Moderator’s Note: Deeply touched by Allyson’s comments on our deceased mutual friend’s FaceBook page that was quickly becoming a profound testimony to God’s grace, I asked if she’d summarize the tribute for CFN viewers. Don Smith
Friend to many & witness of God’s grace – Alison Soulsby
She was the most Christ-like woman I have ever met. She tapped into a reserve of love and fortitude that was bottomless. She drew on a source of strength that could have only been divine. She supported friends and acquaintances through health challenges and through life’s storms, without referencing her own. On Valentine’s Day, she went home to be with the source of her infinite love and the lover of her soul. Time stood still for individuals on at least three continents as they learned, one by one, that Alison Soulsby had gone to dance with her Saviour at the best Valentine’s Day Party ever.
How sorry I am for you if you did not know Alison! How you would have been blessed to know this remarkable woman who never worried about running out of time or strength; a woman who wasn’t depleted by serving others but rather was energized: a woman who was still taking on new FaceBook friends just one day before moving into the Cornwall Hospice to die. I am certain that as she accepted new FaceBook Friend requests, she wasn’t thinking “I’ll be gone before the week is over, what’s the point?” or “I am too tired, and weak to undertake new friendships.” For the last twenty of her fifty years on Earth, she lived with lymphoma, and for each of those years she went right on living, making plans, travelling, volunteering, and making new friends, refusing to be defined, constrained or demoralized by cancer.
I think of the times in my life that I was reluctant to make plans with friends, or accept a leadership opportunity at church in case – when the date rolled around on the calendar – I’d wish I could wriggle out of the commitment. What if I was too stressed with work that week? What if I was too tired to head out again in the evening after a long day? I think of the times in my life that I was reluctant to accept a neighbour’s invitation for coffee, knowing that to do so would obligate me to reciprocate, and feeling that I could barely maintain the friendships I already had, let alone embark on new ones. I think of the times I have measured someone’s need, or pain, or grief against my own, and decided that I just didn’t have it in me to be gracious or helpful when I had troubles of my own. I think of the times that I have rolled my eyes listening to someone lament about a bad cold and then … I remember that Alison who suffered for twenty years would have been sympathetic. Alison would have signed up to lead that group at church and Alison would have happily accepted that neighbour’s invitation. Her capacity to befriend and to love was boundless. Her heart just kept stretching to include more and more people.
Most remarkable of all is the fact that she didn’t need to work at this ability to be compassionate. She never appeared to be consciously practising selflessness, or exercising some kind of spiritual discipline when she gave freely and generously of her affection, compassion and wisdom. It was as natural to her as breathing.A look at the tributes that have been posted on her FaceBook page since her death will give you a sense of the way she touched lives.
From those who knew her intimately:
“God bless you Alison. What a 30 year ride it has been.”
And those who knew her only briefly: “Your smile & love of sharing God’s love has remained an inspirational image to me. Please know your faith has made an impact on my life.”
From friends far away: “Though my Bible study friends are strangers to you, they have shared in your praises and prayed over your needs and have been blessed by your testimony. They feel privileged to learn about you and are so moved by your witness.”
And friends close to home: “We meet some people and wonder how they carry on with smiles, dignity, strength and laughter in the face of illness. That’s Alison.”
From former students in Ecuador: “Alison touched my life in Ecuador years ago with her grace, spirit, kindness, and unconditional acceptance of all she met.”
And former students in Ontario: “My children loved that bear [Barnabus]…she helped us so much!!! We will always remember doing brain teasers that she shared with my son’s class…I will truly miss you!!!”
Barnabus, the aforementioned bear, was a stuffed teddy that sat at the sick bed of those who were hospitalized or dying. Alison offered him up as a companion to anyone in her enormous circle who was suffering poor health. My own father enjoyed Barnabus’ company more than 15 years ago while recovering from a heart attack and stroke. He was with Alison at the end too.
All of us who were touched by her felt special. Each of us felt that our connection with Alison was unique and marvelous, that the love she heaped on us was special; that we’d done something to deserve the enthusiasm with which she maintained her friendship with us. And so each of us, in return, longed to be the friend that nourished her, the one friend who could bless her in the way that she blessed countless others. But Alison was nourished from a heavenly stream. She treasured her friends, but her most important relationship was with God. She loved being a teacher, but her primary identity was being a daughter of God. Her hope was the biblical hope of Romans 5: 1-5 that did not require rallying or being propped up by inspirational words spoken by friends. She glowed with the assurance of God’s love. She radiated peace. In fact, in her final message to her FaceBook friends, she wrote that she prayed that we would be blessed with the same peace about her decision to stop treatment as she had been given. I telephoned her to pray with her after she announced her decision, and was embarrassed to find myself crying when she was so serene. Who was I, who had only ever been on the periphery of her life, to cry over saying goodbye? Alison was not crying about leaving us. All was well with her soul and she was ready to cast off ‘the poor old bod’, as she referred to it.
I want to leave you with the words that Alison wrote as she welcomed in the new year- a year in which she would live for only seven weeks. These words are a testament to the joy she experienced in her journey. No ‘if onlys’. No ‘not quite yets’. No conditions, qualifiers, or limitations. Just joy, pure and simple. Oh Alison, you will be missed!
So grateful for a wonderful New Year’s Day: a quiet morning with the kitties; a walk in the afternoon before a beautiful drive up to Ottawa; a fantastic time with special friends and amazing treat to dinner out; and then driving home last night into a gorgeous moonrise. A gift of a day all the way around.
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Diane and I knew Alison way back…
She was such a delightful vibrant lady who automatically commanded a room with her effervescence, her smile, charm and wit.
Those were our ‘Good Shepard’ days at First and Marlborough.
Talent for anything. She love all people, young and old alike. As we all know her true academia was in teaching…biblical as in Sunday School, or anything that would ‘grow’ and ‘glow’ those around her.
Leukemia struck her then and she courageously took it on. As we see, many years later, she finally went home.
Love you Ali……Miss you Ali…..
Dave and Diane.
An inspiration to read Don, and to offer an insight into your question with respect to your tears when you last spoke to Alison, it seems like a genuine expression of loss, grief and connection- though never having met Alison in person, from your column, I do feel like she is also a part of my community life now- someone who made Cornwall a better place by her light and love….may this touch each reader’s heart and allow them to look at their struggles as opportunities to develop their own spiritual capacities for acceptance, resignation and humility, a chance to love more and overcome the physical limits we all have….take care.
Thanks, Shirley, but I think that you may have read it a bit too quickly. As the heading indicates and the moderator’s note explains, Allyson Eamer authored this wonderful post at my invitation. I’ll pass along your comment. Cheers.
Gotcha Don, kudos for having invited the post- I think the fact that there were two Alison’s, different spellings…lol