My stepmother Phyllis and I went to the doctors together and we did the whole thing of getting all the reports and dealing with all the emotions. Now she was a very tough New England lady. She was wonderful, grounded, tough, poker-playing, smoking, just fun. She was argumentative and tough and willful. She had this kind of stiff upper lip way of living life and so she was doing that around her death. My job wasn’t to say “hey Phyllis, you should open to this.” That wasn’t my moral right. My job was just to be there with her. And I would lay on the bed and we would hold each other and we would just talk and we would talk about death and what we thought it might be like and all, but she was still very very strong. But the pain of the cancer was very intense and over time it finally wore away her will and there came a moment shortly before, maybe four or five days before her death, when she gave up.
Now in our culture giving up is seen as failure. Everybody says keep trying, keep trying. We surround people who are dying with a certain kind of falseness that comes out of our own fear. When my mother, my natural mother was dying I remember it was back in ‘66 and she was in a hospital in Boston. I would be sitting with her and in those days I was taking a lot of psychedelics so I would usually be on something sitting with her. I would watch people coming into the room, all the relatives and doctors and nurses saying you are looking better, you are doing well and then they would go out of the room and say she won’t live the week. And I thought how bizarre that a human being is going through one of the most profound transitions in their life and they are surrounded completely by deception. Can you hear the pain of that? That nobody could be straight with them because everybody was too frightened, even the rabbi, all of them, everybody. Everybody. And she and I talked about it. She said what do you think death is? I said I don’t know. I look at you and you are my friend and it looks like you are in a building that is burning down but you are still there, and I figure when the building burns it will go and you’ll still be there. In a way we just met in that space.
So with Phyllis I was open and she could ask whatever she wanted. I didn’t say “now let me instruct you about dying” because she would not have accepted that. But then she gave up, and at the moment she surrendered it was like watching an egg breaking and some being emerged that was so radiantly beautiful and present and light and joyful. It was a being that at some deep intuitive level she knew herself to be but had never been busy being all of her adult life. And she opened to this being and she and I just basked in its radiance and she at that moment had gone into another plane of consciousness where we were completely together talking, being, but the pain and the dying process were just phenomena that were occurring. At that moment she was no longer busy dying.
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