The Final Gift

When you graduate from this realm into the next, if you could leave one gift to the ones you love, what would it be? People leave
letters for their children, favorite articles of clothing or homes and cars and money. These things are wonderful and they are tangible. They have weight, they spark memories and foster peace of mind. But if you could pick something intangible that would live on in someone else’s heart instead of on a shelf, in a garage or in a bank account, what would you choose? What pearl of knowledge or wisdom would you want to leave behind?

This pondering brings to mind a gift that a friend named Isa left me. She was 62, she was dying from cancer, it had been a long journey and she had been in a lot of pain. When it was clear that her time was up, a few friends and I gathered at her bedside. She was on morphine which she had decided to keep at a minimum so she could stay conscious and she was talking to us. A woman she had known for years, they had walked a spiritual path together, sat on a chair and read passages aloud from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. I was sitting on Isa’s bed when she lifted up her
head and said, “I’m not ready to go yet.” She looked slightly troubled and we let her know that the timing was up to her. We would stay with her. She relaxed, closed her eyes, and dropped into a meditative state. We all breathed
with her.

About twenty minutes later, Isa opened her eyes, they were bright and alive, and she said, “Oh, this isn’t so bad.” She died in the next
moment. It was breathtaking. When she said those words, “Oh, this isn’t so bad,” she gave me and her other friends a glimpse into the possibility that dying was not so bad. In fact, it was okay. I cried at the loss of her but also because she had given me hope about the greatest mystery of life. Hope about death. I decided then and there that if it was in my power to remain conscious when I died and offer my people a final gift of hope like Isa did, I would do that. To me, that was the greatest thing that anyone could offer and if it was at my fingertips, I wanted to give it away.

I did volunteer work with AIDS when it was surging back in the eighties and nineties and I saw that everyone dies in a different way. Some people are frightened and others are peaceful. Some people are in great pain and they need heavy doses of morphine and others die in their sleep or in a multitude of other ways. There is no right or wrong way, no worse or better way to die. We are all on our own paths, we all lived our lives differently and we have no idea where, when or how we’ll die. But if I have a choice, I’d like to leave people hope and soothing when I breathe my last breath.

I was so lucky to have been there with Isa. Sitting at someone’s death bed is rigorous and requires a great deal of letting go, but
for me, I never felt as alive as I did when I was witnessing someone leaving their body. It was an opportunity to leave my ego at the door, forget about myself and my fear and bring my complete attention to the present moment. I held hands, I prayed, I breathed and I listened as each person made the inevitable journey from the physical world into the vastness of the universe. It was always a gift but the greatest one I ever received was what Isa left behind. Hope. Less fear. Great possibility. The idea that dying could really be okay.

Death and dying expert Stephen Levine said, “Don’t worry. Dying is perfectly safe. Everyone is doing it.”