This week, I personally received word of three deaths: someone’s brother, a distant relative, and a friend. I often reflect on how many people, animals, insects, plants, etc. are passing away in this moment and offer prayers for their auspicious rebirth. Buddha’s teaching is really founded upon mindfulness of mortality, the tenuous nature of life. We use that fact to spur us toward practicing great compassion.

I recall one death that occurred quite long ago. It was the passing of a great aunt, the sister of my maternal grandfather. Her name was Myrtabelle and she was one of my favorite persons. Small in stature but large in love, her smile was enough to disarm the most hardened of hearts. The memory of time spent in her amazing sphere of energy is now fading but I still feel her presence.

My strongest Myrtabelle memory is of her funeral. I was ten years old and living in Seattle, Washington. My mother, sister and I took the train south to Portland to attend the service. Surrounded by mostly adults, I was dwarfed by a sea of sadness and weeping. I felt compelled to join with my own tears, although I really did not feel it. I thought, “She is gone now and I will no longer see her. But I still feel her. Why don’t we rejoice in that?”

I later got food poisoning from something I ate at the reception. This seated the memory of that experience in my mind. I thought funerals must have something toxic about them. I obviously still carry that thought, wondering why we don’t conduct rituals of letting go rather than dwelling on what we have lost. The latter is all about us and how we can keep clinging to what is gone.

So, to those who have recently passed, I offer a prayer of release for them and all beings who cling to existence. May the toxicity of attachment be liberated into glorious discerning wisdom. May our grief be transformed into compassionate understanding of impermanence. May this prayer echo throughout the three times and ten directions.

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