Samsara. Literally translated as “continuous movement,” it is the Buddhist perspective of our cycle of life on earth as we follow the path of Birth, Sickness, Old Age, and Death. As we age, we inevitably bear witness to those in the later stages of life, including our own parents. I am having the honor of spending time with my Dad during the period that we expect to be the last weeks of his life. It’s a time of thought and reflection for everyone. We are blessed by having my good friend Maria Montenegro, a Buddhist Nun and End-of-Life Coach, sharing her incredible loving kindness, and spiritually guiding us through this journey. I wanted to share her wonderful guide, Holding Space for the Dying, where she provides some answers the difficult, and for some of us, awkward, question of what we can and should do to support our loved ones who are approaching death. Maria has lovingly helped my father express, understand, and reduce the fear and unresolved issues about the process of dying that he is now experiencing. It’s been wonderful for him, as well as his family, see him substitute fear with acceptance of this final phase of life, so that he is at peace.
My Dad’s life was so strongly influenced by his harrowing, traumatic experience as a child of escaping from Holland in 1942 with his family. I recently videotaped the incredible life-altering story that took him from his birthplace of Holland on a journey to freedom where they traveled through France, Spain, and Jamaica before finally arriving in the Caribbean Island of Curacao. He is eternally grateful for his father’s prescience about the atrocities throughout Europe that were on the horizon, and and the planning, risk and courage he had during the perilous escape to save his family. Even though he was a tender age at the time, the most intricate details of this experience are with him to this day.
Throughout the last year, I have taken the opportunity to practice my spiritual training and open myself to acceptance and constructively focusing on what could be now rather than rehashing the past and the deficiencies in our relationship. This was an opportune time to apply my practice in the exploration of a cornerstone tenet of Buddhist Thought: You and you alone are responsible for how you feel and act. And by opening myself up to love, I am able to give my father a beautiful gift. In return, without asking and without expectation, I am receiving incredible love.
By focusing on love and compassion, those unproductive negative emotions have gone by the wayside. I am growing toward being the type of person I want to be and have loving positive interactions with my family and those around me. Being with my Dad during these final days has given me a level of inner contentment and outlook on life that I can only describe as beautiful. Best of all, my joy has raised the spirits of my Dad and those who are with him during his final stages.