A friend of mine, a professor of English Literature at the University of Waterloo, recounts one of his many moving experiences as a part-time hospital chaplain. He has stood before more than 1,000 deathbeds across 27 years of night shifts on call. This particular incident demonstrates the hand of God behind the scenes, the need to be ready to respond in the moment, and how a person’s final hours might be the most important moments of their entire life.1

Walking down the hospital corridor late one evening, having been called to the bedside of a dying eighty-five-year-old, in his youth a World War II frogman in the Royal Navy, I passed a stretcher on which Mr. Fujikama was being wheeled into a private room. “Hello, Mr. Fujikama. What are you doing here?” “I have cancer of the spine, Mr. North. Serious. What are you doing here?”—all in his gentle Japanese accent, as he folded his hands and attempted a bow while lying flat on his back. Mr. Fujikama had been the high school math teacher as well as orchestra and choir leader of our three sons. Their favourite was Handel’s “Messiah”. Born and educated in Japan, he had come to Canada and spent his career teaching high school. With a marked accent, a rare gentleness of spirit, and always elegant manners, Mr. Fujikama had been one of our sons’ favorite teachers. I replied that I was a volunteer chaplain, that I found this spending of the evenings with the sick and dying to be a thought-provoking and peace-giving balance to my days spent with late adolescents in the fullness of their lives.

“I won’t get in the gate. I may be an hour late, or fifteen minutes late, or three minutes late, but I won’t get in the gate.”

Several days later as I was passing down the palliative care hallway, called to see another man in the last hours of a cancer death, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Mr. Fujikama had been moved to a room on this ward. So an hour later I stopped in. He lay very still, bed covers perfectly smoothed by his Caucasian wife, a woman who expressed her heartbreak by vigorously keeping everything immaculate. Asking him how he was, I was perplexed at his whispered “I have a mathematical problem.” “What is the problem?” “I won’t get in the gate. I may be an hour late, or fifteen minutes late, or three minutes late, but I won’t get in the gate.” Still puzzled. “Why won’t you get in the gate?” “He won’t let me,” returned the whisper: Mrs. Fujikama interrupted with the strident urgency of despair “You’ll get in any gate there is!” “Who won’t let you?” The whisper was fading. “Why, Jesus! He’s the gatekeeper!” Ah. Now I recognized the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit. “I feel thy finger and find Thee,” G. M. Hopkins explains.2 So as his wife bustled distractedly in another part of the large room, I told once again of the Savior of my soul, the man of Calvary who gave his life for me, the Man of Sorrows who is acquainted with grief, who sees each sparrow fall; of the forgiveness of the cross, the freedom and joy of resurrection (mine in the shadow and efficacy of Christ’s), the atonement that waits, even and especially for the dying thief. And of no more pain, no more tears, no more death. His Asian eyes held mine intensely, then he slept.

Next evening, walking again the same hallway and seeing him alone, I went in. The TV racketed away, his wife gone home for dinner. At my soft hello he opened his eyes. Scarcely able to speak and helpless to reach for the TV switch just at arm’s length, he nodded me to turn it off. His last whispered words, eyes again closed, lips scarcely moving, were, “Mathematical question solved. Thank you.” Again he slept. A few days later his dear Redeemer, the Messiah about whom he had sung without knowing, welcomed him, face to face.

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This article originally appeared on Kirk's blog, Quest.


  1. Excerpt with permission from: John North, “Hearing the Voice of God among Many Voices”, The Text’s the Thing: Reflections from the Humanities, 163-164.

  2. Hopkins, “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” 51.

Photo Credit: Kirk Durston