Death’s Smile

I have worked as a hospice massage therapist for almost three years and I did not witness someone die. However, a few days ago, I witnessed my first death.

My patient, John, was in his eighties. He died from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. When I arrived at his apartment, his wife, children, and grandchildren where present. They were tearful as John neared death.

I am kind and supportive to the patient’s family, but I focus on my patient. Johns breathing was irregular with a slight pause between his breaths. I gave him a gentle massage on his hands. I’m also a Reiki energy worker, and I could feel happiness radiate from his heart.

After about 10 minutes, I moved to the foot of the hospital bed to hold John’s feet. After a few minutes, I saw him smile. I told his family members that he smiled, and the family gathered around him. Then he smiled two more times. I told his family that “I think it’s getting close.”

John stopped breathing. John’s wife held is face and spoke loving words to him. They knew each other since they were 14 years old.

After a minute, I thought he died, but then he started breathing again. John’s daughter looked at me with confusion. As he breathed, he started to turn purplish gray. John took a few more breaths and then he died. As I gently held his feet, I closed my eyes.

It was a peaceful death. I started to cry with the family. I felt so honored to be there. I silently said “thank you” to John.

John had a close family. It was beautiful how they supported John during his dying process. They loved him so much.

I remember the quote by Todd Burpo, “The one thing love requires is to let others know they are not alone.” We need to be there for each other. We are together in life and in death.

I am so grateful to be alive. I want to rejoice in my continued opportunity to live my life to the fullest.

Namaste, world.

Thousand Petaled Lotus

May you have as many blessings as a thousand petaled lotus.

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.

Namaste, world.


Self-Realization

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I have two selves: one internal and one external. Lately, I am getting to know my external self. The external self is the self that everyone sees and hears. I am looking from the outside in and creating a different perspective. Stephen Levine, an American poet and author, says that when we die, we pass out of a body and “we see that the body which we thought of us, the mind which we thought of as us, is quite a bit different, that life itself is a good deal different then we had ever imagined.”

When I die and look down at my body, will I even recognize that it’s me? When I listen to my voice on a recorder, it doesn’t sound like the voice that I hear. When I see a video of myself, I act and move differently than I thought.

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Nonself means that you are made of elements which are not you. During the past hour, different elements have entered you and other elements have flown out of you. Your happiness, in fact your existence, comes from things that are not you.” He continues to say in his book, The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching, “The teachings of impermanence and nonself were offered by the Buddha as keys to unlock the door of reality. We have to train ourselves to look in a way that we know that when we touch one thing, we touch everything. We have to see that the one is in all and the all is in one.”

Maybe when I look down at my dead body I will understand how I can be and not be. I will see that I have a self and a nonself. And that I was made to be fluid, like the elements. Also, I will understand how we are all one because we share the same elements.

I cannot be attached to my life, and my body is not mine to keep. It is subject to illness, old age, and death. If I am fluid, then I have the ability to flow and change shape. I am a true shapeshifter.

Sadhguru, an Indian yogi and mystic, says you are the only doorway to the existence for yourself. It is our job to find out everything about ourselves. Exploration will lead us to self-realization. The more you know about yourself, the better you will live . For example, if you want to know how to use a camera, the more you know about it, the better.

So, it is good to look at life through different lenses. It will help us open our minds and lead us to self-realization.

Namaste, world.

 

 

 

 

True Grace

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There is a lot of stigma and fear about death. The fear is that if we talk about death, we might invite it to come closer. However, we do not need to be afraid. Make a decision to have a strong mind and a brave heart. Death will come when it comes.

I like to talk and write about death. As a hospice massage therapist, I work with the dying almost every day. Recently, I had one patient that has shown me true grace in the dying process. Darlene was an 86-year-old woman who died of ovarian cancer. Darlene was quiet and reserved. She told me that she liked to sit in her recliner and be quiet. As a devote Christian woman, she would pray too. She did not watch the television or listen to music.

When I asked Darlene about her upcoming death, she said that it was God’s will. She surrendered with peace and grace. She always had a sweet smile and a calm spirit.

I hope that someday, when I approach my death, I will be like Darlene. I want to have true grace. I imagine grace to be like an eagle soaring. Darlene just let death happen. She spread her wings and let go with bravery and dignity.

And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of His hand.

When we die, we put a lot of trust into God. I think we have limited minds and do not realize our potential as spiritual beings. We will raise up on eagles’ wings.

We are eternal beings. We will have a new life after this one. I think that the new life will either be in a heaven-like realm or a new life through birth. We must have gratitude for the awesomeness of our lives. It is a gift to be alive and healthy.

Namaste, world.

 

 

The Lived Life

butterfly girlI have been thinking a lot about the quality of life and death. My Buddhist teacher, Bhante Sathi, asked me one simple question that will not get out of my head. He asked me, “Are you satisfied with your life?” And I replied, “Yes.” When I look at my life, I am satisfied with everything that I did. I have a few things that I would do differently, but, all in all, I am satisfied.

An unlived life causes the fear of death. If you are happy with your life, then you can let go. But if you feel that you did not live your life, then fear can appear. Are YOU satisfied with your life?

Almost every day, I sit with the dying. I see my patients mortality and my mortality and the brief span of time that we call life. The Buddhists believe, just like in nature, there are two events: birth and death. I, too, believe that we are part of a cycle of birth and death (reincarnation). I do not fear death. However, I am curious.

Do you sleep at night? Sleep is the twin of death (Yalom, 2008). We experience a taste of death every night. Death is part of us, part of nature. And every morning is a symbol of rebirth. All things begin and end and then start again.

Most of my hospice patients decline until they are in a sleep-like coma. Also, they hold their breath. Some hospice practitioner’s call this, “Fish out of the water.” They retain their breath like a fish out of water, opening and closing its mouth. After they hold their breath, then they need to catch their breath. So it’s a cycle of retention (holding the breath) and fast breathing.

When I watch my patients breathe, I understand the importance of learning pranayama (regulation of the breath through specific techniques and exercises). Pranayama exercises help us to prepare for death. As a yoga practitioner, I understand the value of training the prana (breath/life-giving force). According to B. K. S. Iyengar (yoga master), it is best to practice pranayama with an experienced Guru or a skilled teacher.

Meditation also helps us prepare for death. Again, we watch the breath. In life, the breath is always with us.

When you are satisfied with your life, there is no fear of death. You lived your life to the fullest! No regrets. The essence of who you are stays with you. You go to sleep as you, and you wake up as you. It is through wisdom that we see the truth.

Namaste, world.

Reference:

Yalom, I. D. (2008). Staring at the sun: Overcoming the dread of death. London, Great Britain: Piatkus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death is Like Floating on Water

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Death is like floating on water.

There’s a lot of death in my life right now. My father died, a childhood friend died, my best friend’s grandma died, and now my hospice patient died. I was with my hospice patient, Glenda, during her last moments.

Glenda laid peacefully in her hospital bed. She was motionless except for her slow, rhythmic breathing. I gave her a gentle foot massage. As I rubbed her feet, I noticed that I kept my eyes on her face. I knew at that moment; I was bearing witness to her death.

I do not know what it is like to die in this life. I am still living! However, after I did some Reiki for Glenda, I had a feeling of death. I balanced her Chakras, with my hands, starting with her head and then down to her feet. When I hovered over her high heart chakra, I felt a tingling sensation and vibration. There was a lot of peace and acceptance in Glenda. She died that night. The next morning during my meditation is when I received the message that death is like floating on water.

When I float on the water, I have to relax my whole body and trust that I can float. If I’m nervous or scared, I can’t float. There is a surrendering that happens. Maybe death is like that. When we die, we need to relax and trust the process. And surrender.

Surrender to something familiar and unfamiliar. A journey of comfort and love.

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Choose to stay with your experience, seeing it not as the death of the self you’ve come to know, but the birth of your new life as Light. – Llyn Roberts

Namaste, world.

 

 

 

 

Forgiveness

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Forgiveness – The Key to Freedom

My dad died four weeks ago. One thing that I have learned so far since his death is that I need to forgive. I forgive to let go. Resentment and fear hold me back. How can I make myself light as a bird? Forgiveness.

After my dad had died, I was surprised about how people reacted. For example, all my co-workers knew that my father died, but only a few said anything to me. I understand that some people do not know what to say. So, therefore, in this case, I need to forgive people who did not acknowledge my dad’s passing.

I am learning that I have to do what is right in my heart and mind. No matter what other people are doing, I need to do what is right.

Please remember from my older post “Metta for All,” that we all need to show loving-kindness and active interest in others. When you show someone that you care about them and think about them – this is true Metta. Your presence and compassion create the spiritual leap we need as humans.

When I walk down a busy street, and I make no eye contact with other humans – this is not loving-kindness. When I walk down a street, and I make eye contact and chat with strangers – this is loving-kindness.

When my co-worker’s mother was just in the hospital, and I do not show concern or ask questions – this is not loving-kindness. When my co-worker just attended a funeral, and I express concern, ask questions, and offer help – this is loving-kindness.

Remember small gestures of kindness go a long way.

Namaste, world.

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Facing Loss With Equanimity

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My mom tells me that people who cry have big hearts. When we have a loss, the feelings swell up in our hearts, and we cry. Losing a loved is so challenging. Every human being will face loss. My question is: How can we face loss with equanimity? Equanimity means to face a difficult situation with mental calmness and composure. There are different kinds of loss but in this article, I will discuss the loss of a loved one.

We say “hello” to the people and animals in our life, get to know them, and create memories. And then we need to say “good-bye.” It’s an endless cycle of birth and death – like the seasons. This planet is our school. We learn, over time, to have more grace and equanimity in our lives.

One way to create equanimity is to see the world in a different way, have a different perspective. When we understand the nature of impermanence, we know that nothing can last forever. We must instill hope and peace in our hearts to carry on.

I lost a beloved dog a few days ago. It was my brother’s dog, but I took care of it for almost a year. I tried to face this situation with equanimity, but my emotions took over. My definition of equanimity goes beyond having mental calmness. My definition includes having spiritual awareness, mindfulness, and understanding of loss.

Life is so tragic, but we can create equanimity by remembering how much we love our loved ones. Love is timeless and can cross dimensions on an energetic level. The love in our hearts will reach our loved ones.

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I would like to share a simple heart meditation. I  learned this technique in graduate school. It’s from the HeartMath Institute (www.heartmath.org). You can do this meditation with your eyes open or closed. Also, you can do this meditation anywhere and anyplace. There are only three steps:

Step 1: Bring your awareness to your heart. Place your hand on your chest to feel your heart center. Be aware of the feelings in your heart.

Step 2: Take three deep breaths. As you breathe, feel the air pass by your heart center on each inhalation and exhalation.

Step 3: Think of a special place or person or animal that brings you a lot of joy. Bring that moment into your mind’s eye. Play it in your mind like a movie. Feel the emotions of the moment. Feel the joy and love in your heart.

This simple meditation can help you to connect with your heart and your emotions. I hope this meditation lifted your spirits and brought you calmness and joy.

Here are some equanimity key points, by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., “Buddha’s Brain: The practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom:”

  • Equanimity means not reacting to your reactions, whatever they are.
  • Equanimity creates a buffer around the feeling tones of experiences so that you do not react to them with craving. Equanimity is like a circuit breaker that blocks the normal sequence in the mind that moves from feeling tone to craving to clinging to suffering.
  • Equanimity is not coldness, indifference, or apathy. You are present in the world but not upset by it. The spaciousness of equanimity is a great support for compassion, kindness, and joy at the happiness of others.
  • In daily life and meditation, deepen your equanimity by becoming increasingly mindful of the feeling tones of experience and increasingly disenchanted with them. They come and they go, and they’re not worth chasing or resisting.

Namaste, world.

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