Have you faced the death of a loved one? I imagine many of you have.
But what if the boundaries between death and life aren’t so distinct?
What if what we called ‘death’ is merely a transition into another dimension of Life? And birth is simply a passage from Life into this physical space-time reality we all call ‘life.’
Let me share my experience.
About two weeks ago, I learned from my mom that her sister’s husband, my Uncle Subhash, who lived in India, was hospitalized. At first, I didn’t realize the seriousness of his condition. He had long standing adult onset insulin-dependent diabetes and his glucose levels were often difficult to stabilize. He would consult with his doctors and a few times he was even hospitalized but eventually he would recover.
Yet my mom’s voice held more concern.
Over the next few hours there were multiple calls, texts and Facebook messenger communication between myself, my mom, my cousin in Canada (my uncle’s daughter) as well as my aunt and cousin (my uncle’s son) in New Delhi. I learned that Uncle arrived at the hospital with severe anemia and very low blood pressure, and his condition was critical. He was not eating well for several days and now was vomiting. He was admitted to the ICU. A blood transfusion was planned, and he was getting intravenous fluids. At times, he appeared oriented and interacted with his family, and other times he became confused and unresponsive.
When I first got news, I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. My thoughts mushroomed into a cloud of guilt, sorrow and regret.
Why hadn’t I called him more often? Why didn’t I visit India? Why didn’t I insist my parents visit?
What if I never saw him again?
As I allowed these thoughts to pass, I remembered his face. His warm smile. His large frame glasses. I could even hear the laughter in his voice. How he loved taking his early morning walks which he did religiously usually on his own while the rest of his family still slept.
He was a simple man who expressed himself honestly; he meant what he said and said what he meant. And he was generous – opening his heart and home to my family and me whenever we vacationed in New Delhi.
During one of our winter vacations, Subhash Uncle obtained tickets for us to attend a dress rehearsal of the annual India Republic Day Parade – a huge and grand military parade with participants from the Indian army, air force, navy as well as traditional and cultural dances and performances from all over India. It was one of those cloudless January days in New Delhi- cool enough that you needed a sweater, yet bright and sunny so that you could feel the warmth of the sunlight on your face and body. At the end of the parade, the armed forces helicopters flying above showered flower petals over our heads. That day remains one of my most wonderful memories of New Delhi. Sitting under the winter sun, surrounded by family and watching the many brightly colored floats going by.
But perhaps my most vivid and dearest memory of my uncle is when he escorted me in the early mornings to free yoga classes held in a neighborhood park. It was the late 1990s and I was keen on experiencing yoga in India. My uncle suggested the park and I was hooked after the first class.
Uncle Subhash was more reliable and more punctual than any alarm clock- waking me up at 4:30am each morning so I could attend the 5am class. Once he dropped me off to the class, he began his morning walk on the adjacent paved pathways.
Yoga mats were not used for those classes. Like the other dozen or so students, I would lay out a vinyl tablecloth covered with a sheet that my aunt loaned me on the grass that was still wet from the morning dew. Under the pre-dawn, star-lit sky, soon I would be immersed in following the teacher as she led us in the traditional postures of yoga. We began with surya namaskar and concluded with some pranayama (breathing) exercises, chanting and meditation.
The last time I saw my uncle was in the late summer of 2011. Despite multiple eye surgeries, he lost his vision due to the diabetes. Soon he became homebound and eventually confined to his bed. His morning walks became a thing of the past. With assistance from his wife and son, he only walked inside the house, and occasionally in the adjacent verandah.
Whenever I phoned him, his voice was warm, still full of life. His mind remained clear and alert.
‘Seema, aren’t you coming to India? What about your parents? When are they coming?’
‘Soon. Very soon, Uncle. And I’ll definitely bring them too.”
In truth, I had no plans to visit. But I couldn’t admit this to him. Yet he seemed happy with my response. Never pressing me for a precise date. Then he would ask me about my son.
“How old is he? Which grade? Does he speak Hindi?”
“Bring him too. Come soon.”
I finally find time to sit on my meditation cushion and mat.
I recall a famous quote by Lao Tzu- a mystic philosopher of ancient China, best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching.
“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”
I allow all the thoughts about Uncle to simply swirl inside my head. Without trying to change them. Not pushing them away but not chasing them either. I am simply the observer watching these thoughts.
Thoughts about Uncle’s diabetes. His physical condition. The hospital. The doctors. The medical management. Thoughts about my aunt and my cousins. My mom and my dad.
I let myself feel all the emotions. The pain, the worry, the fear, the concern, the guilt, the regret.
The Buddhists call this emptying the mind. A Course in Miracles refers to this as mind watching and mind training.
Eventually, my mind becomes more still and centered. The ‘mud in the mind’ is settling, Lao-Tzu would say.
A clarity emerges inside me. I know that there is a different way to see this situation. I don’t know what that looks like. But I am open and willing to receive this healed perception – inside my mind.
My purpose is clear. To relate to this experience differently- in a way that allows me to fulfill my function – which is to be an instrument for Love, Light, and Peace. Regardless of the circumstances.
This purpose is a beacon of light inside my mind- shining away the darkness and dissolving the confusion.
Within seconds, I receive the miracle- a vision that shifts my mind from fear to an experience of Love and Light. I feel as if my mind is lifted ‘above the battlefield.’
I ‘see’ my uncle lying on a hospital bed. Then I ‘see’ him sit up and stand, and walk away.
The surroundings change. He isn’t in the hospital anymore but seated outside on a bench in the sunshine. His eyes are closed, and his arms extended on either side supported by the back of the bench. As he leans back, he closes his eyes. I see the peace and relaxation on his face. He seems to be soaking in all the Love and Light that is there for him. He appears young, healthy, and robust. There is no pain, no fear, no distress and no limitation of any kind. Rather, all I can feel is a sense of utter and complete wholeness. Nothing is lacking.
While sitting on the park bench, he appears like a master yogi- in deep contemplation of his life. Completely focused. Utterly present. Yet there is no sense of strain. I feel he is simply absorbing the essence of a lifetime. There is no grievance against anything or anyone. Life has played out as it should. There are no regrets. No blame. No shame. No guilt.
The surroundings shift again. This time he is standing near the ocean shore, running and playing with the waves, like a child. He is full of joy. I can even hear squeals of belly laughter. Once more, there is no worry nor concern for anything or anyone.
The images morph from one to the other. At times, I don’t see him and it feels like he is merged with the shimmering Love and Light.
I am soothed by these images and feel all my fear, guilt and worry evaporate. Yet then my mind goes to the ‘fact’ that he is in the ICU. Or is he?
What am I ‘seeing’?
As if he senses my confusion, I hear his response in my mind. It is simple, direct and clear. The way he talked when he was alive.
‘‘I’m done. I’m done with that life.”
Over the next few days, the phone calls, text, and Facebook messenger chats continue. My mom stays in touch with Uncle’s family in India while I do my best to support my cousin in Canada.
My uncle’s condition deteriorates and he is diagnosed with multiorgan failure. The doctors are not hopeful but they feel they must do everything they can so they put him on a ventilator. My cousins and I talk about palliative care options to assure he is comfortable. These are difficult conversations. The distance of thousands of miles doesn’t help.
I share my vision with my mom and she understands immediately. She sensed this ‘passing’ was imminent even when she first spoke to her sister. But I don’t feel I can share this vision with my cousins or aunt. Not yet anyway. Even after this vision, it’s hard for me to let go. My Uncle’s ‘passing’ reminds me that my parents are also getting older. I don’t want to think about this.
I don’t want my Uncle to go.
Yet I continue to ‘connect’ with him and I find it is effortless. He is with me. I can feel his presence. I don’t need to even sit in meditation or prayer.
I recall one of my favorite lessons from A Course in Miracles.
I am not a body. I am free. For I am still as God (Love/Light) created me.*
I ‘see’ so clearly that my uncle is not just the body that lies in the ICU. The truth of him is Spirit. The truth of him is beautiful Love and Light- that is eternal, free and beyond any limitation of space or time. I am humble at this vision and I realize that we all have this Love and Light within us. Yet so often we just use our physical eyes. An inner vision is needed to see this Spirit Self. I feel grateful that I have been given this vision. I know it is a beautiful parting gift from my dear, sweet, beloved Uncle.
I find myself asking him if there is anything he wants to share with me.
I ‘see’ him playing with abandon with the ocean waves.
I was at times harsh with myself and did not let myself play. Be more gentle with yourself. Play more in your life.
Don’t lose today in worry of tomorrow. Live in the NOW! Let yourself be free!
On Valentine’s Day, in the early morning hours, in New Delhi, India, Uncle Subhash passed away. Moments after the doctors disconnected him from the ventilator. He was 76 years old.
Yes, there is an ache in my heart for him. For my family, here and in India. Yet I also feel this core underlying peace that comforts me.
I am not a body. I am free. For I am still as God (Light/Love) created me.*
*adaptation from Lesson 201 from A Course in Miracles (W-pI.201.4-6)