When I lived in Charlotte I rented a small basement apartment from a woman, Marianne, with whom I became very good friends. I was thirtysomething and she was about 70.
When my attempt to move out and join an organic farm in upstate NY ended in immediate failure (long story), I came home to find my deserted bed made with fresh sheets. Marianne.
Not long after I met her she began to die of brain cancer. It was like seeing a great elephant struck by a bullet and falling slowly. She had a wonderful mind and a long life of triumph over adversity, escaped an abusive husband, raised three sane and loving children in a time when single mothers were consigned to a life of shame and poverty.
And the cancer and later the stroke ate up and overthrew her personality and wonderful intelligence, and she faded day by day. She was dying as she stood, even as she lived.
After she had begun living in an assisted living facility (a nice one, where she was placed by a family who adored her) I had a dream about her.
She was sitting on a wooden throne at the edge of a forest. It was wintertime. The sun was setting, making that spectacular light-show on the snow, turning the world gold as evening approached. She wore a white robe — not a celestial white, but a natural white. A simple woven robe, pure and regal.
She looked like a medieval cleric-queen, or god incarnated as a white-haired and strong old woman, tall and implacable.
She said nothing, and I didn’t either. I just witnessed her presence. That was all of the dream.
It felt like part of her soul had taken up residence somewhere else, and she was visiting me somehow, in a state both magnificent and strangely incomplete.
Later I would think of the idea of the gros bon ange and the ti bon ange. In the vodoun (“voodoo”) religion, these are parts of the soul. In vodoun the soul has multiple parts, not a single part as in the Christian religions I am culturally familiar with.
If I remember right, the gros bon ange is the life force, the animating spirit. The ti bon ange is the source of the personality. At death, the gros bon ange returns to the universe, and the ti bon ange is transformed into a spirit.
That’s exactly what I felt in the dream-presence of my friend — that I was seeing part of her that had spooled out and away, still connected. The gros bon ange remained, giving life to the gross matter of her body. But her dignified soul had partially flown, leaving a tattered remnant behind, connected still and traveling to another side of life like sands through an hourglass, like a raveling sweater being reknit somewhere far away.