I recently spent almost 7 days retreating from the world and spending the most wonderful time with my family after the death of my dear Gran. Of course, not the wonderful as in, heaps of fun and photos, but the kind of wonderful you get when you feel nourished, enriched and whole again. Gran's passing has meant that we needed to come together to remember her, and share our stories about her, and in doing so, we have added chapters to our own life stories.
The family connection and returning to one's nest is but one part of what Gran's death offered me, but with the death of a loved one comes a whole new perspective on life, especially if you've been caught up in the world of career, parenting, housing and being a wife, on the treadmill in a major city, battling traffic, runny noses, stale bread, starving chooks, hairy legs and a garden in desperate need of a weed.
So what has Gran's passing gifted me? The gift of non-attachment. Materially - "you come into this world with nothing, you leave with nothing" said my mum as we were packing up Gran's room at the nursing home. All her belongings, so much a part of her in life, were left behind. Emotionally - I have never come so close to death, my Pop having been the only other person who passed away while I was overseas when I was 12. But I faced death front on, holding Gran's hand the weekend before she died, telling her that it was okay to let go, that she needn't hold on any longer. Spending time with Gran in this way helped me to experience an emotional non-attachment to my own fate. That yes, we will all die, including me, my family, my friends. This is obvious in writing and intellectually, but is a difficult battle to accept emotionally for many people.
Finally, Gran's death propelled my spiritual growth which is a gift in and of itself. I dived into the spiritual classic, Sogyal Rinpoche's The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, reading and re-reading passage after passage on spiritual help for the dying, meditation practices for the dying, the practice of pho-wa and tonglen and the physical and metaphysical processes of death and dying. I felt honoured to have had this opportunity to practice my spirituality with my grandmother. The book is perfect for anyone needing help to come to terms with the death of a loved one.
Yes, that's her on the couch with Archie, a photo I call 'the two fatties'.
How has the death of a loved one affected you? Have you had any exposure to The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying?