A quiet day yesterday. One year since my wife of 28 years (partner for 30) died in Tekoa, WA at the age of 66. Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and for the last two years acute onset of end stage renal failure. She stopped dialysis and was told she would die in 4-6 days. 15 months later, she died, I think peacefully, right in front of me. Actually, that’s not totally accurate.
The day she died I had gone home from the care facility she was in for the last month of her life, for some dinner and to feed the dog and cat. On my way out the door to go back to care center, I thought, I’ll take the Big Book (AA tome), and read her something.
When I got to her room she was laying flat on her back, which was not correct, but they had just bathed her so I elevated the head of bed; I stood at the end of the bed and intoned one of the prayers from the Big Book to her. She had been quite tense and sort of grimacing from the bathing and being left flat on her back and was physically uncomfortable. Several days before she had been left her on a bed pan all night, which created a huge circular wound on her buttocks, so she was tense/apprehensive from all that activity too. She was being medicated so probably wasn’t in pain, the stress of dying after many years of enduring great pain was the issue at this point. She hadn’t eaten in about five days and took only small amounts of water to wet her throat.
When I finished reciting the prayer to her, she relaxed visibly. She sort of settled into the mattress. It was a relief, all around.
I then set a chair next to her bed and just sat there watching her. There was a knock and and a call from the door; one of the nurses aides, a nice young guy with whom I’d only had one little conversation, came in and said he wanted to change the catheter bag. As he was doing that he started telling me a story of his experience with the death of two of his relatives. I forget the details but he was speaking form the heart as he worked, so I listened and watched him. At some point I turned to look at Linda and I realized, Oh, she’s dying, right now. and I turned to tell the young aide that we had a situation, but I saw that he was in the middle of opening his heart. I listened for about another minute and he finished his task and story and quietly left. When I turned back; Linda was dead.
I intoned some Buddhist scriptures, two Exhortations to the Mortally Ill and Dying, and the Scripture of Great Wisdom (Heart Sutra), and told the duty nurse that Linda had died and called our friend Reverend Master Zensho, a priest and monk of our Sangha/Order who lived over in Idaho. He had made all the preparation over a year before. He arrived through a snow storm about 2-3 hours later and we did the Buddhist funeral for a lay person. In that ceremony the deceased is ordained as a Buddhist monk and then prepared for the Funeral. The care center had given us permission to use incense and such and when we were done (it took about an hour and a half), we called the funeral home in town just a block from our house and the Funeral director came and we transported Linda to his place.
I want to say that the help Linda received at that care home was terrific and compassionate. A couple of mistakes were made, but those were all in the human realm. Everyone there did their absolute best. The Funeral director couldn’t have been more compassionate. He understood we were sort of “special needs” as Buddhists (they are not exactly thick upon the ground In far Eastern Washington State), and was caring, professional, attentive and flexible. We knew him and his wife because of the small town (pop. 886) in fact I can’t imagine a better place for Linda to have spent her last nine years of life.
God bless you, good folks of Tekoa!
Anyway, at some point I’ll write more about the process and funeral and cremation and ash distribution and the general aftermath of this death within the human condition. For this post, I just want to say that “they” are right. It takes about a year for things to settle down sufficiently in order to begin to grasp what the reality of the loss is.
I will say this. I went off the rails for a while and made some mistakes; but life and the help of good spiritual friends and the compassion of many good people in my life helped me to regain perspective and tread more carefully the path laid so compassionately under my feet.
Linda, I miss you.
We cobbled together a darn good 30 years. For a couple of drunks who met at an AA meeting and had nothing; we did magnificently. We both stayed sober. We helped each other to grow …
Thank you. I love you.
What a beautiful tribute Helmut. I think of you everytime there is a sangha meeting up here. Even though I am not in attendance anymore I am filled more with joy and peace in my heart from the compassion and presence I feel from OBC members from all over the world. Peace upon the pillow to you my friend. In humble gassho, Jenn