What to do when one of your loved ones is diagnosed with a terminal condition? Do I have any insight? I was asked recently.
It is one of the most agonizing, most painful experiences — to see a loved one wither away in front of your eyes while you put on a brave face and watch helplessly. We are more fragile and more caring than we would ever know. The greater we care about someone the more their pain we feel in our own hearts. Is there any way to be at peace during this difficult time? Allow me to share with you a little story.
In the quiet countryside lived an old physician. He had been seeing patients for more than forty years and was known for his kindness, for making free house calls for the terminally ill. He always took his dog along whenever he visited his patients. The dog would wait outside the patient’s house while the doctor went in to see the ill person.
On one occasion, a certain man had less than three months to live. He was scared of death and confessed his fears to the physician.
“What will it be like after I die, doc?” he said. “Will I be alright? What awaits me?”
The doctor stopped scribbling on his pad and put down the pen. He got up, opened the door and looked at his dog. The dog wagged his tail, and as much excitedly as triumphantly leaped towards him.
The physician turned to the patient and said, “Do you see this dog? He didn’t have a clue about what was in this room, on this side of the door. The only thing he knew was that I, his master, was here. And, that’s all he was looking forward to.”
“That’s how I see death,” he continued. “I don’t know what it’s going to be like in the other world or this world once I am gone. I don’t really know the whats, whys and hows about dying. Like my dog, I’m unsure what is on the other side of the door. But, I do know that I’ll end up by the feet of my master. And, that’s all I need to know because that’s all that matters to me.”
I find this anecdote particularly beautiful. Ultimately, it boils down to living with grace and peace for as long as we have the chance to breathe.
Even if there’s no afterlife, even if there’s no heaven or hell (personally, I don’t believe in heaven or hell except the one on earth), it doesn’t really matter because an infinite existence awaits us. All rivers eventually end up in the sea regardless of their course, all the drops of rain either merge into ponds, rivers, lakes, oceans, or they are absorbed by the earth. If nothing, they simply evaporate and go back to the source. Either way, from infinitesimal they become infinite.
This is the nature of Nature. Everything must return to its source in its pristine form. All tiny things merge into bigger ones and we too must return to our source one day. It’s not about living or dying, it’s about the restoration of our original state. The Vedas call it moksha meaning the extinguishing of all attachments and freedom from all fetters including that of body, elements and relationships. Death is not the end of life, but the beginning of it. The drop becomes the ocean and eternally transcends scarcity, struggle, fear and pain. An ocean remains unmoved, it does not dry up, it does not wait for rain or sunshine. It exists beyond those shackles. Death is not sleeping but awakening.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I, and you are you,
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort,
Without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
Somewhere very near,
Just round the corner.
All is well.
~Henry Scott Holland.
Titled Death is Nothing at All, this is not just a poem but a beautiful sermon, I feel. Let’s not make our lives too serious. Let’s be merry, play, laugh it out. Nothing is worth clinging onto. Let Nature roll. It is what it is.
A dying man was visited by the local priest. “Do you surrender yourself completely to the will of the Lord and accept him as your savior?”
“I do, Father.”
“Do you renounce the devil and his works?”
The man didn’t answer.
“I’ve come to absolve you. Tell me, do you renounce the devil and all his works? Say you hate the devil and detest him thoroughly,” the priest spoke with even more rigor.
“Reverend,” the patient said, “with the kind of life I lived, I don’t know where I’ll end up. So, I don’t think it’s the time to make enemies.”
Let’s pray for a better world, with each one of us doing our part. Let’s be compassionate, loving and giving. It’s every bit worth it. Such a life becomes larger than death.
Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, sarve santu niramayah।
Sarve bhadrani pashyantu, maa kashcid dukha bhagbhavet॥
May all sentient beings be at peace, may all be free from disease.
May we see nobility everywhere, may no one ever be in suffering.