in which I was still coping but realised it was largely due to the wondrous
spirituality of the previous days.
The coffin was left open and Arch started things off by inviting everyone
to pay their last respects and place a jonquil (small daffodil) in the
coffin. She explained that she would be singing the same Invocation Mantra
she'd used early on Sunday morning and we'd walk around to music
commemorating Hildegard of Bingen using that great lady's words in the
songs. I started the procession and looked at my beloved wife once more.
She'd been superbly prepared by the Funeral Directors and looked utterly
beautiful although not nearly as much so as while laid out at home. Far too
much makeup for Maggie and she looked just a trifle severe, perhaps that was
Ark was a wonder as she linked the stages of the Ceremony then came my
turn to make input. Yes I was strong enough to deliver the final oration,
pointing out that we were gathered not to mourn the death of my wife but to
celebrate Her good life well lived. I explained how each human being is a
unique entity that, like a precious jewel, is composed of many facets.
Rather than stringing out the usual tale of the deceased's life I invited
all present to reflect on the facets of Maggie that they had personally
encountered, looking with joy at their own involvement in her time amongst
us. I then shared the story of the miracles that had taken place, you could
have heard the proverbial pin drop as others joined in the wonder of it all.
Arc read this little poem written by another hospice patient now deceased...
Life is eternal
and love is immortal
and death is only a horizon
and a horizon is nothing
save the limit in our sight.
Look to this day, for it is life,
for yesterday is already a dream
and tomorrow is only a vision
but today well lived,
makes every yesterday
a dream of happiness
a vision of hope.
She then read that wonderful portion from the closing of The Little Prince
where he tells of how when you look into the heavens
...you'll see my star
joyful and full of laughter. (How appropriate for Maggie that was).
I placed a single long stemmed rose on my Beloved's breast saying 'I place
this rose in token of our eternal love.' Maggie's best friend Barbara then
placed a sprig of rosemary in the coffin telling how it was a sign of
remembrance before John, a masonic friend added a sprig of acacia with
appropriate words. We three joined Ark at the rostrum for the committal. I
felt it was my right and duty to press the necessary buttons and with Ark
hugging me did so saying something like 'Goodbye my Darling One ' (not too
sure) while my three friends held me close.
We ended with one of Maggie's favourite songs, by Steeleye Span.....The
Harvest of the Moon
And the song that we sang
could be heard for miles around
The air was full of harmony
you should have heard the sound
as we gathered up our differences
and threw them in the air
And gave them to the wind that shakes the barley.
Then as now as I write this account this brought the tears, writing this
ending of my tale finally broke through and gave the chance for some real
weeping. I needed that badly and welcomed it. Grief must never be bottled
up and there is neither despair nor self-pity speeding my tears as I type
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This is the time when people come out with....Why did God allow this to
happen? I admit such thoughts passed through my mind just a year ago when a
dear friend Miriam lost the baby she'd carried to term. A well paid
scientist she'd given up everything to devote herself to this child yet it
was gone before she could enjoy holding the tiny living creature in her
arms. Why? I asked why? The message came through that we are not a load
of puppets with a man in the sky pulling our strings. Rather we are free
people who, while we think we live in a stable world, are actually liable to
disastrous experiences that can occur without warning. Would you honestly
exchange this for a life and thoughts dominated by an external source no
matter how benevolent that was?
Many people platitudinously shrug off tragedies like Miriam's mine. and
countless others by saying It is God's will. What bloody blasphemy that
is, why blame it all on God? The baby died because the placenta detached
just prior to delivery, not because a loving God decreed it should happen.
Even worse are those who come up with waffle like God needed a new angel in
the sky and he honoured Maggie by choosing her. This is an even more
blasphemous statement making God a murderer set to serve his own selfish
ends, rather like one of the old Greek gods grabbing an attractive mortal
maiden to further his lusts.
In fact My Beloved's death was never due to God's will. It came from lung
cancer brought on by the subtle pressures that induced her and most other
kids of her age to take up smoking as a sign of maturity. It is a sobering
thought that while mass murderers are viewed with repulsion within our
Society those who promote cigarettes with their lies and distortions kill
millions each year but are regarded as respectable citizens. Her death is on
their heads along with those of countless others, I pray the Karmic
progress of those responsible will end in their receiving the fate they so
God has nothing whatsoever to do with the many tragic deaths and disasters
that occur daily on this unstable planet. When we are assailed by such
traumatic events however HE will give us unlimited love, comfort, and
support, I know this from my own wonderful experiences over the last few
days. He is with me and comforts me just as David said He would in the
Skeptics may dismiss my experiences as merely Freudian Type compensation to
tide me over, Mateys you haven't got a bloody clue! I know only too well
what took place within me early that Sunday morning and no ivory tower type
academic will ever convince me otherwise.
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A New Start To My Life
I still grieve deeply for the loss of Maggie but new light came into my life
when I was in the deepest depths of despair. Despite the message of hope I
received, and the wonderful support given to me by many friends I remained
desolated by my loss. I found myself unable to attend any of my Masonic or
Miniatures Club meetings prefering to stay quietly at home trying to cope
with a grief I tried to deny although it remained strong inside me.
It would come on me without warning and I can only compare it with a deep
dry well in desolate ground in which purifying clear water rises up to
overflow into the barrenness, cleansing it, and preparing the land for new
growth. Despite the sorrow it brought in its wake I learned to welcome this
cleansing, healing grief I could cope with that but despairing loneliness
was beyond me when it hit at times.
On 17th August I had to attend our Miniaturist Club's meeting with my
displays for the September Show so they could be measured up. At the meeting
I renewed acquaintance with many friends including Aubrey Bartlett, the
Founder, and his lovely daughter Toni, both good friends over several years.
I spent some time talking to Toni during the meeting and Aubrey asked me to
come round to his house and check out a perspex case as a possible display
container for my tiny card models.
Maggie was a skilled Craft worker and had many items ready for sale at her
monthly Craft Market, I'd decided to donate those to the Karuna Hospice and
my Counsellor had promised to come and collect them. Weeks had passed and
she didn't show (found later she'd been ill) and the items triggered my
grief every time I saw them. I therefore decided to kill two birds with one
stone, visit Aubrey next morning then go on to Karuna. So it was I arrived
to check out the case and found Toni at home on 2 weeks leave so she could
work on her Show display. We checked out the box and had coffee and I
decided I really liked this Bartlett lady but I had other business to do
I left and drove over to Karuna hoping to see a counsellor but there was
nobody there I knew. I left Maggie's Craft material with those strangers and
felt the wrench of losing another part of her as I drove back to my empty
home. Loneliness grew throughout that day and by nightfall I was really
close to falling in the Pit of Total Despair. Voices seemed to say "This is
all you have to look forward to for the rest of your life." I remembered my
old pal Bob who lay dead on the floor for 4 days before he was found, would
this be my fate? Grief and despair grew by the minute.
Within myself I knew I was being totally stupid and realised I had to do
something positive next day. Should I ring up Toni Bartlett and invite her
to come up the Coast with me? I balked but did so in the end and to my joy
she accepted. Hardly had I put the phone down when it rang again, a very
dear local friend inviting me over to dinner with her and her husband that
night. Suddenly the world looked brighter and The Pit receded to the
Next day Toni and I left Brisbane as the friends we'd always been but by the
time we reached Mooloolooba, an hour's drive north, some strange alchemy had
started working. Something neither of us had expected but we both could
feel. By the time we drove back to Brisbane a bond had been established
between us which grew over the next few days. Alas we had to split up for a
fortnight as Toni had to complete her display and the Show was coming ever
closer, this actually worked out well as it gave us a chance to look at
things from a distance before we got too committed to one another.
We met again when the Show opened and found our feelings were undiminished
and since then an amazing love has grown between us. On 27th September we
became engaged, deciding to marry on 14th June next year in her parish
church. Our love continues to grow and our future looks very good indeed.
Yes out of the deepest darkness Light has returned to my life again, we both
thank God for this miracle. Hope and Joy can arise even when Life seems at
Karuna Hospice recently held its Annual Service of Remembrance, Toni and her
father joined me at this moving event where at one point in the service
bereaved folks placed lighted candles on the altar to commemorate their
Loved Ones as the long list of those who'd died in Karuna's care was read
A time came when we were invited to publicly tell of any reflections or
thoughts we had about our bereavements. Many people were openly grieving so
I felt obliged to narrate the wondrous story of Maggie's final gift to me,
afterwards several people thanked me for sharing my story and said it had
been of help to them in their own sorrow.
Toni and I both are very much aware that Maggie is with us both as part of
our new loving relationship. We know full well it has her blessing and that
she will share in the joy of our new life together.
Tom McRae Brisbane Australia
Oh wad some power the Gifty gie us (Robert Burns)
Tae see oorselves as others see us
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