We sat in a reverent stillness. It was dawn, and the clouds hovered low over the water outside her big window. Small waves lapped onto the shore below. She had moved into an active stage of dying in the early hours of the morning, and I had just notified her teacher as the moment of death in the Buddhist tradition is very significant.
We had turned her earlier to lie on her right side with her hand under her cheek and her left hand and arm resting on her hip. It is considered auspicious to be able to die in the same position as the Buddha when he passed into Nirvana. A paper mandala with all the representations of enlightened qualities was placed over her chest as instructed by her teacher, Rinpoche. We adorned the sheet over her body with rose petals as we watched the slow rise and fall of her diminishing breath. A low-dose morphine drip provided by a pump kept her comfortable, and she seemed at ease and unafraid.
Per her request we did not speak, nor did we touch her body again after we positioned her. She wanted her attention to not be drawn outwardly away from her concentrated inner practice to transition from her body at the moment of death. It was no longer about us—her family, friends, or her life here. We were there to solely provide support by holding the space for her to let go—even as we struggled with our own personal sorrows and grief.
My phone rang and it was Rinpoche. I put it to her ear so she could hear him chant the traditional prayers to facilitate the release of her consciousness when she passed. As his voice filled the room, the sun broke through the clouds and bathed her in golden light. Tears streamed from our eyes. He then returned to a retreat he was conducting, letting me know that they would be standing by, waiting for the text notifying him of the moment of her passing.
Her last breath slipped away peacefully, just after 1:00 PM. I immediately hit the “send” button on my phone to let him know. The timing was very auspicious, as Rinpoche had just concluded the morning teachings. He called right away, and as he later wrote . . . “Today was an auspicious day and all positive conditions came together at the moment of her passing. When her final breath took place and the outer breath finished, but while her inner breath had not yet stopped, during that crucial moment of the dissolution phases of the consciousness that marks our final moments in this life, I was able to chant the prayers and do the practice to transfer her consciousness called p’howa and thus aid her transition. The timing could not have been better.”
She was able to stay undisturbed in her hospice room for some hours before being moved to the funeral home. Then, as prearranged by her family, and in accordance with her wishes, her body remained there for two days, just as she had passed, complete with rose petals and all. It was an opportunity for her spiritual community and family to come and sit and offer their prayers and their goodbyes