All that is born must inevitably die. This is the natural order of things.
Last night I learned that my grandmother, Janice Estelle Rosenfeld, passed away peacefully in her sleep at the age of 86, exactly 360 days after my grandfather. In surveying what I had done yesterday while my grandma had been going through the death process, I came to a comforting realization. When my Aunt had finding her body in Pennsylvania, I had been quite early and waiting patiently for an appointment in Florida, and so I made another appointment with myself. I had been meditating.
When I came home and found the message from my Aunt, I didn't have to open it to know what it said. Janice had passed. What I felt, instead of grief, was immediate compassion for her and for my family. I told my brother and hugged him, telling him I was here if he needed to talk or cry. I thought of my father and how he would take it, being a world away in the Philippines, and having already experienced the deaths of his father and brother over the course of the year. Rather than be brought low by loss, I took it for a lesson in impermanence and as a great opportunity to practice and cultivate bodhichitta --- the mind of awakening which evokes compassion for all sentient beings. The definition of compassion, according to the Buddhist tradition, is the feeling of not wanting beings to suffer.
And then it dawned on me. What had I been doing just the weekend before? None other than receiving teachings on the intermediate states (bardos), including the bardo between death and rebirth. Not only that, but also being given empowerment to practice on Amitabha, the Buddha of Limitless Light, and how to eject one's consciousness into Amitabha's pure realm of Dewachen, where one can then practice dharma constantly until enlightenment.I had almost not gone, but a spiritual friend had decided to drive all the way to Tampa for a single day, and I had jumped at the chance to see the lama. After some debate with myself, I had decided to stay an extra day. And boy am I glad that I did, for now those teachings are being put to good use.
Never before have I been so motivated to practice. This morning marked the first of 49 days in which I can be of assistance to my grandmother while she wanders in the bardo of becoming, before she takes another rebirth. I started my practice at 7:30 a.m., and before I knew it the clock said it was 11:45. Four hours of prayer, punctuated by meditation... Now, more than ever before, I feel better equipped to be of benefit to her and all sentient beings suffering in samsara.
In the wise last words of the Buddha: "Impermanent are all compounded things. Strive on heedfully."