“I Learned to Be Simply Present…”


Caroline De Glanville from the UK shares her story: “In the summer of 2001 my mother was diagnosed with cancer. The medicine made her feel sick, and she decided that she did not want chemo-therapy or any pills, as it would make her hair fall out. At the same time my husband of 25 years asked for a divorce, and my youngest son left school, and the nest was empty. My whole world was falling apart like a house of cards,

A good friend lent me a copy of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It was a handbook for me at that time, as I started to read, avidly searching for some kind of guidance, help and support for our ordeal. I was not disappointed, it opened a door and changed my life, as I discovered a whole world of possibilities, and a new way of seeing both life and death.

I found immense support, particularly Part 2 on ‘helping the dying’, although much of it I understood very little of. In spite of the fact that we could not talk about it, I was able to practice Tonglen for my mother and finally Phowa for the first time in my life by following the instructions by the book. Also to verbally give her permission to leave us, if that’s what she felt she had to do.

I learned to be simply present during her final months, and cultivate compassion, which I found to be a curiously uplifting antidote to the depressing futility and sorrow of imminent death. Yes, there was something useful that I could do to help.  I particularly remember the bit about not shutting down on love, but I was by now in a state of emotional melt-down.

As a newly qualified therapist, I found this whole episode was actually a precious gift in the form of a lesson in being simply present and compassionate rather than trying to ‘fix’ anything. My whole sense of values changed from “doing” to “being”.

My mother died in October 2001 as I was sitting at her bedside. As she breathed her last, like a ship pulling away from the quayside, I said “Goodbye Mum!” and visualized her spirit streaming out through the top of the head into the light, calling spiritual beings to guide and protect her on her journey.

Curiously a few months later I happened to meet a’ spiritual healer’ who was, in fact, a medium who told me among other things, that my mother wished to thank me!

Within a year later I met Sogyal Rinpoche in London, and was deeply touched by his presence and sense of humour. I still keep the book near me, and have given a copy to several friends in need. Although I have now read it several times, it seems to get more vivid and fresh each time I read it.”

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