STORIES OF PASSAGE
Telling stories is our most fundamental form of communication. Since the time before the written word, the story has been the common language of humanity–how we share knowledge, how we record our legacies and history, and a vital way that we witness ourselves.
The realities of loss and grieving are integral to acknowledging the importance of our lives, and the healing needed in order to carry on. The following stories authenticate the truth of impermanence and how it affects us, and the amazing strength we find within ourselves to be present for others. This inspiration can help us to continue serving, and these stories exemplify the openness and wisdom that result from being present.
When you scroll down you will find:
Summer Reflections... by Gaea Yudron
Let's Sit Down and Talk... by TLC Director, Julie Rogers
In Between Death and Birth... by TLC Board Member, Leslie Crabtree
A Brief Meeting... by Gaea Yudron
Facing Grief... by TLC Director, Julie Rogers
Grieving Laurel... by TLC Board Member, Leslie Crabtree
My Mother's Death... by Duncan Scott
A Year of Loss: October 2007–October 2008... TLC Board Member, Leslie Crabtree
Summer Reflections ~ by Gaea Yudron
Small clouds of insects darting in the sun, the sound of bees in the flowering trees, bees in the fragrant lavender that blooms all over town. The cool water of nearby creeks. Wonderful bird songs. Summer. A beautiful season. I am 81, and I’ve experienced many summers. Of course, this one could be the last. Or not.
I was lying on the loveseat looking out at the sky, and I was recalling three deaths that occurred during my childhood. Each of them resonated in me for years. Perhaps you had similar experiences when you were young. I wonder if you did.
My Uncle Steve was my godfather and I loved him more than any of my other relatives. But our time together was short; he died when I was 5 or 6. When my parents told me about his death, they seemed deeply uncomfortable, as if they were unsure of their footing. It felt as if we had suddenly become lost in the midst of a deep fog. What was wrong? Was it so bad or dangerous? Wasn’t he still nearby even if he was dead? I wanted to see my dear Uncle Steve again, to say goodbye. I begged my parents to take me to see him. They looked down, looked away, and told me no, that was not possible. I felt very alone. I don’t know what they felt. They believed that death was just too much for a child to view or navigate. Children had to be shielded from it. So, I endured my loss in a lonely way, feeling misunderstood and terribly deprived. Although I could not have articulated it then, it seemed wrong to keep me from saying goodbye, wrong to prevent me from expressing my grief near his body. Of course, I was not allowed to attend his funeral.
There was a tragedy in our neighborhood a few years later. Larry, a little boy who lived down the street, was hit by a car and died. I was playing in his backyard with several other children when it happened. Before being pushed away and ordered back to my house, I realized that my mother was the driver. Standing near her car, she sobbed hysterically. She was driving very slowly. Larry had run right out in front of the car. Of course, we were not allowed to see Larry. Later, I heard my parents talking. Larry’s parents were angry at my mother. Because of her, Larry was dead. They were acting as if she had done it purposely. I was stunned by Larry’s death. I had been playing with him moments before. But my mother’s torment is what I most remember.
Our house was closed in. The shades were pulled; the curtains shut. The priest visited every day. Crying continuously and praying her rosary, my mother stayed in bed in her dark room. The smell of the frankincense the priest offered filled the whole house. It was hard to bear my mother’s suffering. I wondered if light would ever enter our house again, if she would ever smile or laugh or if she would always have the stark, afflicted visage she showed us then. I was frightened. Eventually, the priest stopped visiting. My mother grimly, wearily rose up out of her bed. We raised the shades and opened the curtains. It slowly lightened. But it was grayish for a long time.
Then there was The Beauty Lady, who had a place of honor with the kids in our neighborhood. She was a petite woman who wore a jaunty hat, and carried her purse just so. She was not a classic beauty. The name we gave her was a tribute to her spirit. We loved greeting her as she walked down the street. She seemed genuinely interested in us children, smiling and paying attention to us in a way that few other adults did. It made us feel happy. The Beauty Lady had no children of her own. She lived with her husband in a little house at the end of the street.
One day, my friend Shirley gave me some awful news. She told me that The Beauty Lady was dead and that her body was lying in a coffin in her living room, awaiting burial. Of course, we quickly determined to go up to her house and say goodbye. We made our way up the woodsy driveway at the end of the block. Her husband, looking very sad indeed, opened the door and invited us in. Nobody else was there. There she was, The Beauty Lady, looking peaceful and still. Shirley and I cried as we sat by her body. Her husband sat quietly, tears streaming down his face. How meaningful and sacred that moment was to me. Having the opportunity to say goodbye to The Beauty Lady changed me. I had been invited in and given the time to be with her.
I never said anything about our visit to my parents. I had a different perspective than they did, it seemed.
This essay first appeared in Gaea Yudron’s Sage’s Play blog, where she focuses on creative, positive aging, impermanence, and death. Her blog address is: sagesplay.blogspot.com
Let’s Sit Down and Talk for Tom Junod and Mr. Fred Rogers ~ by Julie Rogers
I recently watched the film about Mr. Rogers and his friend, the journalist Tom Junod, called ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’. Watched it for the second time. Toward the end I paused the film—I had to write this down. Mr. Rogers said, “You know, death is something many of us are uncomfortable speaking about. But to die is to be human and anything human is mentionable. Anything mentionable is manageable.”
Mr. Rogers’ wife was named Joanne. My mother’s name was Joanne Rogers and she died 22 years ago. Particularly when I was young, we endured a long struggle, but her struggle to live was a short one–a single month alive in the hospital after a stroke. Then Mom was gone–poof. She had a serious run in with impermanence. Lucky for us, even though it wasn’t enough time, we talked some things out. It took years and I wasn’t done, but by the time she passed I felt basically resolved, and I think she did too. The last thing she said was, “I am,” when my daughter said, “Grandma, just be with Jesus.”
When Walt Rogers, my dad, died in the back of an ambulance calling, “Joanne! Joanne...” it was very different. The chemo had wasted him. I’d come home with my six-year old daughter, Sangye, to visit Grammy and Grandpa for Easter. On the last day of our trip, I asked everyone to leave the house so Dad and I could be alone and talk. Finally, I had the nerve to say it. “I want to know you.”
He said, “What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to call me every Saturday.” He agreed. He died days later on Friday morning.
Everyone has something to resolve. One of the last things the Buddha said to his disciples, now called “The Sutra of the Eleven Perceptions*”, or recognitions, was to completely forgive everyone, or rather, to release all grudges. That’s a tall order. To forgive all the pain caused by oneself and others...because we need to forgive ourselves too. Forgive the suffering caused by ourselves and everyone else, experienced by each of us... even the earth’s suffering. All of it caused by simple (and very complicated) ignorance. Not even necessarily intentional harm. We tend to have some unhelpful habits around here.
To do this right, we need to talk about it so we can get clear. Only we can manage to do that. A lot of us fear death as much as opening up and revealing ourselves to each other. To really communicate together, it seems essential to actually talk amongst ourselves so we can get real and see who we are while we have this opportunity. So we can work things out. Now.
We have all the time in the world until we don’t. I feel that one of the most important things we can do anytime is to express our hearts, our true being, to those we know, care about, love, or have any kind of relationship with. Which pretty much includes most everyone, and animals. Anything that feels can feel us, and vice-versa.
All the preparations: the Will, the important paperwork, the legacy, all of this can be written down and that’s extremely helpful (another good deed, believe me)—it’s necessary for everyone to do this if they’re able to, especially those who have stuff that needs to go somewhere, or be taken care of, including our own body, once we don’t need it any longer. Showing our concern enough to talk about our life and our death might seem brave and heroic (it can be), but I’m going with Mr. Rogers, who said, “...to die is to be human and anything human is mentionable. Anything mentionable is manageable.”
We just need to work with accepting ourselves, managing ourselves, and forgiving everyone as the world continues to change, and time passes. It would do us good to talk things over. This will help us to be more authentic, it will lift the weight of isolation, and it will show us the huge difference between unnecessary suffering and facing the reality of impermanence—enriching our lives and easing our deaths. This kind of intimacy lives on in our hearts. The willingness to talk will help release us and will help those we care about to let go. It’s a win-win for everyone. Let’s just sit down, and talk.
In Between Death and Birth ~ by Leslie Crabtree
We all experience the death of someone we care about. As we get older, loss becomes a bigger and bigger part of our lives. But some losses are far greater than others.
For me, the death of Whitney stands starkly because he was a brilliant young person on the very cusp of what looked to be an incredible life.
The son of dear friends and a child I had known since before his first breath, Whitney died of a brain aneurism two weeks before his 18th birthday in March of 2000. He was a truly exceptional young man, student, artist, achiever and compassionate friend, son and brother. He was about to graduate from high school and was waiting for college acceptance letters. He was just the kind of young person that the world needs so desperately now. The aneurism caused him to go from vibrant life to death in an instant. There was no one to blame, no reckless driver, no bad behavior. It was just his all-too-short life span.
I always mark the day of his death and feel that loss once again. On his birthday, I think again about his short life, ended just as it was bursting with potential. This year, I was struck as never before by his death coming before his birthday. The two weeks in between are like a bardo, the term in Tibetan Buddhism for the period between death and rebirth into a new body. Whitney’s birthday now feels like his transformation into whatever new form he assumed after his time in the Bardo of Becoming, which I always pictured with him making a camp, cooking for and providing for all the lost souls that found their way to his cheery campfire and pot of bubbling soup, like the good Eagle Scout he was.
Now, his birthday feels like his re-birth day to me. His short life was one of virtuous action and merit. I’m convinced that Whitney was reborn into some new and brilliant form and I dearly hope to meet him again one day, in this life or another. I probably won’t recognize him. I’ll just know I’m in the presence of a great soul and remarkable being.
A Brief Meeting ~ by Gaea Yudron
The opera was about to begin but I didn't know where my seat was located. I held out my ticket to the white-haired usher who stood nearby and said "Excuse me sir, but can you...." But he turned away from me, leaning heavily against the big door that led into the opera house.
Putting my ticket in my pocket, I reached out to touch his arm. "Are you okay?" I asked. When he turned toward me and began to fall I saw that his eyes were wonderfully blue. He began to fall towards me without a word, his face flushed, his hair pure white. Our eyes met. It was just a momentary glance. I want to say that he fell into my arms. I surely intended to catch him in my arms, but as he came closer, moving as slowly as a cloud, I missed him somehow. It was as if he passed through my arms like water.
Slowly he fell and his body hit the floor, crumpling down onto the carpet of the opera house lobby. He was still, as boulders are when they have come to rest at the bottom of a hill. I gently turned him onto his back. His wonderful blue eyes gazed up into space. He was not in the ordinary world, whatever the ordinary world meant to him all the other moments of his life. He was elsewhere in some more expanded reality. He looked innocent as a baby and entirely as vulnerable.
And when I looked down at him, he was not simply a dignified, corpulent older man in a dark gray suit who had fallen suddenly to the floor. He was very beautiful. Perhaps it was his absorption that made him so beautiful. All of his customary faces and attitudes, whatever they might have been, had dissolved and he was simply there. It occurred to me that he might be dying. In fact, I thought he was dying. Perhaps I was being arrogant to think I knew the moment of his death. I wasn't a doctor. Yet it appeared to me that he had had a heart attack and was dying. When I looked into his eyes he seemed as if he was already moving beyond his body, out into the blue reaches of the sky where everything was the color of his beautiful eyes.
More than anything, I wanted to comfort and reassure him. I took his white haired head into my hands and held it at the crown. I stroked his face. "It's all right. It's all right," I murmured softly to him. While I stroked him and spoke these words I communicated with him. For he and I were linked in some place where ordinary time had given way to the boundless reaches of the timeless. I held his head, stroked his beautiful face and looked into his blue eyes as they gazed far beyond our mortal meeting.
And I thought to myself, what would I wish for if I had fallen as he had, in a public place far from my family, if I were ill or dying as I thought he might be at that moment? I imagined myself in his place, my apparently secure everyday reality suddenly swept away. What would I want then? I would wish for warmth, love, and calm. I would wish for someone to help me align myself with my spiritual essence. So I tried to give him those things with my hands and my intention.
It never occurred to me to be anything other than calm. Someone else would call the ambulance. Someone else might attempt to revive him. If it was his time to die, then he could die safely here. He could send his consciousness out into the light through the top of his head. There where my fingers touched him, he could send it out. That's what I focused on. Meanwhile, a man rushed up and began to shout excitedly. " Help! Help! Call the ambulance! He needs to breathe! Get this loosened! His neck is constricted! Loosen his tie! His shirt!" I said nothing while he frantically tried to unbutton the top shirt button and to loosen the necktie.
The white-haired man was still. and his stillness aroused frenzy in the man who came to help. I think it reminded him of the stillness that would one day overcome him, too. "God damn it, God damn it! I can't do this," he moaned and shouted as he worked at the buttons and tie. Then a woman in a cobalt blue dress arrived. She began trying to resuscitate the white-haired gentleman, pushing mightily on his great chest and breathing into his mouth. The frantic man finally succeeded in unbuttoning the top button and loosening the tie. Then with frustration and anger, he wildly pulled the white-haired man's entire shirt open, cursing and shouting.
If I were dying, I would wish for someone much more calm. "Whether this man is living or dying, you are not helping him with all your shouting," I told the shouter firmly. He subsided, shocked. Another man arrived, saying that he was a doctor. He and the woman in the bright blue dress took turns trying to revive the fallen man. It seemed as if time trailed out to the ends of the universe. Pressing, releasing, breathing into the mouth over and over, and yet the fallen man exhaled only two great breaths under their mighty efforts. His mouth turned dark. His ears grew purplish red. The woman stuck her fingers way into his mouth to see if she could unclog his breathing.
Still, his eyes gazed up innocently into space. I continued to hold his head and to stroke his face. They could not find a pulse. The ambulance came. The emergency crew rushed up the stairs with their equipment and stretcher. Silently, I told the man that I was letting go of his head, but that I would continue to visualize him as a being of light. I would continue to visualize his consciousness exiting from the top of his head. I would continue to be connected to his passage. I walked to my seat in the opera house. My hands remained hot for hours. Sitting quietly as the music washed through me, I visualized holding the head of the white-haired man, and gave thanks for our brief encounter.
Facing Grief ~ A Message from the Director by Julie Rogers 11-25-18
Since my husband died almost a year ago, I find myself grieving between the cracks. Due to incredible sadness, worldly responsibilities, setting my husband’s affairs, unfinished business, and end of life residuals in order, working with family needs, trying to support myself alone, lack of sleep, lack of time, and other issues, I'm still somewhere out in the ocean. The things I’ve found helpful are Buddhist practice, writing, being with friends, and close contact with my family.
I’ve learned that community is sometimes only a concept, and even in the Buddhist Sangha people tend to be very busy. Or perhaps it’s that we back off from death. This I learned in hospice training and heard from my mother after my dad died – her friends suddenly didn’t invite her over. Said they would, but didn’t. Months went by. Maybe people don’t know what to say. We’re preoccupied, we forget. But suddenly, there you are without your life companion (or best friend or work partner or parent or child), very much alone. This is compounded by the isolation that results from people keeping their distance. Good intentions aside, if one doesn’t follow through on lending a hand and being a friend, seclusion can result.
It could be that folks tell themselves that the one grieving needs time: time to weep, to take stock, to (by yourself) disperse the belongings of one so close to you, to rearrange the house, to rest. But I’ve discovered it’s not quite the way we imagine it. You have too much time, and often it’s spent coping, lost in a fog, trying to take care of things you’ve never done and never wanted to. You can’t think clearly, you don’t sleep well, you’re lonely – it’s a true story that most of us don’t want to hear, and just about everyone endures at some point.
When we look past ourselves and out across life at someone else, please notice - this is the time when we can benefit others in a most profound way. We can make ourselves available to listen, we can offer our assistance, go have a bite to eat, get out of the house with someone willing to feel, and willing to be with us. It can be difficult to “reach out” when life is rough–it’s often easier to reach “in” and offer a hand. Sometimes, simply being able to listen is the best medicine. So much is to be gained from this openness.
I’m asking our community to put someone else first. We are so busy, so distracted, yes tired, even self-absorbed, because that’s what this life’s existence can come to. To make time for those who are under the weather or just plain infirm, who are bereaved, who are unable to get around, who need help at home, this is valuable practice–the practical application of training in compassion is just being a friend. We can make ourselves available to be human, to embody the idea of community, to exchange self for others. It’s so important. We can make a real difference in each other’s lives simply by our presence.
Grieving Laurel ~ for Laurel Hansen by Leslie Crabtree
I met Laurel in 1975. I was 23 and she was 20. We both worked at a little Mexican restaurant in Ashland, Oregon where I cooked and she waited tables. We wore tiny halter tops and skirts made of Indian bedspreads as we glided across the floor in our Birkenstocks. Two hippy chicks! I moved away but we visited every summer until I was finally able to move back for good. In the intervening years, we both got married, had kids, got divorced and remarried. We had also both become Buddhists. We had become very different women but seemed to have grown in the very same direction.
She died on Saturday, just one month after her 59th birthday.
Laurel and I began cooking together for Buddhist retreats. Generally we would be cooking for over 100 people for 10 days, lunch and dinner. We had to accommodate every dietary possibility and the challenge was fun, hard work. Our favorite Buddhist Lama asked us to travel to Brazil where she had moved and cook her Mexican food, which she loved and could not find down there. We spent a month following her all over Brazil, sight-seeing and cooking. It was high adventure and a total blast. Laurel was one of the most steadfast and reliable people I ever knew, never too busy to say "No" and always helping people in her community. In our small town, she was one of the people that EVERYBODY knew.
She had been feeling "off" since the end of the summer, bad digestion, back aches, nothing very specific but nobody she consulted seemed to be able to figure out what was wrong. She began to suffer serious pain in October that still baffled her doctor.
Finally in mid-December she was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which had already spread to her liver.
Pancreatic cancer doesn't respond to chemotherapy and there was no surgical or radiation option. Her children and grandchildren came for a surreal Christmas as she tried to make everything as sweet and normal as possible but that very effort exhausted her and she really began to weaken after they left.
She wasn't the type to just surrender and she tried to keep herself as strong as possible but she suffered more and more from nausea and increasing pain. Over her final two months everything seemed to happen so fast that her family and friends couldn't keep up. She got a blood clot and then just when that and her pain seemed to be under control she suffered a stroke. Her favorite teacher had flown from Brazil to spend two days with her and Laurel was unable to speak. She communicated volumes with her eyes, however, but it seemed particularly cruel to have that essential quality taken from her.
A week later she entered hospice at home. She seemed to sleep more and more and it became clear that she was sinking. I had one last visit where I told her how much I adored her and what a wonderful friend she had always been and got a last big smile. After that she stopped holding our hands and meeting our eyes. No more smiles with those great big dimples.
Saturday her breathing was labored and she never opened her eyes. That afternoon, her husband, children and grandchildren nearby, a group of four of her closest Buddhist girlfriends began singing prayers and special Buddhist mantra. We sang into the evening as her breathing eased and became shallower with longer pauses in between. We finished singing and just sat as she breathed a few more times and then simply ceased.
It was gentle and felt profoundly spiritual. I felt fortunate to be part of something so amazing. Years before, Laurel and I attended a home birth for one of our dear girlfriends. That resonated as watching someone die is remarkably like watching someone be born. Both are all about breathing but one is very happy and one very sad.
Her exit was so graceful that I felt lifted and at peace on Saturday night. Sunday, however, I woke up to a world without my dear friend. I woke up to a world where we will never cook together, drink wine and talk about our kids, sit together in a beautiful Buddhist temple listening to our teachers, laugh about how many trips and adventures we had shared.
I feel devastated.
When we are young we think life is all about having fun. As we grow older we learn that life becomes more and more about loss. The longer we live, the more dear ones we lose. I don't think it ever gets easier, we just learn more about grieving.
Remembering My Mother’s Death ~ for Lilian Ruth Scott, July 2015 by Duncan Scott
My mother’s death arrived more quickly than I was anticipating. I wanted to speak with a lama to get some advice before her passing. Fortuitously, Lama Sonam from Pema Osel Ling responded very quickly to an email I sent to the POL office. He gave me his personal number and asked me to call. Almost the moment Lama Sonam called, the hospice nurse informed my sister that my mother was declining and I received a text message that I needed to get home (I had gone out to work in the morning.) Lama Sonam ordered me to start practicing Vajrasattva and to clearly visualize Vajrasattva above my mother's head. I did this even though I was in the presence of non-Buddhists. I am sorry that I took a break to eat. I think I still didn't realize that my mother's death was imminent.
I was very fortunate to be able to talk to Lama Sonam, Gyatrul Rinpoche, and Khenpo Thrinley in the hours before my mother's passing. Gyatrul Rinpoche's main instruction was to be calm, recite the mani mantra, and not to touch the body after my mother's passing. Fortunately Rinpoche’s attendant left this information as a voicemail that I was able to play for my family to hear, and they respected the advice. I couldn't ask them to recite the mani but they did refrain from touching the body. I did have to fend off the boyfriend of my sister from shaking my mothers' hand about 1/2 hour after she passed. I think I scolded him before he touched her hand. I did do some Vajrasattva practice through the night.
I spoke to Gyatrul Rinpoche right at the moment of my mother's passing. I also called Lama Sonam and Khenpo Thrinley a couple of minutes after. I made offerings to all these lamas on my mother's behalf. I remembered that Sakya Trizin had offered my mother empowerment substances from the recent wang in Berkeley and I invoked him as my mother was passing. Because I had sponsored Medicine Buddha ceremonies for my mother through FPMT, FPMT sent my mother's name with an offering to the Dalai Lama. Other offerings were made.
I put dutsi on my mother's tongue right after her last breath and put dutsi solution on her head. (I think I read later in the transitions book that the dutsi on the crown should be applied before the moment of death.) I also put dutsi solution on her tongue. Lama Sonam told me later that I should use dry dutsi. So maybe I messed everything up, maybe not.
In the morning my mother had a peaceful look on her face. Her eyes were closed. Her mouth closed naturally. Her eyes seemed to be directed toward her crown under the lids. I think Gyatrul Rinpoche had drawn her attention to something. There was a pleasant odor in the room.
I read in the ‘Instructions for the Transitional State’ book about the cremation ceremony. I asked Gyatrul Rinpoche if I should perform one. He said that whatever could be done would help. It was very fortuitous that Lama Sonam agreed to perform the ceremony. I requested a "witnessed" cremation. Not all cremation services will allow you to do this. The funeral home that I contacted in Santa Cruz proved to be excellent (more blessings from the lamas). They contract with a crematorium a few hundred yards from Land of Medicine Buddha surrounded by an old cemetery. When you request a witnessed cremation, they perform only the one cremation that day and hand over the crematorium to you and your guests. The charge was only an extra $400. Myself, Lama Sonam, his consort Stacy, the funeral director, and the crematorium operator were in attendance. I think it was fortuitous that my non-Buddhist family declined to attend (more blessings from the Lama).
Of course the blessings of Lama Sonam were immense as he engaged in a traditional ceremony. We arranged substances around the body according to the text. (Lama Sonam sent me on an extensive shopping trip the preceding day for different kinds of grains, yogurt, honey, and other auspicious substances.) I affixed the mandala that was a terma of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche to my mother's heart. (Lama Sonam said he was familiar with that terma.) Earlier in the morning I had painted it with a dutsi solution, as instructed. I happened to have copy of the mandala of the 100 Peaceful and Wrathful Deities in my car, which Lama Sonam molded around my mother's head. My mother's mouth had opened slightly, which allowed Lama Sonam to fill it with yoghurt. Lama Sonam was given control of the crematorium and pushed the button to start the fire at the appropriate moment in the puja. Afterwards I went to Land of Medicine Buddha to turn the large prayer wheels, to send blessings to my mother.
I have heard some people complain about the quality of hospice care. In our case hospice was supportive, and my sister, myself, and a longtime hired caregiver were very responsive to my mother's nursing needs. One complaint that comes to mind was an overenthusiasm for medication. My mother requested that we not give her morphine. It seemed to induce hallucinations that my mother found more distressing that any pain she was experiencing. So, while she was on morphine in the first weeks after the diagnosis, she declined any morphine in the last week. Hospice really wanted to continue morphine and to add Haldol to control the hallucinations. So we experimented with morphine longer than my mother would have liked. And the day my mothers' aggregates began to dissolve, the hospice nurse and the caregiver administered morphine and Haldol in larger doses. If I were able to dictate to Hospice (via a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care), I would tell them to lay off the Haldol and to administer morphine only as required to treat pain.
I read later that it is fine from a Buddhist perspective to control pain with morphine, but it is considered inappropriate to try to control the psychological process of dying. Apparently this process, as difficult as it might be to experience, is an important process to complete. It is likely that this psychological process is very powerful, and that unless someone was very heavily sedated, the drugs will have little effect.
There were a few difficult days but I am not debilitated by grief. Perhaps the illness of a few months and the steady decline helped to prepare me for the present reality. My primary concern was that I assist my mother as I was able at the time of death according to the instructions of my teachers. Some things could have been handled better, but due to the blessings of the buddhas and lamas (same thing, I know), some things were done well. For that I am happy.
I plan to come the TLC program on Sunday the 26th. I could talk about my experience with Hospice of Santa Cruz. It was overall a very positive experience.
I need to continue to pray. I need to remember that all beings are just as kind as my mother and equally in need of connecting to the Three Jewels.
A Year of Loss: October 2007–October 2008 ~ by Leslie Crabtree
I remember talking to my friend Mimi just before my birthday in the autumn of 2007 about how we were in a bubble of blessings right then. Our families were all fine, husbands, kids and parents doing well, and although we knew it couldn’t last, we recognized that for the moment, All Was Well. For only a few more days as it turned out.
The evening after my birthday I got a stomachache that had me in the emergency room by midnight, October 1. My gall bladder had ejected stones that were blocking my liver and pancreas and was very infected. A week later I was home after two surgeries and a long recovery ahead. My friend Mimi was there at the hospital and organizing friends to cook and help when I got home.
On Halloween 2007 my mother was diagnosed with liver cancer. I was still recovering myself, but from Thanksgiving until her death in March I stayed in Los Angeles, helping my father care for my mother. Unafraid, cheerful even, my mother set an example of how to exit with grace. Still, the daily realities of hospice assisted home care were often overwhelming and when it was too much for me, my friend Mimi kept encouraging me and making sure I knew I was doing the right thing for my parents. Her wisdom and support made that difficult journey possible.
I met Mimi in 1975. We were both 22 years old and I was cooking in a small Mexican restaurant in Ashland, Oregon. One evening I kept hearing someone laughing in the dining room. It was a great laugh, one that made me laugh as well. At the end of the evening a strikingly beautiful woman came to the kitchen to thank me for dinner and when she laughed, I realized she was the person I’d heard. On impulse I asked her over for dinner on the one night I didn’t have to cook at the restaurant and she accepted. From that night on we became best friends.
When we traveled together people almost always thought we were sisters because we were so in tune with each other. I introduced her to her future husband and was there at their little house when their son was born. When I got married and had children, she was an ideal friend, always offering sound advice and love and many laughs. And when I got divorced she helped keep me sane and invited me to live at their home as I put my life back together. When I remarried five years later, she helped me plan a wonderful simple wedding and secretly got all of our guests to fold more than one thousand origami paper cranes that she had strung and which hang in a colorful cascade in our home. She was my most intimate friend and counselor. We shared thoughts that were never shared with other friends, sisters, mothers, children or husbands. In thirty years of friendship, we never had a single fight or were mad at each other for any reason. She was the kind of friend that most people wish for and few are ever fortunate enough to find.
Still stunningly beautiful at age 56, Mimi had a smile and glow that sprung from an inner beauty, a deep understanding, and compassion. She listened with a concentration that let whomever she was speaking with know that they were the most important person in the world at that moment. What is most remarkable about her is that at age 26 she was stricken with a particularly virulent and fast-moving form of rheumatoid arthritis. First showing up just months after the birth of her son, she spent years trying one ineffective therapy after another. It wasn’t until the advent of Enbrel in the 90’s that any therapy truly helped. That smile that captivated everyone sprung from a person who didn’t live her disease but lived with her disease. If you met her, you would never know she had arthritis unless you saw her hands. If she was sitting down and you were introduced to her, you could spend an evening being charmed by her conversation, wit and beauty and never suspect she had spent 30 years in constant pain. She was fragile, yet so strong of spirit that my husband called her "The feather we all leaned on".
So on my birthday in September of 2008, we spent a wonderful evening out at a little restaurant, laughing and talking excitedly about her son’s planned wedding next summer and the presidential election, just weeks away. We reflected on the challenges of the previous year, my own brush with death and the death of my mother, but mainly we looked ahead with great hope. She was going in for a liver biopsy the next morning, just an out-patient procedure, because her liver enzymes were showing some troubling changes, possibly due to the arthritis drugs she was on. Nothing to worry about. However, during the procedure, the doctor nicked an artery, which they discovered while she was still in recovery. They kept her in the hospital for a couple of days, gave her two transfusions and sent her home. I went and saw her because I was driving down to Los Angeles to visit my father for a few days. The next day, as I drove the 700 miles to LA, Mimi began having trouble breathing and her husband took her back into the hospital. The following evening she slipped away. An autopsy found she had continued to bleed internally and died as a result of shock from blood loss.
So now, three months after her death, I am reeling. It was easier right after she died with so many details to attend to, but now things are supposed to be back to "normal", I keep expecting her to come back, or at least call. This is so unlike her.
People assume that the death of my mother is a greater cause for grief, but that felt appropriate because of her age, and sad but not tragic. We all had time to say goodbye to my mother. Not so with Mimi. The loss of Mimi feels like the ground has fallen away and I no longer can even find my path, let alone traverse it. I try to consult my "inner Mimi" but because I relied on her wisdom for so many years, I feel ill equipped to figure out my own life.
I simply had no idea how big a part of my life she was. And I’m saying that as a woman with a wonderful husband and two terrific grown children. The grief seems vast beyond measure, and at times descends on me like a leaden coat. Some days I spend looking out the window and that's about all I can manage.
So here I stand looking back over the past year, stunned by my encounters with death and loss and overwhelmed by the emptiness ahead. I know Mimi would want me to rise above grief and depression. I know that she fought so hard to live, and would want all of her friends and family to live life as fully and as passionately as she did. I just hope I can find my way without my friend at my side. At times it seems like it is all way too much to handle. I know life will eventually get better and I look forward to that day. Right now, it seems very far away.