As I’m preparing to leave an 18-month interim job at hospice, someone asked how we might mark this transition. My first reaction was to say “no event, please, no cake or cards” thinking that the word interim says it all. Coming and going, thus is life, especially so for us working in hospice where people come to die every day. Prompted by my supervisor, I’m rethinking this first response. Yes, everything changes — but it’s equally important that we acknowledge significant changes, that we honour losses and share sadness, that we hold hands and then walk our separate ways together.
This morning I opened a little book of stories on how Asian teachers from various faith traditions have acknowledged the end of their lives.
A monk-teacher named Dōkyō (700-772?) wrote these last words while seated in the upright meditation posture:
In the frantic hurry of dying
It’s difficult to utter the last words.
If I were to speak a wordless word,
I wouldn’t speak, I wouldn’t speak.
Then he put down his brush, hummed “an ancient song,” to himself, suddenly laughed heartily, and died.
source: Blackman, S. (2005) (ed). Graceful exits: how great beings die: death stories of Hindu, Tibetan, Buddhist, and Zen masters. Boston: Shambala, p. 86.