“All conditioned things are impermanent—when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.” --Shakyamuni Buddha, The Dhammapada
My mother died in January. She was 90 years old and had been hospitalized several times over the last year. For the last 3 weeks of her life, we were supported by hospice services, which allowed her to spend Christmas and New Year’s at home. Many people have asked me how I am doing--how I am coping with my mother’s death. I tell them that I’m doing pretty well. I think that one reason that I am doing OK is that both my mother and I, each in our own way, accepted this basic teaching of the Buddha—that all things are impermanent.
Here I am giving my mom a COVID-haircut in the summer of 2020
My mom faced the pain of impermanence when her mother died. Our family lived in Washington and my grandmother was in California. We were busy with the farm and school back in 1980 when my mother’s mother fell and broke her hip which would need surgery. After talking it over, my mother and grandmother decided that my mom should stay in Washington during the surgery and then go to California later to help with her mom’s recovery. But my grandmother died in surgery and my mother never saw her again. My mother wished she had been there for her mom’s surgery and had been able see her one more time before she died.
Over the last few years, as my mother became more frail, she would remind me of this experience. She told me that eventually she would die, and she did not want me to experience the feelings of regret that she felt about not going to California to be with her mother.
To make sure I did not feel regret, she would carefully and clearly thank me for every visit and every phone call we had . She would say goodbye at every visit as if it might be the last time we would see each other. She would be clear that she appreciated whatever I had done for her during the visit (no matter how small) and she would say that even if we didn’t see each other again, I should not feel guilty or doubt my decisions, that I was a good daughter.
As a result of my mother’s wisdom and acceptance regarding her own impermanence, I am relatively free of feelings of guilt and regret regarding my relationship with my mother and the circumstances of her death. She would not want me to have the painful feelings that she experienced. Her wisdom regarding her own impermanence has reduced my suffering at her death. And so, although I am sad and I miss her a lot, I am able to focus on the happiness and love that she gave me, and I am not preoccupied with regrets.
I hope that by sharing this experience, I can pass along to you the love and wisdom that she was able to give me.
Rev. Anne Spencer