Sitting with “O” last Saturday was such a gift. Probably in her early 70s, she was frail and withered from cancer, and had been troubled by much nausea and vomiting. But in our hours together, she was beatific.
Despite her failing body, O was soaking up the pleasure available to her – she wanted to be positioned so she could see the flowers, photos and Buddhist images she’d had arranged into a beautiful and colorful tableau. I found videos for her of gorgeous nature scenes accompanied by spacious, ethereal music that she loved to have going near her. She had fragrant essential oils to inhale for her nausea as well as for the sheer pleasure of their scent.
We two sat comfortably next to each other for hours as if we were old friends sitting on a beach watching a glorious sunset together. Occasionally we shared little stories from our lives or commented on the beauty of things, but mostly we sat in companionable silence. O could really only speak in a whisper, though her mind was clear, her smile blissful. Frequently she would say “Thank you, thank you. Wonderful.” When Thad stopped in to play guitar for her, she turned her quiet, joyful attention to the music, eyes closed, smile luminous, tapping her hand to the beat.
Although she was extremely weak and kept her eyes closed a lot, she was totally awake and aware, exceptionally aware. At one point she said she could feel gratitude in me, which I found to be astonishingly perceptive, especially since I hadn’t spoken any words of gratitude out loud at that point; gratitude is a central part of my experience and practice. She was extraordinarily aware of her own body too – at one point she asked to have her oxygen level checked, she said it felt low to her, and so we clamped the little gizmo to her finger. She said “Is it at 89?” The readout said 88. She just smiled as we strapped the oxygen tube lightly around her head.
When my shift was over, I clasped both her hands in mine, and we looked each other full in the face, her blue eyes sparkling and alive, her smile beatific. We paused in that moment, smiling together, knowing that this was goodbye forever; it seemed likely she would probably only last another day or two. I felt that knowledge clearly between us, together with gratitude and joyful acceptance. I noticed a small, anxious impulse to say something like “I’ll see you next week” but that would have been untrue and would have contradicted the sweetness of our shared acceptance of being we’d been experiencing together. So I let that impulse dissolve as we smiled deeply into each other, hands entwined. We agreed that it had been a pleasure to share this time together.
O is the most joyful person I have encountered so far at the Guest House. She was clearly enjoying her life to the fullest each moment but I also saw her facing her imminent death like she was happily greeting the dawn – her coming death glowing on her open face like the morning sun. In fact the nature video she chose was of a sunrise. I saw no delusion, no denial, no clinging, no fear, no hurry, no regret in her. She was beatific. She died about a day and half later.
Thank you O for sharing your gentle presence, your lessons in acceptance and gratitude, thank you for your joy.