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“How would you like to die?”

June 11, 2015

I was looking through a blog I wrote in 2008, in answer to a Proust Questionnaire game on the now closed Gaia online community.

How would you like to die?
With a smile on my face, I wrote.

How interesting! With the recent transition of my mother, death is again taking center-stage in my life, and recently I was wondering if I could introduce this as a topic in our regular Tuesday circles. It’s interesting also, because it shows me again why Prof. Park Jae Woo’s teachings about  a world where smile holds center stage, for living, healing, meditation, and more, has so resonated with me ever since I encountered them in 2012. Very quickly, it seemed to me that I have always ‘known’ what I was learning. I was staying with my mother for three months, accompanying her as my father had passed two years earlier, and we sisters took turns to be with her. That was a precious time, but also emotional as I was torn- sad at being away from my own daughter, happy to be with my mother – just her and me, rare for a middle child.

I realize that speaking of death disturbs people. “How morbid,” one said, when she heard me and my children in a moment of lightness talk about how they would not know what rites to do when I pass away. “Of course,” said my daughter, “you’re immortal, so we’re just talking,”  and we hugged and laughed. At a recent death of a friend’s mother, she had burst out: “I can’t even imagine what it is like to live without a mother. I would want to die.” I couldn’t understand this, until I am face to face with my mother’s passing.

They co-exist: the feeling that our parents are immortal, for of course we’ve never known life without them, and the fear that they are not. My mother was 91, frail yet courageous, physically dependent on caretakers, yet uncomplaining, gentle, gracious, participating in what her daughters suggested, yet becoming more and more remote. Ebbing. So I thought we were prepared for her passing, even for grieving.

Some weeks before she passed, I found my belly crying, as it had before my father passed. Gut feel is not just a phrase. Two days earlier, I found myself gardening after a long time, and remarked to my husband: Now I know Ma is dying. She used to love gardening, and is making me do this again. It was intense. Shall I go to her? She never felt complete until her children were all with her. Circumstances prevented me; and once I realized I couldn’t go I was at ease, because her youngest was with her.

Prepared? No. Nothing can prepare. Ma passed on a Tuesday, and I held the usual Tuesday circle at my place, since that has a life of its own. A momentum of its own. I had gone to work that day, as usual. At work, people thought I was suppressing my sobs; in my circle, even as they said I had delivered a master class on dying – I have no recollection of the words – the ‘least meditative’ participant empathically burst out, much as the child in the Emperor’s New Clothes – “You have sadness today. You are looking different.”

Can we anticipate how we will respond? It seems strange to be in a world where the mother who gave birth has passed, I wrote. On the fourth day of her passing,  we had a remembrance in the morning calling in to the observance in India  [“the phone is a wonderful invention”, Ma used to say]. At a healing workshop that afternoon I remarked that my mother’s passing is showing me the difference between grief and mourning, bringing to life an unremarked difference between these words. I grieve, but I do not mourn, for she went with such grace and gentleness, blessing my sister who was with her, that we are uplifted as we accompany her onward journey with observances of the Shinnyo-En – the Mahaparinirvana teachings of the Buddha, given just before he passed.

Even that is not the whole story. After the fourteenth day observance, it struck. The sobbing. When I was completely alone, driving home from work, the light of my mother’s passing struck like a clean arrow, cutting through the inspiration, the upliftment, the love and beauty of the timing of her passing – to the well of grief. I sobbed, wanting to die, to merge once again in the mother who had given me life and birth. Sobs racked my body, each cell was in intense pain, and I felt I would never stop crying. I looked upon a whirlpool of unimaginable grieving, unending, infinite, a universe all its own. She was my guru, I realized, my mother. I had always marveled at the one-line teachings she had imparted, at my not being able to accept any other person as guru, at my constant, unsuccessful attempts of trying to be like her, behave like her, my perfect role model. She is my guru. I remembered her painting, and felt her move like the ray of light through my chakras.

I am blessed to have an early painting of my mother – and sorrowful that so many of the ones she presented to relatives in her youth are lost, unremarked by them. In this painting, a ray of light passes from the godly Prince Ramchandra to the simple forest dweller Shabri, who was tasting each berry for sweetness before giving it to the gracious Prince.

Shabari ke ber by Vimal Narain

Shabari ke ber by Vimal Narain

My husband and son surrounded me as I came home, comforting me wordlessly. I did not have to suppress my sobs and gradually that pain in the back of the heart subsided. Ma chose a time to go when her two daughters who have children, were at their children’s side; and her youngest, prepared for the ceremonies after death, close to her heart and soul, had flown across the ocean  to be at her side. Ma blessed her, said the mantra even as she was breathing her last, and gently slipped away. This is  death with smile. As she lived – loving, caring, silently wise, using few but powerful words, she passed.

May I say..? She is passing. She is ascending, visiting us with a lightness of being, laughing, playfully pouring sparkles of light in our Reiki circle, showing us a self that is vast, expansive, even as we sense the vulnerability as she finally meets her mother who departed in her infancy.

My earthly mother, I used to call her, as I was practicing the Gaia Minute wordless merging into Mother Earth. When her earthly remains flowed into the holy river Ganga, my earthly mother and mother earth have merged. She is now ever with me. The first words I wrote after she passed were the truest.

My beloved mother has merged in the eternal smile

They say she is no more. But from this distance, as I experience her, she is now more.

How would I like to die? I would turn that question around.
How would I like to live? With smile, so I may die in smile, merged in the eternal.


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