I recently said good bye to Mimi Waring. On this occasion she was lying half in and half out of her bed, after a brush with extreme nausea lovingly cleared up by her husband Richard, and she was out of it. But I knew she could hear me ok, so I held her hand and brushed her cheek and said, “Bye bye Mimi. I know we’ll see each other again, one way or another. Send us blessings from the other side.” To which she half-opened her eyes, smiled, and nodded her head. And I added, “You know what to do.” To which she responded by nodding her head even harder.
I had spent longer with her a few days ago. I visited her at her house for, in a stroke of good timing, I happened to be in Seattle. She had saved her energy up for this visit, not seeing anyone all week, heroically making it out of the bed she had been bound in for days and, leaning on her special rolling chair, walking out to the deck where we had lunch in the sunshine. Delicious lunch, actually, vegetarian BLT sandwiches made by the aforementioned Richard. Did I mention too that that man is a saint? (He even made me more BLT sandwiches today for my flight because he knew I loved them, as if he had nothing better to do while his wife is dying.)
We three had a very meaningful conversation, I thought; this was not a dead flowers’ visit as Sue Hulley would have said. I asked Mimi where she thought she was going, where she wanted to go; and, in response to some of her concerns, suggested that she spend these next few weeks or so not feeling the need to say goodbye to everyone, for she has done that already and everyone knows she is off, but instead getting ready for her trip. Mimi is a very faithful disciple of Geshe Kelsang and has deep refuge in her Sangha and Dharma too. She has also been very generous to her Kadampa Meditation Center in Seattle, and helped them buy their beautiful buildings. So, she has already started packing well for this next trip, where a new assignment awaits her.
Time for your next adventure
I think of Mimi’s departure as a bit like when Geshe Kelsang calls one of his disciples and asks them to go teach or administrate in some far-flung part of the world where they have never been before and where they don’t even speak the language. “Oh, and can you go next week?!”
If you get that phone call, you don’t spend the whole last week saying goodbye to everyone. Pretty immediately you start trying to figure out what you are going to need, you start to get ready and pack, you start to imagine where you will be and what you will be doing and who you will be relying upon. I think death is a bit like that. And if you are a Dharma practitioner, as Mimi said herself, you want to end up in a place where you can meet the same Spiritual Guide and the same teachings and help lots of people; that is what she wants most. It’s a good thing there are so many of her fellow Sangha building centers and temples all over this world — we are ready for her. Watch out for a baby coming somewhere soon in the Kadampa mandala, a baby with a glint in her eyes.
We’ve done death countless times before, of course. Amazing, as Richard said to me today as I was leaving, how we forget that, how it is so normal and yet still so challenging. As I shuffle through the Fall leaves, I am reminded that none of us stays in one place for long — wherever we are and whoever is next to us, it is only a matter of months or days before we are blown by the winds of karma to somewhere completely different.
Before I left our lunch date, Mimi wanted to show me the sign that is prominent on the shrine in her room, currently next to the commode: “Welcome, adversity!” Adversity, she told me, has been invaluable to her.
It’s the heart that counts
I wrote the above in late August. Today it is October 31, and Mimi passed away this morning at 3am. I heard last night that she was dying, so she has been in my thoughts and prayers constantly ~ and I feel good about where she is now, that her Spiritual Guide really does have her safe. Tributes and prayers are flowing in.
Mimi had brain cancer and, despite her formidable intelligence, was not always able to use her gross mind very well toward the end, as might be expected — though she did incredibly well with that.
And someone asked me the other day about what happens when we lose our ability to “think,” is that disastrous for a mindful death? A lot of people ask this question, is it possible to die peacefully if you have “lost your mind”, as it were? So I thought I might address that question here, Mimi won’t mind. In fact, Mimi asked me umpteen curious questions 😍 — it was one of the things I loved about her. Feel free too, please, to jump in the comments if you have any input on this.
The point is, I think, that you haven’t really lost your mind, just some conceptual thoughts. The mind which counts is the mind at our heart. One case in point is an elderly Buddhist monk called Trinlay who died a few years ago in Southampton. Trinlay lost his memory and was bedbound with lots of physical complications. But in the last year of his life, even when he had pus oozing from his painful legs, he managed to stay positive. He would say, “I get happier and happier every day. I am a monk living in a Buddhist Center.” He also would say “I am a millionaire; I have said millions of mantras.” The day before he died, he removed the mask over his mouth in response to the question “How are you feeling” and smiled, “I am tired but inspired.” He was a love bomb, complimenting anyone who came near him, even if he didn’t remember who they were, making everyone around him feel happy. He died very peacefully.
So, is it possible to have a good death and lead-up to death if you have lost your brain functions? I think so, yes. If you are in your heart. If you have given up malice. If you have faith and/or love. If you have peace. All these things are in the heart, not the head. The important thing for all of us is to practice now, to learn how to enter the refuge zone. And Mimi, who died peacefully surrounded by her husband and close Sangha friends, is a beautiful demonstration of that.
Suffering has good qualities
Mimi has been a force of nature these last 7 years, defying all doctors’ expectations, showing that suffering can indeed have good qualities, insisting on flying to festivals and celebrations and retreats even in the midst of treatments for brain cancer, never regretting any of her foolhardy but totally virtuous exertions. Always wanting to learn, and devoid of self-pity.
I will let her tell you about this journey herself, posthumously, in her wonderful blog This Mountain, That Mountain. If you want to know how to cope well with your own adversity, illness, and death, her blog will give you many inspiring ideas.
Please pray that Mimi comes back safely and soon to our world, in a brand new healthy comfortable human body, so that she can keep on inspiring us all with her faith, quirkiness, and sheer joyful (yep, bloody-minded) perseverance.
Comments are most welcome.
Om Mani Pame Hum. Mimi didn’t know me, but I know her from festivals at KMC NY. Prayers and blessings all the way to the pure land of bliss.
Thank you Luna for this beautiful tribute to Mimi. Here is a copy of my tribute on FB.
“Homage to my dearest friends Mimi and Richard, a hero and heroine! Thank you for appearing in my life and showing what loving, living, and giving in adversity is about.
Adios Mimi, my beautiful friend! With patience you endured nearly eight years of chemo and radiation beating all odds. Through it all you kept a peaceful mind, and faith that remained unmatchable, inspiring us all. Even while your body suffered, your eyes held their lovely twinkle and face the warmest smile, almost to your last breaths. I will always miss you dear friend. Without you life will not be the same. Holidays will not hold the same joy.
So much I learnt from you. Your qualities are indeed too numerous to count—your supreme love, compassion, kindness, wisdom, modesty, and humor, just to name a few. You said you had two ‘mes’ to work on because you were Mimi and I believe you had none! You raised the moral compass to new heights, always thinking of the other before you. You thought of the ethics and goodness of each action—where to shop, which company product to choose, which charity to give, whether to ride uber or the cab. You carried healthy snack packs in the car for the person at the street corner. When facing a dilemma, which is often, I think what Mimi would have done in such a situation.
You lived each moment thoughtfully. You imbibed all of Buddha’s teachings or perhaps the teachings simply emanated from you. Thank you for showing us all how to live meaningfully and die joyfully.”
“none of us stays in one place for long — wherever we are and whoever is next to us, it is only a matter of months or days before we are blown by the winds of karma to somewhere completely different.”
These words touch my heart , thank you.
What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing these thoughtful, loving words. I am inspired.
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very inspiring and moving tale of the life and death of Mimi, Luna!
I remember one quote (my interpretation of it that is) which resonates with what you’ve written.
“The most difficult road we have to walk is 30 cm in length. It’s moving from the head to the heart”
May Mimi be safe on her journey
This is a beautiful and inspiring thing to read….I am so moved. Thank you.xx
Lovely story, thank you.
May all the love and happiness Mimi brought us live in our hearts for eternity. Strength, inspiration and dedication in one beautiful woman who I was fortunate enough to call my friend. I love you, Mimi. Love you too, Richard.
Mimi was such an inspiration! Really conveyed through her actions what was most important — to continue increasing her wisdom through directly hearing Dharma at festivals, celebrations or at KMC Seattle! Deeply appreciate your thoughtful perspective about Mimi as well as her end of life. Death awaits us all, it’s just a matter of time.
Thank you for sharing Luna. Mimi was part of my very first sangha when I found the NKT in Seattle in 2001. She has been such an inspiration over the years and I’ve been dedicating my daily emptiness for her since coming back from Summer Festival. Sending lots of love to Richard, her family and all the Seattle sangha. xx
Such powerful words to a great practitioner and beautiful Sangha Jewel💕💕💕🙏
Just a note about Trinlay who you mentioned:
When I last saw Trinlay in hospital in Southampton, UK I thought he was reciting a mantra with his very weak speech energy. But his carer told me he was repeating to me “you are an inspiration”. They were his last words to me. But it was actually Trinlay who was the inspiration!
The doctors asked me to leave his bedside while they examined him in privacy. When they had completed the examination I was told the following … Trinlay had been told that, although he would probably die soon, his doctors would try to save his life; but if they could save his life they would have to cut his foot off. Trinlay replied something like “That would be wonderful”. When the doctors asked him why it would be wonderful, Trinlay told them “Because then it wouldn’t hurt anymore”. He then told his doctors they were such an inspiration!
What an example! Imagine you are told that you are dying but if you can be saved, parts of your body would have to be cut off, and your response is “Thank you, you are such an inspiration!”. Through all of his adverse conditions, even the adversity of entereing the death process, Trinlay offered only compliments, friendship, love, and Dharma teachings & advice. He was such an inspiration!
Thank you so much for sharing this, Lynn, I find it very inspiring.
Thank you for informing us of Mimi’s death. I too remember her beautiful smile during festivals; how she always wanted to know how WE were doing. In so many ways, she too was our loving teacher.
Thank you Lucy for telling us about Mimi and also Trinlay! And for posting the photo of her and Richard. I have never seen Richard. Mimi has blessed us all.
So very inspiring…
To have Faith and Hope that this journey will end with the outmost peaceful mind xx
Thank you for this wonderful article on the amazing Mimi. When I need inspiration I think of her. She has been an incredibly precious Sangha jewel to so many of us. I’ll miss her great example and wit, but look forward to meeting up with her again. I know she will be back to help us all again and won’t leave a single one of us behind! <3 <3 <3
“Enter the Refuge Zone!” Love it. Blessings and prayers for Mimi’s family xo
Great post – wow so timely