Preparing for something?!

Recently two of my old friends lost their beloved husbands to unexpected death. One was a suicide and the other a murder.

These were both very loving partnerships, lasting decades. Both these women have responded to violent loss by seeking refuge in their spiritual practice.

While on retreat, J called her husband at about 2pm each day. This day he didn’t pick up. After 20 minutes of redialing: “I had a hunch that something was dreadfully wrong.”  Driving to his store, she was crying all the way. She found him unconscious, and two days later his life support was turned off. Her husband was a wonderful person, always giving things away in his store, always a kind word for everyone. One of his customers recalled on TV:

“He was just one of the sweetest guys you ever want to meet.  He didn’t deserve this.”

J said to me:

“I collapse on the floor with the pain sometimes. However, if it wasn’t for Dharma, I would have to be hospitalized for grief.”

Interviews of her on local TV show her deeply sad but full of grace, unwilling to condemn the attacker despite the reporter’s leading questions. (The 33-year-old attacker battered J’s husband in a robbery of his antique store, enraged that he had sold his pawned silver coins. The cell phone that J’s husband never picked up was found discarded, along with his wallet, on the road). J said on TV that she was overwhelmed by the kindness that her community had shown her and her family, and felt immense gratitude to friends and strangers.  She told me that she surprised herself by feeling no anger toward the attacker due to her practice of compassion, and for this she was also very grateful. She is taking refuge in her spiritual community and in her meditations, and intends to spend the rest of her life seeking deeper spiritual meanings.

S understands impermanence and the opportunity she now has to increase her empathy and love for everyone, but missing her partner of 46 years hurts like hell:

“In Geshe-la’s books, where do you think I could find some words to help me with my attachment to M……… wanting him back on earth….. I just cannot believe I will not see him again.”

“I have been trying to get a grip on this experience of a broken heart as a gift towards greater compassion. But, you know L,………I just miss M… The younger generation is independent and know how to live their lives self sufficiently……I had been with M for 46 years……I have been part of a team! This is very challenging for me…….”

These women are having strident wake up calls. Not ones anyone would choose, naturally, but we rarely choose our wake up calls; that is why they have the power to wake us up. Hitting the snooze button doesn’t work when we’re in so much pain; we simply cannot distract ourselves with meaningless things as we typically do when we have problems. We have to face the big questions in life because they are staring us in the face. But by facing them and by finding answers, we can gain acceptance, understanding and a growing peace of mind. In this way, we live our fullest lives.

Every day is a challenge for S and J right now, but they are strong. S said this week:

“Spending at least part of the day reading & meditating about this life of ours. Forgiveness is what I am working on a lot………for M & for myself …………just knowing this was his path and had nothing to do with me……is a relief……. Realizing there is nothing permanent here ………… so many things I have learned over the years are now being tested for real……. and I am getting through it all pretty well………  I am working on being happy in this situation because this is what is right now……..”

Please pray for S, J, their husbands and their children.

So often a close encounter with death leads to transformation. At the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, there was a young woman called Kisigotami. She lived a regular life pursuing ordinary ambitions, not particularly interested in spiritual practice. She had a baby, but the baby fell ill and died before its first birthday.

Life of Buddha Play at KMC Manjushri 2009

Clutching the little body in her arms, she took to the streets, begging anyone she met to help bring her baby back to life. One passer-by eventually pointed her in the direction of Buddha.

Buddha told her that there was only one thing she could do to heal her pain, and that was to bring him back a mustard seed from a house in the village that had never known death.

She excitedly knocked on the first door. “I’m sorry. My brother died recently.” At the second door, “We have known many deaths in this family.” At the third, “We are no strangers to death in this house.”

And on it went. She was struck with the realization of death and impermanence, that no one lives forever, that death is part of life. She bid farewell to her child and returned to Buddha empty-handed.

“Did you bring me the mustard seed?” Buddha asked her. She shook her head, and explained how grief had blinded her to the fact that she was not alone in experiencing the reality of death, but that she was now ready to receive spiritual teachings. She wanted to know what death is, what happens at death, what happens after death. She went onto become a great spiritual adept.

No matter how much we deny death, like everyone else we will find ourselves staring it in the face soon enough. Others’ deaths, and our own. It is amazing how little we talk about death in any meaningful way in our modern society — it is taboo, it  is considered morbid, as if talking about it will somehow make it more likely. This leaves us searching for words and meaning when it happens to our friends and loved ones, and utterly unable to cope when we have to face it in ourselves.

Life and death are two ends of the same tunnel. They are parts of the same continuum. If we don’t accept this and learn to live our lives in accordance with this truth, we will experience fear, pain and confusion as the exit looms. If we do accept it, we find like Kisigotami, and so many spiritual practitioners since, that life takes on a deeper meaning. Therein lies a deeper humility, sense of purpose, love, transcendent wisdom and joy. This life is very precious. Others’ lives are precious. If we don’t feel that way, it is probably because we rarely think about how soon we all have to leave.

Death is not the end, it is the opening of a new chapter, one that we are writing today with our thoughts and actions. Every day we prepare for many things. We prepare to get out of bed, we prepare our breakfast, we prepare for school, we prepare for work, we prepare what we’ll do that evening, we prepare to pick up the kids, we prepare how we’ll proceed in our careers, we prepare to meet someone, we prepare ways to earn money, we prepare what to plant in our gardens, we prepare replies for those who’ve offended us, we prepare for our next vacation, we prepare for our retirement, we prepare for bed….

But how many minutes today have we spent preparing for the only future that is certain to occur?

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

9 thoughts on “Preparing for something?!”

  1. I too have a lovely friend (we’ve actually never met but I know her through another site and we are now Facebook friends, I’ve only known her a year or two) who lost her husband unexpectedly.

    When I first got to know her, she was in a marriage of quite a few years, very happy, very well-matched. The next thing I knew, suddenly her husband was in a serious condition. It looked for a while like he might pull through but he didn’t. I was so shocked and I knew that no-one could say anything to make my friend feel in any way better during the horrific loss she was experiencing.

    What we can do though is let people know we are thinking about them, are there for them, acknowledge the great person and great connection they had (have) and of course, very importantly, we can pray for them.

    For myself, I’ve always been very aware of (and indignant about) death from a very early age, although I had no experiences of it then in this life to call upon.

    I know what it’s like to lose relationships and how loss feels. I’ve seen other people lose loved ones through death, and their grieving. The pain of parting, forever, is so terrible. Even if you will see someone again, it won’t be the person you knew in this life, that is gone forever.

    I know the above but still I am complacent (not enough meditation quite probably).

    I had a dream the other morning though. I can’t remember the content but the dream had a profound effect on me and I’m trying to remember that effect.

    What happened was that, still in the dream, I was really engrossed in everything and when I woke I felt ‘Ah so it WAS all just a dream’.

    The feeling I was strongly left with, having felt the dream to be so very real, was that THIS LIFE IS JUST AS REAL AS MY DREAMS. If that makes sense. Saying it that exact way makes me remember how impermanent this life is.

    I’m in a happy situation now with my husband and cats and it feels so real. It won’t last. That’s the reality. We need to prepare ourselves for these realities, accept them, and at the same time try to fight against them by making effort to leave samsara and all this lack of choice. The odd time I pop my head out of complacency and remember that this will soon be gone :(, I remember that the only thing to do in those relationships is to show those beings as much love and compassion as possible. As S said above, it feels to me somehow that love, if anything, is eternal.

    Phew, rambling and trying to teach myself here I think, thank you Luna. May all those who feel the pain of loss through death be soothed by the Buddhas of Compassion. x

    1. Thank you so much for this profound comment, Eileen.

      My grandfather on his deathbed, aged 100, said to my brother:

      “In the expanse of eternity, I can see now that there is no difference between 100 years and one moment.”

      Life is like a dream. When it is over, it makes no difference how long that dream “lasted”. It only matters what we did with our minds.

  2. I just received a beautiful message from S:

    Yes external changes can force us to decide VERY quickly what is really important to us, what we want and how we will go on.

    And I must say to you & X and of course Kadampa….Thank you….. For with the lessons I learned at your feet…….and have continued to seek & learn through the years, to deal with M’s sudden passing with forgiveness, love & grace. I have to keep remembering I STILL have my life to live and do I want it to be the ‘weeping widow’ or as a lovely, sunny adventurer. ??? You just cannot argue with …what is……..! There is just nothing permanent here……

    except maybe love……..maybe love is eternal…….


  3. Life changes in a moment
    moment to moment
    Love continues
    through the losses

    Love rises and expands
    No separation, after all.

  4. There is also the importance for compassion for the “killers” in samsara. In my work with war veterans, I hear stories of how they have killed the “enemy” forced by their delusions of ignorant belief in patriotism and the false rightness of the cause.
    Living for the flag–going to war for reasons fed to me as a child–still a child trained to kill by the ones in charge of me–defenseless to the crime done to me by my government.

  5. Praying for your friends, their husbands and their families – and all living beings to find release from this horrible cycle of death and rebirth.

    And may we learn from the wake-up calls of others before our own comes.

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