It was three weeks before Christmas and she asked me to visit her in Wellington, preferably before Christmas. I was leaving for India the following week and no cheap flights meant it was not possible. I phoned her and told her I would visit when I returned from India.
Whilst in India, my Teacher got an email saying she had been admitted into hospice. I was unsure that I would get back in time. However, my Teacher was confident that it would be okay. At least I was in one of the holiest places and attending a prayer festival. I sponsored some group prayers for her as well as doing my personal prayers for her.
I met the Tibetan family that my friend sponsored. They were very grateful for her kindness and generosity and very sad that my friend was terminally ill. They requested me to take a beautiful woollen shawl back to New Zealand for her.
Within a few days of arriving home, I flew to Wellington to see her. She was out of hospice and back in her own home, being well cared for by one of her sons and her sister. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a much thinner version of my friend who was still quite mobile due to the loving care of her son and sister. I stayed two days with her.
She appeared happy and often talked about how fortunate she was to die whilst her Teacher was alive. She explained she did not feel sad that her Teacher was not physically in NZ, as she felt his comforting compassionate presence with her. During the day she alternated listening to the Medicine Buddha CD and Karmapa Chenno CD which her Teacher had sent her.
At first, she did not want me in the room with her when she vomited or was tired. However, when I told her I had some nursing experience, she was comfortable handing me bowls of vomit and asked me to do a few things for her. We laughed at the way her body was wasting away, but her mind felt strong.
Her son and sister went out for the day, we were alone, which gave us an opportunity to talk. She asked me to do the Green Tara practice in her room while she slept. I noticed sometimes when I looked up to check on her, her eyes were open but she didn’t appear to be there.
I prostrated to her and offered her a kata (the traditional Tibetan white scarf ) with the shawl, as I knew how grateful the Tibetan family was for her generous sponsorship. She was very insistent that I take a photo of her for the Tibetan family and wanted me to pass on her thanks. She wanted them to know she had found a new sponsor to replace her so they needn’t worry.
She asked me to relay to her precious Teacher that she was not afraid. “Nothing to be afraid of, Lama is with me.” We talked about the funeral and the songs she had chosen. She had organised her funeral service and told me she had asked one of her good friends to deliver an eulogy. He replied he wasn’t sure whether he could do it, but needed time to think about it. She was very direct and unemotional and said to him “the answer is either yes or no. If it’s no, that’s fine, I will find someone else.”
She was concerned about the Butter lamp song which she had requested the members of the Buddhist Group to sing. They had been practising when they did prayers for her at her home but it was, “not good,” she said. Wanting to allay her fears I informed her of a CD recording of the prayer which I would post to her.
“What if they forget the CD?” she asked. “If the worst comes to worst, I will sing it.” Appeased, she relaxed and we talked and laughed about a few things.
She wanted me to thank the Attendant of our precious Teacher for all her help in liaising with Lama and for being with Lama. She said her Teacher’s Attendant was very fortunate …but then, she deserved it.
After two days we parted not with sadness or tears but with confidence. She kept telling me to please say to her precious Lama how much she appreciated all that he did for her and that she wasn’t sure if it was okay to say she loved Lama. I told her maybe next time she spoke with him she should say it to her Teacher. She replied that she was aware Lama had so many students around the world and that she was so grateful that he spent this special time with her.
On the day of the funeral, when it came time for the Butter Lamp song there was no CD player. I was nervous because the church was full. Optimistically I thought, most of these people won’t know what the song is supposed to sound like and I will never see these people again. I sang the song for my friend.
Our precious Teacher would always say to his students, “Do your best, that’s good enough, you can’t do more than that.”