[48] A Truly Good Death

It was on the day of the Super Moon and Blue (Blood) Moon (31 January 2018), that Mum passed away. She was 83 and had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease since 2011. As it is a progressive disorder of the nervous system, she had, over the years, lost the ability to speak, and had to be assisted in all daily activities. She was cared for at home, with monthly visits provided by a professional health care team.

Mum was weak and lying in bed when I visited her that day. Her oxygen level was low and her pulse was too rapid. Despite this, she was in good spirits. She was lucid, very calm and in no distress. Her breathing still had a regular pattern. As always, I would recite ‘Amituofo’ (the name of Amitabha Buddha) slowly and aloud, for her to follow and recite it in her heart. I had also placed a small statue of Amituofo on a shelf, so that she could see it.

As the day progressed, Mum’s condition did not improve. She refused to eat and drink. Having consulted the doctor earlier, we knew that taking her to the hospital or setting up an intravenous drip will only add discomfort and pain. It was not something Mum wanted as the goal had always been comfort care (which is medical care at the end of life, that helps or soothes the dying, to prevent or relieve suffering as much as possible, and to improve quality of life while respecting the dying person’s wishes). All of us agreed that we should not prolong the inevitable. Mum was aware, ready and we should respect her wishes.

At 7 pm, Mum’s condition took a turn for the worse. We covered her with the Rebirth Blanket and started support-chanting with a Nianfo device as a guide. Meanwhile, my sister spoke in a calm voice to guide her towards Amituofo’s Pure Land. She also reminded her to mentally chant Amituofo with us sincerely. Minutes passed and Mum’s breathing slowed down. However, there were no loud gasping to breathe. Everyone had been told not to touch Mum, talk or cry in the room. Although there was movement in and out of the room, the atmosphere remained calm and peaceful, allowing her departure to proceed undisturbed. The only sound was the chanting of Amituofo’s name.

As the end neared, Mum raised her left hand, drew a quiet last breath and passed on, with all her loved ones by her side. We were amazed to see her raise her hand. Due to Parkinson’s disease, she suffered from muscle rigidity and had been unable to lift her hands for many years. To believers in the family, Mum looked like she was reaching out to Amituofo who was receiving her to Pure Land. To non-believers, it was a gesture to say goodbye. All agreed that Mum passed away peacefully, and with ease.

The family gathered around her bed in a composed manner. Some stood and some knelt but all had our palms together, reciting Amituofo. We were in unison doing what Mum wanted to benefit her. It was a beautiful sight to behold – a picture that will forever be etched in my memory. In this serene and blissful state, departure seemed so natural, not depressing, morbid or even to be feared. Mum died a good death.

The Nianfo continued uninterrupted till 8 the next morning, for a total of 12 hours. Over the next many hours, I just concentrated on chanting Amituofo aloud for Mum. In the early hours of the morning, I was surprised to suddenly smell fragrance. It was unfamiliar and I thought someone was burning incense. I took a deep breath and it vanished. Thinking it was just my imagination, I did not think about it further. When the fragrance returned, it dawned upon me that this might be an auspicious sign of connection to Amituofo. I continued to chant, fully aware of the fragrance, which was unlike anything I had known before. It was refined, subtle and pure. This time, it lasted longer, but eventually disappeared.

My sister later recounted that she saw Mum’s peaceful face glow. She thought she was seeing things and looked again. Recalling the moment, she said, ‘Mum’s face was radiant and I was filled with joy’. Is this not another auspicious sign by the compassionate Amituofo and Mum to assure us that she was in his good hands?

As all of us had been involved in caring for Mum for years, we felt strongly that we should be the ones to clean and dress her as a final act of physical care. It made no sense to us to entrust Mum’s body to external service providers.

By then, Mum’s skin had turned slightly grey, though she seemed fast asleep. My sister announced what we were going to do, while the rest of us chanted. As we gently cleaned her body, I noticed that her head and upper body were still warm, with her legs slightly cold. On hindsight, I should have checked for the warmest part (as the crown being the warmest would be another sign of having reached or about to reach Pure Land). As there was no stiffness, it was surprisingly easy to put her arms through sleeves despite her Parkinson’s. Such suppleness of body is another auspicious sign. She was dressed in her favourite clothes, with her Haiqing (i.e. black lay robes) and her Bodhi seed prayer beads as she had instructed.

Mum’s 5-day wake was held at home. Her cremated remains were scattered at sea, in accordance with her wishes. To her, the body was simply a decaying vessel, without a need to be attached to it. She also did not want an urn or tablet placed at a temple for her. I now understand that there is no need as she is always in my heart. Mum taught me much in the last few days of her life. Her good death strengthened my faith in Buddhism and in Amituofo. It is indeed my good fortune to have her as my Mother.

Finally, I would like to thank Bro. Shi’an for producing ‘The Pure Land Passport: The Three Great Essentials When Approaching Death’ (which was taught in detail for practical application in the ‘Destination Pureland: How To Have The Best Rebirth’ course). It was such an important guide for my family and I during this period. We referred to it and as a result, we did not fumble on the words of guidance to Mum before and after her passing.

Namo Amituofo: Tess
4 April 2018

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Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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