Encouraging Sincere Faith In Āmítuófó Creates Even More Faith
At this time of writing, it has been a week since my Mom departed. Her passing was peaceful and blissful despite much pain in her last few months. I hope that through this sharing of Mom’s journey, you can find and/or deepen your faith in Āmítuófó (阿弥陀佛), and aspire to be reborn in his Pure Land (念佛) through sincere and wholehearted Niànfó (念佛) practice.
Personally, this journey has taken me deeper into the heart of Āmítuófó’s loving-kindness and compassion, with his Other-power (他力) of blessings in times of distress and helplessness. For this, I cannot express enough reverence towards Āmítuófó’s greatness. I can only have mindful upholding of his name with the Three Provisions (三资粮). Námó Āmítuófó (南无阿弥陀佛).
A Wake-Up Call
In early 2019, Mom was diagnosed with stage 4 of colon cancer, with some spotting found in her liver and lungs. She followed the doctor’s recommendation with weekly chemotherapy and regular medication, going for port-a-cath and stoma operations earlier this year. In the midst of all the medical appointments, Mom would Niànfó whenever possible, and also as much as she could daily – usually once in the morning and again in the evening.
Whenever we spoke about Niànfó, she would always tell me that Āmítuófó is always around, and that he constantly ensures her well-being. She would also comment on how blessed she was to have met a true Dharma teacher, Bro. Shi’an, who eventually led her to connect with Āmítuófó through attending of Dharma classes and Pureland Practice Fellowship (PPF) sessions.
Although she was managing her condition well for some time, late last year, she caught the coronavirus and had to stop her chemotherapy, which led to many complications. Her stomach started to swell with liquid that had to be drained regularly. Her limbs also swelled and skin began to tear. There were open wounds on her calves and ankles where ascites fluid flowed from. She was ferried in and out of hospital regularly, and due to the pain, she was often frustrated.
As Mom was a food-lover in her heydays, her appetite for certain foods grew. But it was obvious that she could not consume them due to her ailing condition. She was not a full-fledged veg(etari)an but at least once a week, she would choose to have veg(etari)an meals. During this period, she lost much weight and battled with negative thoughts spurred by her physical suffering. Despite all these, she continued to Niànfó, silently in her heart when she was breathless, and vocally when she was more energetic.
The Final Countdown
As Dad was Mom’s sole caregiver, he was quite stretched, which led him to have some health issues. During this trying time, we engaged medically trained assistance, while my brother and I took turns to take care of Mom during the day and overnight. As time passed by, she grew weaker and had to be hospitalised. Time spent with her at the hospital was with many long conversations about Niànfó, with constant reassurance that Āmítuófó will come to receive her.
There were moments when she was triggered by anger from past memories, which I listened to with silent Niànfó in my heart. Somehow, with this, she calmed down. (There should also be encouraging to let go of unhappy memories, as their recollection only leads to being unhappy again, which is unnecessary, unhelpful and dangerous when dying. Anger can be transformed to peace of mind with Niànfó practised together too.)
Her final two-week hospital stay was filled with constant reminders to Niànfó as sincerely as she could, and to listen to the Buddha’s name earnestly. Mom did exactly that – with Niànfó throughout her stay. By then, the cancer had already spread to her liver and kidneys. Pain began to engulf her, but I knew that Mom is one tough cookie. However, I feared that she might enter a state of confusion if her condition worsened, such as being unable to recognise family members.
The night Mom returned home, we arranged to have a overnight nurse take care of her while the rest of us caught up with some rest. Suddenly, in the wee hours, I received a call from Dad, saying that Mom vomited blood and had to be readmitted to hospital. With all these going on, I did silent Niànfó in my heart. When I arrived at the hospital, I immediately taped a Niànfó player (念佛机) to a bedside handle and played Āmítuófó’s name, loudly enough for her to hear.
By then, Mom was already dozing on and off, occasionally opening her eyes and speaking of her last wishes. There were moments when she was experiencing pain in her back and spine. I would move close to her and gently remind her to listen to Āmítuófó’s name and Niànfó in her heart (instead of paying attention to the discomfort). She would nod her head to indicate that yes, she was doing it despite the wincing pain.
Intermittently, the doctors came to check and update us on her status. As Mom’s alertness began to decline, we requested for moving her to a private room, as the environment with five other patients was a little distracting. Thankfully, we managed to secure a room for her last lap, which allowed me to better offer support-chanting (助念). During this time, relatives came to visit. As the Niànfó player was playing, conversations were kept to a minimum.
When it was time to move to the private room, Mom was in greater pain and her alertness dwindled further. Whenever she opened her eyes, I would show her Āmítuófó’s image on my phone and reminded her to Niànfó sincerely and to listen to Āmítuófó’s name just as sincerely. She would look at the picture and then close her eyes.
A larger version of Āmítuófó’s image was also secured on the wall. Dad and I chanted along and kept the reminders going.
After about an hour, my Dad and brother had to head home to rest. I stayed by her side and continued to Niànfó. Mom’s condition deteriorated even faster but the Niànfó did not stop. I followed the instructions stated in the Pure Land Passport (https://purelanders.com/now) and had occasional assistance from Bro. Shi’an through texting. It was comforting that I was able to do support-chanting by myself. Essentially, The Pure Land Passport was a (spiritual) lifesaver and I cannot imagine being without it. Being me, my Pure Land Passport is also tabbed for fast and easy reference. I even extracted its Guidance Texts (开示文) onto handy cards.
About a couple of hours into solo support-chanting, I noticed that Mom was staring into space and pointing with a finger, as if chiding someone. Her expression was of annoyance and anger, with a steady glare and gritted teeth. As it could be karmic creditors (冤亲债主) around, I recited the Guidance To Karmic Creditors, put the Rebirth Blanket (往生被) on her and sprinkled the blessed Sand Of Golden Bright Light (金光明沙) on the appropriate parts of her body. Time and again, I would remind her to close her eyes (to avoid visual distractions), and to simply Niànfó as sincerely as she could. She would nod weakly. This went on for several hours as I repeated the above when needed. More often than not, she would calm down.
About 12 to 14 hours in, I was exhausted and stretched to the limit. I wanted to stay with her all the way, but as the past several nights were with less than five hours of rest, I knew my body could not take it. I prayed to Āmítuófó for guidance on what to do because I could not leave my Mom in the state she was in. My fear almost got the better of me, till an epiphany struck me. I realised that I was attached to the notion that should Mom depart, her consciousness will be lingering around. This realisation spurred me to have even more faith in Āmítuófó, that everything will be alright despite me being Mom’s sole support-chanter. (Ideally, there should be support-chanting shifts arranged from pre-departure to post-departure, for 3 to 8 or more hours, although conditions might not allow this to happen.)
As I continued to Niànfó, my faith reassured me that Āmítuófó will be there to receive my Mom when the time came, that if I have done all that I could for now, Āmítuófó will ‘take over’ with the best arrangements once I left the room. Hence, I took that leap of faith and trusted Āmítuófó wholeheartedly. I recited the necessary Guidance Text again, with the Repentance Verse (忏悔偈), and dedicated merits (回向) before leaving to catch some rest. I also placed a card with Āmítuófó image (in The Pure Land Passport) on the bed above my Mom’s head, as a reminder for her to be mindful of Āmítuófó, from moment to moment and thought to thought.
At around 4 am, the hospital called to inform that Mom was about to depart, and that family members should come down quickly. By the time I arrived, Mom had departed. Dad was already doing Niànfó at her bedside. Mom’s expression was peaceful and blissful, though with slightly open eyes and mouth (which will usually close naturally after further support-chanting). She had what looked like a tear of joy in the inner corner of her left eye and looked like she was about to enter deep serene sleep.
I placed my hand near the crown of her head and it was warm. Before moving her body later, I tugged her hair on her crown a couple of times (to stimulate her consciousness, if still present, to depart from there for Pure Land). When I placed my hand near her crown again, the warmth had dissipated. It was then that I knew that Āmítuófó had truly come to receive her as assured. There was support-chanting for about 4 hours before the nurses had to do cleaning.
Somehow, Āmítuófó’s loving-kindness and compassion reassured me that my Mom was in his good hands. It was also during this time when I felt Āmítuófó’s Other-power. My reverence towards Āmítuófó deepened, as he had allayed my earlier fears of Mom possibly entering a state of confusion, with me leaving her to depart without support-chanting.
Seven Days Later
As mentioned, it had been seven days since Mom departed. Until installation of her niche, every day was peaceful, with no strange dreams, discomfort or knotted feelings. I took comfort in knowing that Mom’s peaceful and blissful departure was also reflected in her post-death journey. All these would not have been possible without Āmítuófó’s immeasurable loving-kindness and compassion for my Mom. His profound blessings have shone their light to deepen our faith and aspiration, to practise even more sincerely and diligently.
On behalf of my departed Mom to all of you – ‘May Āmítuófó be your constant companion through and through. As long as your faith is unwavering and your aspiration is resolute, your practice will naturally be wholehearted, and Āmítuófó will certainly come through.’
Last but not least, my sincere heartfelt gratitude to all PPF support-chanters who came to Mom’s wake so readily. As Mom was an occasional support-chanter herself, kindness truly begets kindness. For this, I am truly grateful. Námó Āmítuófó.
Námó Āmítuófó : Estee
2 June 2022
Note: In memory of our fellow PPF Purelander, below are 3 inspiring testimonies written by her to share. May the merits created by reading her sharing lead her to a higher grade of birth in Pure Land.
 How My Prayers For True Dharma Were Answered
 Hearing Heavenly Music Fill The Room
 An Almost Deadly Near Miss!