Mindful in Death

The person who probably knows me best in this world has said to me several times over the years, “You do death better than anyone I know.”

It takes me back when she says it because I find the experience of being with a loved one as they make their transition, losing their presence in my life, even saying goodbye to my darling furry friends to be extremely intense emotionally, physically and mentally.

I was a yoga practitioner and doing my internship for yoga teacher certification when my mother made her transition. Following my intuition, I flew across country to be with her and my father, arriving late on a Wednesday night. When Dad took me to the hospital the next day, I knew she was dying. She had only just been admitted the day before though she had previously been in cancer treatment. The intensity almost overwhelmed me at one point. I put my head down on the side of her bed and had trouble breathing. Then, I was able to soften my rib cage and begin to breathe to my belly. I was holding her in my arms at 4:10 am Sunday as her last whisper of breath passed her lips. My one wish for her was that she not die alone because she had feared that all her life. It was my privilege to be her companion those last hours.

After my mother’s death, I called my mentor and teacher, Joseph LePage, founder of Integrative Yoga Therapy. His love and compassion soothed my weary soul. I was exhausted on every level. Joseph directed me to a book titled The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. This book enlightened me to the experience I had just had with my mother and prepared me to be more mindfully present present when my father made his transition.

The most powerful thing I remember from that book is the Buddhist practice of “watering the seeds of your loved one’s happiness.” It is simple. You tell them your loving memories of their life and your times with them. For example, before we brought Dad home, while he was still conscious, I sat with him and reminded him of when I was a little girl and would get a splinter in my finger or hand. Once when I was about five years old, I waited all afternoon for him to come home. My dad had very large hands and, as he told me late in his life, the thought of taking a splinter out of my tiny finger scared him. He did it anyway because I needed him to be the one. My big, strong Daddy faced his fears of hurting me in order to help me.

When Mom was dying, we sat around her hospital bed and told so many funny stories about her life and ways. She was a brilliant woman with an outrageous sense of humor. We didn’t know we were watering the seeds of her happiness and preparing her to leave her body in a place of love and happiness. Love and laughter draw the awareness to the highest chakras in the body. This is the goal so that the life force energy, the soul or spirit, leaves through the crown chakra.

My father died at home with minimal hospice care. I was alone with him as well though he left as I entered the room that last night to kiss him goodnight. The experience with him was equally intense but in very different ways and I was privileged to be his companion. Before he died, I taught his grandchildren how to water the seeds of his happiness by sharing their favorite memories. So many wonderful stories.

My parents knew our love as they made their transitions quietly and peacefully. I wouldn’t trade those days and hours for anything.

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying teaches the continuation of this practice for forty days after death. I have embraced this practice because it is a beautiful way to move through grief after a profound loss. It soothes the heart and mind.

Perhaps this practice is why my sister-friend tells me I do death so well…because I have found what works for me. Watering the seeds of my parents’ and others’ happiness waters the seeds of my happiness as well. Those seeds produce the most amazing fruits in my life:  divine compassion, understanding, deeper awareness of the Divine Presence, the importance of mindful presence in this moment, and a lack of fear when contemplating my own eventual death. Other gifts are beyond my ability to articulate.

To be mindful in the moment is to embrace and experience each moment without trying to control what that moment contains. Be not afraid for Love is with you All Ways and each moment comes with gifts you cannot even begin to imagine until they arrive!