Thursday, 12 September 2013

My dying friend

It is painful to watch life wither away slowly. Often, I'm not sure the dying suffers more or those who are alive watching the dying suffer. The fragility of life. The impermanence of life. 

I have known my 57-year-old Dharma sister for about 4 years. Comparing the chatty person she used to be to what she is now, is a completely different picture. She was the chilli padi who would not mince her words at certain times. She was a real live wire who would talk nonstop. She often describes herself as 'a monkey who cannot sit still, jump here and there'. The only time she is quiet is during a puja/teaching or when her guru is in front of her. She would spend hours just telling me stories of her gurus as well as their kindness. She herself has a kind heart. She would not hesitate spending money on beautiful offerings for her gurus. The material offerings she offered would always be delicately carved or chosen from the best quality. She is never worried about not making enough money, for it would only mean driving a longer 12-hour shift in her taxi. And most of her hard-earned money was offered to her gurus, or the Sangha community or charitable causes. She told me she drove a taxi because she could share the Dharma with her passengers, giving them little holy objects or sharing her wonderful experience with them. Even on her dying bed now, she is still thinking about her gurus and how to make offerings to them. In this aspect, I do admire her pure motivation. 

Last time, she used to drive me in her taxi to her favourite eating places. One of them is the Yong Tau Foo stall in Geylang Bahru. She always had her usual order 'customised', yong tau foo pieces in soup, and dry bee hoon on a separate plate, with no oil and no lard. She also likes the Teochew bee hoon fishball soup in Beach Road, with just fishballs and minced meat, and without fishcake. She is always hungry and she has a ravenous appetite. When she cooks at home, she would stir fry a huge plate of vegetables and a simple bowl of soup, and down 3 bowls of rice. She told me she is a 'png tang' (teochew for 饭桶). When she was undergoing her chemo-therapy treatment a few months ago, she wanted to go to a Korean restaurant in Katong, to have Samyetang, the best korean ginseng chicken soup, so I accompanied her there. Both of us had our own huge pot of the ginseng chicken soup and dozen of tiny dishes. Afterwards I brought her to a cafe and asked her to try the mixed berries panna cotta for dessert, which she totally loved. She was really very happy that day.  

Four years ago when I just got to know her, she told me upfront, she was not one who made friends easily, as she preferred to be alone after she was first diagnosed with cancer about 5 years ago. She did not like people to talk too much to her (I think it was because she would be the one talking most of the time, haha!). So as her friend, I am the listener. Although we have differing opinions at times, I know she trusts me. A few weeks ago, I visited her when she was first admitted to the hospice, and before I left, she held me my hand tightly, and kept thanking me, 'Thanks for coming to see me. I really really appreciate it. You know you are very close to me, right?'. I held back my tears because I did not want her to be sad and did not want her to see me sad. I broke down only when I went outside. 

Watching my friend suffering from the ravages of cancer now is a stark reminder to put our Dharma knowledge into practice. Seeing friends come together to offer prayers and concern for our friend, and everyone's earnest efforts in doing their part is really heartwarming. Troops and troops of friends come to see her almost daily, offering prayers, holy objects and food. I see how a couple of friends give her massages to soothe her aching pain from the cancer and morphine injections. The lumps on her are becoming more apparent, turning red and then to darkish colour. She is becoming weaker, tires easily, and sleepy all the time. However painful it is, she does not complain much at all. 

I was telling my mom how my friend has different cravings now, like she had asked me to buy her prawn noodles from Joo Chiat, and mee tai mak soup, and then cup noodles, and pomelo. My mom told me, 'Just get her what she wants. Whatever she wants to eat, let her eat. Just do'. That is what I am trying to do. Despite the emotions and some disturbing episodes I encounter during this period, I am just trying to fulfill a dying person's wishes, no matter how small a request it may be. My main motivation is to help a Dharma friend. She has been kind to me, and I should repay her kindness in return.  

May my friend be in a peaceful state despite her pain, and I hope that when the time comes, may her departure towards a better future life be smooth and blissful. May everyone around her ensure a quiet and calm environment for her, devoid of sadness and tears, for at the point of death, it is most crucial that the dying should not be disturbed as her consciousness prepares to take rebirth for her next life. No matter how long or short our life is, this is just another phase before we are born again. Om mani padme hum! 


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