11 June 2024

Why I like to meditate on death

By Frances Lucero


Why would I want to meditate on death?

I went into my first meditation class with a very painful heart and a bit of trepidation. What were all these “golden idols” and why were folks bowing down to them?
When I watched the teacher walk into the room with the biggest smile on her face, I was immediately taken with how peaceful and happy she was, and I knew that I wanted what she had.
I felt an immediate relief and sense of peace as the teaching commenced and soon it felt like I was the only one in the room, as the words she was saying spoke directly to me and my broken heart.

Thinking about the fragility of my life

I kept going to these teachings at the Kadampa Center, seeking that peace and relief every week. The first time I heard a teaching on death, it felt surprisingly like good news, like something I wanted to hear more of. What? Wasn’t the subject of death taboo, something nobody wanted to talk about? A subject to be pushed away and swept under the rug, only to deal with when confronted?
I began to think about the fragility of life, of my life. As a young person I remember having the actual belief that “I will never die”. The meditation on and teachings about death shook that crazy notion out of my mind and began to help me look at my life in a more meaningful way and to my utter surprise, made me feel peaceful. I remember thinking how refreshing it was to hear teachings that were focused on the reality of our life situation and how surprisingly peaceful it felt to understand and learn how to live in accordance with that often painful reality.

hand tries to touch the leaves falling from the trees flying in autumn

How do you prepare for a cherished one’s death?

Then one day, while at work, I had the thought: “my Mom is going to die”. Up until that point, if such a thought came into my mind, I immediately brushed it aside and would not allow it, as if consenting to such a thought would actually make it happen. She was the light of my life, a very dear parent who was always there for me and for all my siblings in all our traumas and life’s struggles, the center of our family. When I allowed the thought to remain that she was going to die, I realized that I must prepare for and live in accordance with that reality. So, I began to prepare.

How do you prepare for a cherished one’s death?
You think about it, you meditate on the impermanence of everything, including that amazing person who has always been in your life. A natural consequence of this is that you begin to stop taking for granted that you will see that person tomorrow or ever again. You begin to cherish them more than you ever have and then naturally do as much for them as you can, thinking this may be my last chance to do this particular thing for her. You tell them how much they mean to you. You ask the questions that you’ve always wanted to ask. You sincerely thank them for all they have done for you, and you express heartfelt regret for all the hurts you have caused them.

hope concept, woman catch the sun, artistic vector illustration

The beauty and benefit of living with an awareness of death

Then my mama was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. When she received that diagnosis, her face showed no sign of distress or lack of acceptance. Her faith carried her then and through the rest of her life. And I felt such peace. Of course, it was difficult seeing her go through the painful decline that happened rapidly, but because of the powerful meditation on death and impermanence, I was able to keep a peaceful mind every single day for the next two months until her beautifully tranquil death came early one fall morning.

At her funeral, which was packed with so many who loved this extraordinary woman, I took my turn at the microphone, as the siblings who wished said what was in our hearts. I knew that the first thing I would say was “How wonderful!” I think that got people’s surprised attention. And I really meant those words. I spoke of the beauty and benefit of living with an awareness of death. An appreciation and acceptance of this reality gave each of us the opportunity to do and say all the things that we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to, if her death came unexpectedly. Her death sentence was a beautiful verdict that brought us all closer, both to each other and to her, our beloved mom.

For the 20 years since, I can say that my awareness of death has remained a big part of my life. Sometimes I think about it as I wake up and arise in the morning, thinking “I may die today” or someone close to me may die today. When my life partner and I separate for the day as we go our separate ways in our daily life, we have the beautiful habit of expressing our love and saying “I hope to see you again” in various ways, with the most meaningful and exquisite awareness that we may never see each other again.

Frances attends Kadampa Meditation Center New Mexico

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