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Daily Connect: What to Do When Your Mother Dies

The week before my mother's death, I knew what to do.  Make travel plans, talk to doctors and nurses, comfort my mom, reassure her friends, make arrangements for my cats alone in my NYC apartment, notify family and loved ones.  Childhood friends rushed to help and support me.  The week after my mom died, I also knew what to do; organize her cremation and memorial service, coordinate disposition of her things and her house, listen to strangers, neighbors, family, friends, and settle financial matters. Once again, childhood friends rushed to help and support me.  But now it's the week after the week after my mom died, and I really don't know what to do.  

I'm back in my apartment, with my community, with many friends old and new, but I really feel somehow lost and anxious and afraid to be alone.  I'm so exhausted it feels like I'm coming down with the flu. I really want to buy an iPad.  I'm meditating often but my mind is all over the place;  I practice counting up to twenty-one breaths but have to stop and start again at "one" over and over.  As a Buddhist, I've read and heard so much about death and dying but haven't learned too much about grief.  What follows is a bit of advice I've recently found helpful.  

We tend to freeze or harden against grief because it’s so painful. We bring in the clouds. In fact, we're good at bringing in the clouds and keeping them in place. We’re good at fixating on them. But when you practice the teachings that say, “Stay with the grief, see it as your link to all humanity,” you begin to understand that grief is a doorway to realizing that the sun is always shining. You begin to understand that the weather is transient like clouds in the sky. You begin to have more trust in the underlying goodness—the underlying “sun quality”—of your being.
I am not saying that you will not become sad when a friend departs, but there will be no mourning. And that sadness will have a beauty of its own, a depth, a silence that always comes when you encounter death. That sadness will be very meditative. It will reveal something within you that life could not reveal. Life remains superficial; just like laughter, it remains superficial. Death is very deep, like sadness. But sadness is not mourning, sadness has its own delight; sadness is not sorrow, sadness is simply depth.
Sadness means that thinking has stopped. How can you think in front of death? Thinking may be useful in life. Life may need your thinking because cunningness, cleverness is needed; but what is the point of thinking in front of death? If you are sad that simply means that suddenly, the thinking has stopped; the death has been a shock -- you are stripped to your very depth. You cannot laugh, but there is a subtle delight in it, a silence, a sacred silence. The vulgarity of life is gone, and death has opened a new door; the door of the beyond. You will feel thankful towards death, but this is possible only if you live now. If this moment is lived in its total intensity, in its utter wholeness, only then is it possible.  
When death is simply an expected part of (this) life, do we grieve?  Oh, yeah.
When my mother died, I received one of the best teachings of my life on grief. I realized that I only had one chance to grieve her. As a Buddhist, I felt I had a kind of choice. On the one hand, I could be a so-called “good Buddhist” and accept death and let go of my mother with great dignity. The other alternative was to scour my heart out with sorrow. I chose to scour. . .  The experience was humbling for me. And when I finally got to the bottom of it, I found that my mother had become an ancestor. As I let her go, she became a healthy part of me.
So I'm still not really quite sure what I'm going to do now, but once I heard about a doctor at a teaching hospital who instructed her medical students, "Don't just do something, stand there." I'm going to keep reading and listening, and leaning on friends for support, but mostly I think I'm just going to stand here for while.  
Great guru, enlightened one,
Please remain on the crown of my head.
With compassion look upon all sentient beings,
Each one of whom was once my mother,
Especially, look upon my mother of this life,
Whose fate is now in your hands.
I went off, thinking I'd meet
My mother one more time.
I did not meet her--
I met her bones.
Considering, reflecting,
The memory of my mother
Comes to mind…
“I have no need to meditate any further on impermanence and death. My mother gave me these teachings, and vanished. Now, if I don't practice the Dharma--what else is there?”
Shabkar, from The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin
Peace to Everyone Everywhere!  (And special thanks to all those dear ones who have shown me such kindness and love.)
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We all love you so much Kim.


Peace and love to you, Kim.

Peace and love to you, Kim. Thank you.

thank you for your

thank you for your willingness to share this most intimate of moments and allow us all to be inspired by your clarity, beauty, opennenss. <3
much warmth and love to you in this time.
and blessings to your mother on her journey...

Big hugs from the West Coast

Thank you for sharing Kim. You are very brave.



I hope it is not

I hope it is not inappropriate to suggest this, but Kahlil Gibran wrote a lovely piece "On Death" in "The Prophet" that calms me when I am grieving: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jrcole/gibran/prophet/prophet.htm#Death

Lovely, Kim. Give me a call

Lovely, Kim.

Give me a call if you feel like hanging out with someone.



standing with you

First Teacher.
this reflection is a great gift Kim. Thank you for sharing.

oceans of metta

for you, kim.
be gentle with yourself.
xo, nancy

hang in there

Thank you for writing this and sharing this with us Kim. I know how weird it is after a parent dies and there is no one right way to handle it. Just take each moment as it comes. We are all here for you.



What To Do When Your Mother Dies

KimB your writings are so beautiful and moving. This one especially touched me. May you find peace and comfort and love now and always. Thank you. lp

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