A Meditation Technique for Facing Grief
Breathing in the world’s suffering helped me deal with sickness and death
We knew that death was rapidly approaching for Libby when she became too weak to swallow her pureed food or even suck from a straw. My twin sons were only three years old when we started frequenting the nursing home where she lived, excited to take McDonald’s milkshakes to their great-grandmother.
On what turned out to be her last day, I lifted my boys over the side rail and oxygen tubing that surrounded her like armor. One hovered, giggling as he planted a kiss on her forehead. She was just shy of 88.
During that final week, I finally pulled my signed copy of Roshi Joan Halifax’s book Being With Dying from the bookshelf where it had lived, its spine still uncracked after nearly a year. I had purchased it at a mindfulness conference the first time I heard Halifax speak. At the time, no one in my life was actively dying, and a part of me didn’t want to jinx myself or my loved ones, so I kept the book on hold, knowing that sooner or later I’d need the solace it would undoubtedly offer during a time of need.
With Libby’s passing, Halifax began speaking to me through the pages I read, yet I only made it through the first few chapters before it was buried bedside among the stacks of magazines, books, and journals that had preceded it.
A week after Libby’s funeral, my friend Sarah’s two-month-old son appeared yellow, lethargic, and feverish. Their pediatrician sent them to the children’s hospital for tests, returning a one in 18,000 result: biliary atresia, a complete liver failure in their delightful infant. Survival would require a transplant, and he needed to teeter between not too healthy and not too sick to “score” placement at the top of the deceased donor transplant list.
I took her some meals, texted, called, and visited them as they cycled in and out of the hospital, making sure to steer clear of them whenever any hint of a bug lingered in our household. And I breathed. Days dragged into months as she waited for the call that seemed never to come.
During those difficult months, I started reading Halifax’s book again, in anticipation of hearing her speak at another conference. Yet I…