When Somebody Dies

When somebody dies and even before they take their final breath there is a sense that one is traveling with them. Over the last few days monks at Shasta Abbey have been sitting vigil with a fellow monastic who is getting close to death. Even at this distance I feel drawn into this meditation vigil. Simply having her in mind and knowing others are sitting with her has had its impact on me. Even now as I type this. Whatever I like to call myself has joined the dying process. A meditation.

It is actually quite hard to think and string words together and yet I’m giving it a go since we do try and write a post here every week. What might be going on here in this unbidden vigil? It is clear that physical distance makes no difference to being with somebody on the level of meditation. The shell of a body which houses and animates the person, their personality, their history, their hopes and fears fall away in importance as the death process does itself. I’ve seen that happen in the past with people close to death. What then is left? Not simply an emptying shell I’d say.

We talk about meditation being a preparation for the moment of death when with open hands we let go in faith and trust. Unconditionally. And yet as in meditation so with the death process there are aspects of ourselves which are resistant to our sincere efforts to accept and let go of. And what one might hope for, a peace-filled passing, doesn’t always look that way. And yet it is clear, and who knows how one knows it is clear, there is not just an emptying shell one sits vigil with.

It’s been my experience that there is a vital aliveness around the soon to depart, and recently departed too. This can be missed quite easily by those caught up in the unfolding drama. Which isn’t too much of a problem. I’d like to say that this vital aliveness is unconditional faith/trust making manifest. Well it is a stab at putting words to something. Stronger than any illusion, doubt, fear or confusion vital aliveness  draws itself to itself. As with a magnetic force field there is no arguing.

Cats and children know about this. They go and sit with people who are sitting. I’ve heard of a cat in a care home who got a reputation for sitting on the bed of people about to die! And young children drawn to a parent looking at a wall. Not for long but drawn non the less. So that’s where I am this evening, going in and out. Typing this, sitting a bit like an emptying shell myself!

I’d say in ending that there is something equally compelling around somebody deeply meditating. I knew that in my Master.

5 thoughts on “When Somebody Dies

  1. Interesting that you talk about this ‘aliveness’ after death has occurred. I read that Rev. Alethea passed away on the website news, which was a complete surprise as I did not know she was ill. However, in the days before the memorial at Shasta, she came up quite a bit in my daily routine. It was as if her peaceful presence were coming into focus from time to time.

    • Thanks Sophia. Distance doesn’t make a difference does it! Especially so if there is ‘listening’ going on. I’m glad you tuned in. The Reverend had been very much coming to mind in the weeks leading up to her death.

  2. These last several days while transferring merit, I had this experience.
    I had met the Reverend during my visits to the Abbey and had some smallish conversations but cannot say that I knew her beyond that. So, in offering merit I had only one image of her in my mind, like a black and white photo of her. But, during the offering of the merit to her, the “photo” was real and I sensed a quiet acceptance on her part.
    This is not unique, in that my wife Linda, and myself, have felt the palpable effect of the merit, prayers and good wishes that have been offered to her this past year as she undergoes her particular process of dying. The essential experience has to do with the sense that there is nothing unusual going on, nothing special, we all connect, and are aware of it in different ways.

  3. Thank you, for this posting. I know exactly what you mean. The Reverend became a good friend during our time on the Ethics Working Group. It feels, as you describe, that the miles don’t exist and that a person’s dying is a gift to those around them – a final act of generosity because it gives people an opportunity to ‘open’; to share in the offering of merit, which has a most loving and unifying effect.

    • Lovely Karen. Thank so much for writing here about your understanding and experience of transfer of merit. In so many ways I see that we are always a gift to each other it is just that old age, disease and death are so clearly a need for a boost with our best efforts!

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