as she lay dying – meditation on my mother’s body

My mother is dying. After 94 years of standing up to a world that was at times brutal and at times incomprehensible to her, she lies here in her hospital bed between starched, warmed sheets, dying. Her awareness has receded into an inner world of visions and a landscape only she can navigate. Her consciousness which is the arising out of contact senses the sheets, the shifting air, the moist toweling of her body every hour. Earth has dissolved into water as her organs release their hold on function. Water has dissolved into fire as the fluids in her body diminish. Fire has dissolved into air as the vital forces dissipate into flowing wind. All that is left is the expansion of air into spaciousness, into that boundless realm of entire being.

We sit vigilantly each day, following her breath, recalling her life. Sati, recollecting, bringing together, re-membering the dispersed parts of her life as grandmother, mother, wife, friend, sister, cousin, daughter. Fearless and fearsome dragon lady who survived a World War, the British and Japanese Occupation of Burma, strode across oceans and cherished roses.

As part of my own process I have spent the mornings and evenings chanting the name of Avalokita, reading the Anathapindika Sutta, and sitting a vigil sesshin. I don’t know how it helps or if it does but that is why we practice – to move beyond the need for something to happen.

This was a meditation that emerged from one sitting as I brought my attention to my feet, intending to scan through to the top of my head and then to scan my mother’s body in turn. As I began, our bodies merged and this became the meditation. I offer it for the grace of her life.

These are my mother’s toes
which raised her up to reach for all that was needed,
a flower, a cup, a bag of cookies, a dream.

These are my mother’s feet
which strode through the house shaping everything to be beautiful,
which carried me as an infant, then a child, taking me across the tarmac
to meet my father returning from his journey.

This is my mother’s womb
which carried me before I was I,
which embraced me with warmth and nourishment,
which released me into the world with gentleness and grace.

This is my mother’s heart
which sent her life’s blood flowing into me,
filling my body with potential and passion.

These are my mother’s lungs
which purified the toxins from the air,
which gave me life.

This is my mother’s face
which conveyed her love and laughter,
which spoke her words and heard mine.

These are my mother’s hands
which held me firmly walking across the street,
which stirred the soups and stews, the curries and rice,
laying out the heritage of gathering at tables and in kitchens.

These are my mother’s shoulders
which bore the weight of loves and loss,
which never learned to shrug or cast off a burden,
carrying everything with equanimity and fearlessness.

This is my mother’s brain
which created the intricate relationships of her life,
weaving the net that holds us all.

This is my mother’s body.
Sitting, standing, lying down.
This is my mother’s gift
even now.

21 thoughts on “as she lay dying – meditation on my mother’s body

  1. What a beautiful meditation, Genju… What a lovely tribute… My heart wells with sadness and grief in the telling of it… How wonderful to hold her in the cradle of your Heart… THIS is “enlightenement.” May we all aspire to be so open and loving – even in our difficult relationships… My your own heart be held in the cradle of the Heart… Bows… Christine

    • It is such a practice-beyond-words that I wondered how it would show up in the writing. The whole process has filled me with gratitude for all the training I got.

  2. Beautiful post. My mother died years ago. I was not able to be there. You are fortunate in that respect, even though that may sound strange, and in spite of how hard this is for you. I lost my brother 12 years ago. My father in 90 and I know someday in the not too distant future, his time will come. The passing of loved ones is so difficult. A passage that has always helped me is “Sufferings are nirvana, only when one realizes that the entity of human life throughout its cycle of birth and death is neither created nor destroyed.”

    I admire the spirit with which you are facing this.

    • David, I understand! It was so important to us to be there that we never left her side until we were ousted each night. In the end, she did pass on without us there because of the snowstorm which kept us frm going in that morning.

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  4. This is so beautiful. So far in life I havent had to witness death of people I hold dear, this wonderful piece makes me cry and also experience a certain fear. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Lovely, Lynette. It reminds me of the way I said goodbye to my own mother some twenty-eight years ago, my first wife seven years ago, and my father this past year…another survivor of World War, who spent over a year in prison camp and emerged a phoenix. This is our life — people come and go. Practice is truly preparation for life and death, for being with others as they pass, and the very path of our life and death itself. Many blessings to you! You and your mother are held in my heart.

    • You know, dave(Tao)… it’s not that far away from those old days when we consider all the picking up and letting go you taught me through your practice. 😉

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  7. Hello,

    That was so beautifully written and touching at such a sad and difficult time. It’s brought tears to my eyes. It’s been nine years this month since my mum passed away. I still think of and miss her every day. We’re so lucky to have our wonderful mums.

    All the best,

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