I sat on a bench outside her house, staring at the liquid gray sea that was tightly framed by heavy, dark clouds. It looked cold and lonely. Gulls flew overhead, their plaintive cries echoing the sorrow in my heart. My friend had passed away the day before. It all felt wrong and it also felt perfect. I began to sob. Emotions that had been carefully tucked away for a week now demanded expression. I felt the ripping pain of loss and grief because I love her and will miss her, as will so many others whose lives she so lovingly touched. I also rejoiced because I was deeply moved and inspired by how graciously she lived and how auspiciously she died. I thought… she has shown us how to do this. Pay heed.
She embodied the compassionate teachings of the Buddha throughout her life—in her work and in her relationships. Even as she struggled with the suffering of a terminal illness, she would think of the welfare of others first—not wanting the attention often shown to one who is very ill—not wanting to be just someone with cancer. She wanted to live and only seemed to relate to the fact she was dying at the very end. But I wonder. Was she doing that for us? Because when she finally let go, she just did it—Kazam—holding nothing back, fully moving on without fear and with a very sweet and tender dignity.
During her last week, I observed and was touched by her generous efforts to connect as long as she could with those she loved. Letting us clean her mouth, massage her body, offer things to drink, converse a little. But then in her last thirty-six hours that, too, fell away, and our support became no longer one of doing but simply of being.
How illusory and dream-like the world must have seemed to her as her vital elements began to dissolve, and the veil between this world and the next became thin. As everything was fading for her, like a finger tracing on water, I wonder what she would have wanted to tell us. Perhaps she would have said to be present with what is in the immediacy of each moment because anything else is just remembering or hoping. Maybe she would have told us to not sweat the small stuff, that what matters most in life is to create virtue and not cause harm. Or, to just simply row our boats gently and merrily down the stream because life, after all, is nothing but a dream. . .
I experienced every moment with her the past seven days as a teaching. That experience has pulled me into a deep inquiry. Which of all the many and profound teachings I have received over the course of many years have I taken to heart, absorbed into my direct experience, truly realized? Am I living my life without regret knowing that death could be soon? Do I really get the certainty of impermanence, or does it still remain a concept? What will be the fruit of the seeds I am now planting? Am I prepared to die? What will be important to me at that time? Who would I want there to support me?
Sitting on that bench, before I left, I spoke aloud to her and the gulls as my witnesses, strengthening my commitment to live my life in service to others, as she did, and to deepen my wisdom to see through the temporary dramas of my life to what is ultimately true—that the expression of our very nature, like the rays of the sun, is love and compassion. She got that. Those were the cornerstones of her life.
If there has been any benefit in the telling of her story, then I dedicate that to her with the aspiration that her transition in this after-death state be smooth and that she return swiftly to continue to help and ease the pains and sorrows of others in this troubled world.