The Year of Death

21 Sep

It has been four months since my dad passed away.

On Friday night, the dhamma (dharma in Sanskrit) talk was about death and dying. Monks from the Pacific Hermitage were our guests, and one of them gave the dhamma talk after tea. All of us who had read the email knew that the abbot of Dharma Rain, a Zen community that used to own the hundred-year-old building that we now occupy, had just died from a heart attack. During tea, a sangha member had said that her father has cancer.

My dad died of sarcoma cancer. My sister-in-law’s father currently has thyroid cancer. Cancer, cancer, cancer. What an evil disease.

Before our group meditation, the monks chanted in Pali for the dead. I imagined myself sitting in the hospice room minutes after my dad’s death. I was the only one in the room with his body for at least ten minutes. In my vision, I sat in the same spot, on the couch, and with palms pressed together chanted the same chant in Pali. I wish I had known it at the time.

As the library curator at the nonprofit organization In Other Words, I have been sorting through a great many recently donated books. This weekend, one donation included several books about death, dying, and grief.

Tonight, when I dropped a friend off at her apartment, we saw two police cars parked on the street, inches from her parking lot. After I parked and we got out of the car, we overheard an intense situation. An upstairs apartment door was blocked with yellow caution tape. The resident’s parents yelled at the police because they wouldn’t allow the parents to see their son. In the course of the conversation, we learned that the parents had called the cops—and now regretted doing so. Their son was depressed and mentally ill and wanted to commit suicide. Either he committed suicide, or he was threatening to do so, and the cops killed him. The mother said, “You shot him!” The mother shouted that she wouldn’t trust police ever again and would never again call them in an emergency.

I’ve become more conscious of mortality and death since my dad passed away. I’ve been aware of a need to resume reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead (unabridged) and to read other books concerning death, Buddhist or otherwise. I’ve become more conscious than ever of my numerous unfinished projects and in the past week or two have put some effort into completing fantasy stories I began writing a long time ago. You never know when it will happen to you. My birthday was this month, adding to my increasing awareness of my own mortality.


My travel memoir about Shantum Seth’s pilgrimage, In the Footsteps of the Buddha, is now available. The title is Every Day is Magical: a Buddhist Pilgrimage in India and Nepal


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