HELPING AFTER DEATH 313 stay in the bardo longer than four weeks. The seventh week is also considered a critical juncture, as forty-nine days is taught to be generally the longest stay in the bardo. So on these occasions, masters and practitioners will be invited to the house, and the practices, offerings, and donations to the needy are performed on a grander scale. Another offering ceremony and feast is held one year after the death, to mark the dead person's rebirth. Most Tibetan families have annual ceremonies on the anniversaries of their teachers, parents, husbands, wives, brothers, and sisters, and on these days they will also give donations to the poor. HELPING THE BEREAVED Among Tibetans, whenever someone dies it's natural for relatives and friends to gather round, and everyone always finds some way or another to give a helping hand. The whole community provides strong spiritual, emotional, and practical support, and the dead person's family is never left feeling helpless or at a loss or wondering what they can do. Everyone in Tibetan society knows that as much as possible is being done for the dead person, and that knowledge empowers those who are left behind to endure, accept, and survive the death of their loved ones. How different it is now in modem society, where such community support has been almost entirely lost! I often think how such support could save the grief of bereavement from being prolonged and needlessly difficult, as it so often is. My students who work as bereavement counselors in hospices have told me that one of the severest sources of anguish for the bereaved person is the belief that neither they nor anyone else can do anything for their loved one who has died. But there is, as I have been showing, a great deal that anyone can do to help the dead. One way of comforting the bereaved is to encourage them to do something for their loved ones who have died: by living even more intensely on their behalf after they have gone, by practicing for them, and so giving their death a deeper meaning. In Tibet relatives may even go on a pilgrimage for the dead person, and at special moments and at holy places they will think of their dead loved ones and practice for them. TheTibetans never forget the dead: They will make offerings at shrines on their behalf; at great prayer meetings they will sponsor prayers in their name; they will keep making donations, for
314 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING them, to spiritual projects; and whenever they meet masters they will request special prayers for them. The greatest consolation for a Tibetan would be to know that a master was doing practice for their dead relative. Don't let us half die with our loved ones, then; let us try to live, after they have gone, with greater fervor. Let us try, at least, to fulfill the dead person's wishes or aspirations in some way, for instance by giving some of his belongings to charity, or sponsoring in her name a project she held particularly dear. Tibetans often write letters of condolence to friends who are bereaved that might say something like this: All things are impermanent, and all things die. You know this. It was only natural that your mother died when she did; the older generation is expected to die first. She was elderly and unwell, and will not resent having had to leave her body. And because you can help her now by sponsoring practices and doing good actions in her name, she will be happy and relieved. So please do not be sad. If our friend has lost a child or someone close to them who seemed too young to die so soon, we tell them: Now your little boy has died, and it seems as if your whole world has been shattered. It seems, I know, so cruel and illogical. I cannot explain your son's death, but I do know that it must be the natural result of his karma, and I believe and know that his death must have purified some karmic debt that you and I cannot know about Your grief is my grief. But take heart because now you and I can help him, through our practice and our good actions and our love; we can take his handand walk by his side, even now, even when he's dead, and help him to find a new birth and a longer life next time. In other cases we might write: / know your grief is vast, but when you are tempted to despair, just think how fortunate your friend is to have the masters practicing for her. just think too, that at other times and in other places there has been no such spiritual help at all for those who died. Think, when you remember your loved one dying, how many people are dying in the world today, alone, forgotten, abandoned, and unsupported by any spiritual vision. Think of the people who died in the terrible, inhuman years of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet, where spiritual practice of any kind was forbidden.