The Art of Dying

–by Rukmini Walker

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My mother, Edith, died last Wednesday. I was with her, almost at the moment. I had the chance to garland her with my sacred tulsi neck beads and anoint her body with sacred oil from Lord Nrsimhadev in Sridham Mayapur.

She was ninety-one years old and suffering from the debilitating disease of old age and some degree of dementia. Just a year ago, she was so happy when her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren all gathered to celebrate her ninetieth birthday.

But now, she was depressed, angry and unable to change her perspective on her life’s situation. She did not have the gift of faith. Which one of us can really change the patterns of a lifetime in the last moments of life?

For so long she’d been saying that she just wanted to die. The day before her death, she was chanting it repeatedly, like a mantra, “I just want to die, I just want to die, I just want to die…” I told her, “You are dying, we all are. But now you can choose to die in a mood of gratitude for your life, or you can die as a bitter and angry old woman.” She was not able to hear that, or anything but the voice of her anger.

I was with her in her last days. Trying to be of some comfort, chanting to her. Sometimes she would get angry at me for that, sometimes I could get her to say, “Hare Krsna”. She was rudderless in the sea of her misery, unable to hold onto anything of substance, unable to see that there is any real eternal substance beyond this world of suffering.

She was not afraid of death. She could not even think or reach that far. In yoga, we learn that we should try to live, ‘in the moment’. But that means in the moment of remembrance of ourselves as atma, as spirit; in connectivity to the Supreme, the Paramatma.

Above:  My sister Susan and her husband George with my mother on their last visit. We had just moved her into this place and George had just hung all her paintings to her great delight. Then that night she fell and broke her hip and had to be taken to the hospital.

She was living in darkness, ‘in the moment’ of her own lamentation and frustration, in the same way that someone in passion might commit violence ‘in the moment’ of hot-blooded anger. Each moment is a gift. Each of us can choose how we want to utilize that gift. We didn’t know she had so little time. None of us know how little time we have.

What is the art of dying? Bhagavad Gita says:

yam yam vapi smaran bhavan

tyajaty ante kalevaram

tam tam evaiti kaunteya

sada tad-bhava-bhavitah

Translation: Whatever state of being one remembers when she quits her present body, in her next life she will attain to that state without fail. (Bg 8.6)

In our lives, we create patterns. We can learn to choose where to place our minds, our hearts, our destiny…

All the best,

Rukmini Walker

Madhava’s Lullaby by Jahnavi Harrison