One of my dear hospice patients died a few days ago. She had a hard death. Watching her last days was tough. When she died, I felt relieved because she was no longer suffering. For the first time ever, I prayed that she would have as many blessings as a thousand petaled lotus.
My hospice patient whom I’ll call Sherri died from colon cancer. She was fifty years old with long, strawberry blonde hair. She was married and had three children in their teens and early twenties. She was a beautiful woman inside and out.
My last memory of Sherri is of her sitting in a kitchen chair supported by pillows. Her temples were sunken in, and her eyes were half open. As she breathed, her bony rib cage gently moved in and out. She looked like she was pregnant with a swollen belly. The tube that connected to her stomach helped reduce the fluid. Sherri sat in a chair because it was the only place that didn’t cause her pain. Later on, she died in her bed with her husband by her side.
I gave Sherri a gentle massage on her feet and legs. Her husband sat by her, holding her hand. As I massaged her feet and legs, Neil Diamond’s song, “Do I Wanna Be Yours” played in the background. Sherri’s husband began to sob during the song. I put my hands on his shoulders and told him that he’s doing an excellent job taking care of his wife.
Joan Halifax says, “Being with dying often means bearing witness to and accepting the unbearable and the unacceptable.” It was a hard death. And now when I think about her death, all I can feel is compassion. I’m glad it’s over.
Halifax continues to say in her book, Being with Dying, “We need to learn to stay with suffering without trying to change it or fix it. Only when we are able to be present for our own suffering are we able to be present for the suffering of others, and the difficulties they may encounter in dying. The practice of insight meditation, in which we watch the ebb and flow of mental activity, is a good way to cultivate this ability.” I know when my death comes, I will count on meditation to guide me.
Insight meditation or Vipassana is a Buddhist meditation that helps you concentrate and gain insight into reality. It is a state in which the mind is brought to rest, focused only on one item and not allowed to wander. During meditation, a deep calm pervades body and mind, a state of tranquility which must be experienced to be understood.
When I do insight meditation, I use a mantra (a word or sound repeated to aid concentration). Here are some mantras that I use (in-breath/out-breath with each sound): OM/SHANTI (universal sound and peace), SAT/NAM (truth and name), and LOVE/PEACE.
Steven Levine in his book “A Year to Live” says, “A death chant can act as a refuge from the storm, or an open window to the sun. Mantras or prayers cultivated in a sincere spiritual practice work very well for many.”
Someday, death will come knocking on my door. I want to be as prepared as I can be. Meditation is the key to help me create peace and acceptance as I step into the thousand petaled lotus.