Death will come whether you are prepared or not.
This is the third of Atisha’s nine contemplations on death. What does preparing for death look like? There are certainly practical preparations to be made, and I strongly encourage anyone reading to get on it, regardless of age or health status. However, the mental preparation which is the focus of this contemplation brings to mind images of our friend, the Grim Reaper, knocking on our door when we least expect it.
As with the previous contemplation, this one made me think of my children. I have an 18 year old daughter who drives a motor vehicle and is going away to college in NYC in the fall. I also have a four year old who will be going to preschool soon. Is it possible to be mentally prepared for their death if it happens before my own? What about my friends still in their 20s and 30s? Am I more capable of preparing for the death of my grandparents because they are older? My mom’s because she has cancer? And of course there is me. It can come at any time? Really?
I was at a yoga class yesterday evening and it was outside in the park and lovely. Then during savasana, it occurred to me how vulnerable we all were, lying prone on the ground with our eyes closed. And then…I imagined someone with a gun coming to shoot and kill as many of us as possible! I saw myself trying to run away. The horror on people’s faces. Murder is not cool. At all. But is it possible to withhold judgement about the method and timing of death? Of any death. Who decided that dying of old age was the “good” way and everything else is “bad” anyway?
How about it’s hard enough to grieve the loss of someone you love without the added upset about how and when it happened? That part of it is optional. My dad died from complications from COVID this year. The entire process was horrific. Losing him was indescribably painful. But, I could also be upset because he died from a pandemic that may or may not have been handled super poorly, the fact that there is a vaccine now and it’s too late for him, that he had to die in ICU alone, that he was only 62, that it wasn’t his time, that it wasn’t supposed to happen that way. But it did happen that way and there isn’t a single thing I can do to change it. And that was when he died and so it was his time.
I wasn’t prepared because I had this idea of when the “right” time and way was for his death. I’ve assigned this judgement to each person I care about, including myself. But we don’t have to. It IS possible to withhold judgement here and say people die when they die and however and whenever that happens was indeed the right time and way.