Today is Wesak day, and also happened to be the 100th day of my maternal grandmother Lee Siew death, who passed away on 30th January, 2009 at the ripe old age of 93.
necessary steps to take when the time comes.
On that fateful morning, I received a call around 5am from my dad who said grandma is having difficulties. I rushed over to her residence and her caretaker Ann told me that grandma is unconscious and her vital signs are very weak. Ann, who run the nursing and old folks home where my grandma is residing, is a certified nurse who specializes in Geriatric care. By the time I reached her bedside, my grandma looked like she's deep asleep but struggling to breathe loudly and heavily. Ann calmly told me that this is normal when people are about to pass away due to old age. I composed myself and tried to recall all that I have read about what to do in a person's final dying moment from the Buddhist perspective. I put my hands on her forehead and foot to feel the warmth and pulled up the blanket to keep her warm and comfortable. As the body dissolve and consciousness fade, it's important to ensure that the dying person state of mind is clear and wholesome. That is why we shouldn't cry or lament in front of a dying person to free that person from worries, guilt, regrets, attachment and any unwholesome thoughts. I remembered Bhante Aggacitta once said even a person in coma can hear or feel what we said or do around him or her.
I went to buy batteries to run the chanting machine in the form of Guan Yin statue and place it near her ear. Putting an image of reverence like a Buddha statue, or any other image according to the dying person belief (Jesus, Angels, Deities) will help calm the dying person's mind so that they will have positive, peaceful state of mind. According to Buddhist belief, a dying person's final state of mind is one of the key factor that will determine that person place of rebirth. I whispered into her ears and asked her to chant and think of Amitabha Buddha, which is her main belief. While my mum & dad are around, I rushed to Maha Vihara to fetch a monk to chant for her and had the blessing of meeting a very kind & understanding monk named Bhante Sumangala who came and chanted few verses from the suttas for her. After chanting, Bhante used a spoon and fed some holy water into my grandma's mouth. He said this is more effective than sprinkling holy water in the case of a dying person.
While fetching Bhante Sumangala back to Maha Vihara, my mum called and informed me that my grandma had passed away soon after we left. This is how unpredictable life can be. A doctor in the ICU once told me: I've seen cases where people stuck around critical patients' bedside 24/7, but sadly the patients died the moment their loved ones walked away to the toilet. Our family then convened to decide which funeral service to engage. I pulled up a name card which I kept in my pocket for the last 3 years: Koperasi Buddhisme Malaysia Berhad (Malaysian Buddhist Co-operative Society Limited). Their Funeral Directors, Bro Kelvin Lim and Sis Didi Chan impressed me when they conducted the funeral for a friend's father few years back.
I called Bro Kelvin and within few hours he turned up and arranged everything for me. By the next day, the setup for my grandma's funeral was done with 2 altars: one in Theravada tradition (which I practice) and the other in Mahayana tradition (which my family practice). Kelvin took great patience to explain to my parents Buddhist traditions and ways. I then fetch 3 monks from Maha Vihara to chant and conduct transference of merits to my grandma. It was absolutely heartwarming to see my 5 years old daughter kneeling down and giving respect during the whole time the monks were chanting and later gave a talk on the Dhamma.
Because my grandma died during the Chinese new year holidays, we decided not to inform anyone except for a few close relatives. Most Chinese are "pantang" (fearful) about attending funeral during auspicious period. Except for the Mahayana nuns that Kelvin arranged to chant in the evening, we were prepared for a quiet funeral since few people knew. Fortunately, my mum met a Pureland Buddhist follower who enquired if we want them to chant for my grandma later in the night. To our surprise and amazement, a big number of people turned up that night to chant for my grandma. The whole place resonated with Amitofo, Amitofo, Amitofo... as they chanted in unison and I felt so much loving kindness and compassion from these kind folks. I've joined supportive chanting group before but never have I seen a group this size, this many. My mum said it's my grandma's blessing to have so many people chanting for her.
After 2 nights, we buried my grandma in Nirvana Memorial Park in Semenyih. Today our family gathered there to pay respect to a great grandma whose strength and willpower epitomizes what family bond is all about.