Death Mask

Mom passed away this morning. Upon her last breath, a single tear seeped out and bathed her right cheek. My tears began where hers ended—and I have been weeping throughout the day. Amidst the grief of loss, I am grateful to have been with her. I am especially grateful for having at least some minimal skill in helping ease her suffering through the practice of meeting death with grace.

As I witnessed mom’s final breaths, I saw her face merge with all the dying faces I have known. Close family and my hospice charges had the same look in the end. Every one of those faces wore a similar kind of death mask. It is as if we are all given this same mask at birth to wear when we are ready to die. I am struck by the sameness. Death makes us all equal.

Another mask of equality is the face we shine to the world when we are born. This luminous wide-eyed expression reveals a being open to every next thing without prejudice. This light has no language, ideology, religion, or color. Those things arise later when we begin to wear masks of separate identities.

Those facades are associated with a craving for approval or an arrogant assertion of a self. I find it strange how we lose understanding of our essential sameness somewhere between birth and death. We are reminded of this by beings who reclaimed their original face through compassionate activity. After all, it is love that is evoked through gazing into a child’s shining eyes and blank stares of the dying. 

May we all aspire to don the mask of our original face and wear the mask of death knowing we lived a compassionate life. May all our languages, ideologies, religions, and perception of color, be expressions of this primary motivation.

Thank you, mom, for all your compassion and reminding me, even in death, to reclaim the living face of love.