Once when the doctor came round to check on how she was and

adjust her medication, Dorothy explained, in a disarmingly simple

and straightforward way, "You see, I am a student of Buddhism, and

we believe that when you die you see lots of light. I think I'm beginning

to see a few flashes of light, but I don't think I've really quite

seen it yet." The doctors were astounded by her clarity and her liveliness,

particularly, they told us, in her advanced stage of illness, when

they would normally have expected her to have been unconscious.

As death came closer, the distinction between day and night

seemed to blur, and Dorothy went deeper and deeper into herself.

The color in her face changed and her moments of consciousness

became fewer. We thought we could detect the signs of the elements

dissolving. Dorothy was ready to die, but her body was not ready to

let go, because her heart was strong. So each night turned into an

ordeal for her, and she would be surprised in the morning that she

had made it through to another day. She never complained, but we

could see how she was suffering; we did everything we could to

make her more comfortable, and when she could no longer take fluids,

we would moisten her lips. Right up until the last thirty-six

hours, she politely refused any drugs that would interfere with her


Not long before Dorothy died, the nurses moved her. She lay

curled up in a fetal position, and even though her body had now

wasted away to almost nothing, and she could neither move nor

speak, her eyes were still open and alive, looking directly ahead,

through the window in front of her, out into the sky. In the moment

just before she died, she moved, almost imperceptibly, looked Debbie

straight in the eye, and communicated something strongly; it was a

look of recognition, as if to say, "This is it," with a hint of a smile.

Then she gazed back out at the sky, breathed once or twice, and

passed away. Debbie gently let go of Dorothy's hand, so that she

could continue, undisturbed, through the inner dissolution.

The staff at the hospice said that they had never seen anyone so

well prepared for death as Dorothy, and her presence and inspiration

were still remembered by many people at the hospice even a year

after her death.


Rick lived in Oregon and had AIDS. He had worked as a computer

operator, and was forty-five when, a few years ago, he came to

the annual summer retreat I lead in the United States, and spoke to

us about what death, and life, and his illness meant to him. I was

amazed by how Rick, who had only studied the Buddhist teachings

with me for two years, had taken them to heart. In this brief period

he had, in his own way, captured the essence of the teachings: devotion,

compassion, and the View of the nature of mind, and made

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