The death of a parent

Remembering Here&Now

Working full-on as a painter in the Lao Tzu construction crew in Pune 2 to complete the Samadhi, Surendra narrates the circumstances that made him decide to fly to England to be with his dying mother.

Having worked with Vidhan in Pune One, he arranged my entrée into the Lao Tzu House construction team early on in Pune Two. This was another of several important and fortuitous connections for me. Strangely, they all arose from the same unusual affinity of opposites between a deferential Englishman and a brusque New Yorker. This sounds like the start of a good joke and it certainly led to a lot of fun.

In the meantime, Vidhan’s mother became seriously ill. Vidhan was given a tape from Osho in which he spoke in rich, enticing detail about the Vipassana meditation, the simple technique of observing the breath. Osho’s suggestion to Vidhan was to take the tape to his parents so that both could listen to it and practice together. Not long after, when I went on a visit to England, my mother was enduring a lot of pain as she recovered in hospital from an operation for cancer. She was suffering but was hopeful that her life had been extended by the surgery. What better gift to take for my parents than the Vipassana tape and the same suggestion to listen and practice together. Before returning to Pune, I casually left a small compendium of some of Osho’s words on death lying around. My father later thanked me for this and said he had found it helpful.

Old and young holding hands

Four months later, a telegram arrived in the commune from my dad telling me my mother’s condition had deteriorated. By then I was taking care of all the painting projects in Lao Tzu. I remember speaking with a construction buddy, Kavi. ‘How serious is it?’ he asked a bit suspiciously, perhaps peeved that I might be planning to go off again. I told him, ‘The doctors have given her two weeks to live.’ ‘That’s pretty serious!’ he exclaimed as a wry smile spread across his face. We were both absorbed in the transformation of Chuang Tzu auditorium, the seat of Osho’s early discourses and intimate darshans in Pune One. Although this project had high priority, the coordinators suggested I go to the UK and try to come back within a month. I was so happily engaged with my work and life with Osho and the commune that even the major prospect of my mother’s imminent death did not automatically call me away. As an only child, I was, however, also concerned about how my father would cope. In their old age, my parents had led fairly isolated lives, focused mainly on each other.

As I made plans to go, I became anxious about getting caught up in the expectations of my family and any hidden sense of duty lurking in the depths. After mentioning this to Osho’s secretary, Neelam, she asked Osho about my concerns. Osho sent a message to me along these lines. ‘Remind my painter that he is my sannyasin and should follow his feelings. If he wants to participate he can do that. If he feels it is enough, he should leave. He has no obligation to anyone but himself.’ Although I had heard Osho say so many times ‘be a light unto yourself’, or its equivalent, this pragmatic message in the context of a major personal event in my life was very empowering. It set me aflame with uncommon clarity that kept me going through the whole trip.

When I arrived, my mother was angry that she had undergone major surgery only to be told that she was soon going to die. ‘I suppose you have come for the bitter end?’ she asked. During my whole visit, I do not remember speaking very much. Instead, as on this occasion, I took her wasted hand and felt a warm smile coming for her through me. For some reason, she wanted me to give her the regular spoonfuls of powerful morphine derivative prescribed to lessen the pain. This became a loving ritual through which we connected. ‘Is it time?’ she would ask, receptively. ‘Yep, time for the medicine, Mum.’

During many years of pillow bashing, intensive therapy and Dynamic Meditation, I had worked on most of the major emotional traumas and perceived injustices of my childhood. When we are authentic, a lot of negativity can come up and some of these events and feelings I had discussed with my mum. By this time in my life however, many positive memories had surfaced to redress the balance. Above all, I felt that my mother, misguided or not, had given her absolute all for me. At this, her deathbed, a deep gratitude came and I thanked her for being such a loving mother. Very happy to hear this, in frail tones, she thanked me for being a wonderful son. Her words were gratefully received as it felt like they came from beyond all the expectations she had gathered from society of what a son should do and be, all the disappointments and pain my rebellion had provoked in her – from a place of unconditional love.

In that atmosphere, my mother settled down. The anger disappeared, ‘I just have to accept it, don’t I?’ She was reflecting and did not really want an answer. The smile was enough. In spite of my seeming nonchalance, it was an intense time for me and a lot was going on. It is only looking back now that I realise during her last week in the body, my mother was relaxing into meditation. What else could she do? She could not sleep all the time, neither could she eat. Talking required physical energy and she no longer had much of that. She could only stay present and watch.

Like all of us and perhaps more than some, my mum’s self-esteem was not great. She had a poor and difficult childhood, left school at fourteen, and never felt comfortable with anything posh. Yet strangely, although she probably felt me moving in that direction and we also argued up a storm from time to time, she never seemed to feel ill at ease with me. When I began participating in groups, more than twenty years earlier, I brought the hugging part of that culture into my visits to my parents. I was always taken aback by the strong energy exuding from my mother’s heart. Now, here I was, with Osho’s pervasive support, helping my mother to die. My dad had confirmed that they had listened to the tape and had been trying the Vipassana meditation from time to time. It now feels like a miracle that she had been able to get enough from those few opportunities to face the process of her own death.

In keeping with Osho’s message, I spent a good deal of time with my mum. At other times, I went to read quietly or took the short bus ride into Torquay to look at the crashing autumn waves and mingle with the bustle of life. Occasionally, I switched on the TV in the living room. Once my father came in and looked at me with horror. ‘What are you doing?!’ A great fan of Laurel and Hardy, I had found one of my favourite episodes where they are trying to rescue their dog, with the whacky name of ‘Laughing Gravy’, from a roof covered with snow and ice. For my father, it was sacrilegious to be laughing while my mother was dying in the next room. For me, I was trusting myself and the fragrance of love that was manifesting between my mother and me. Death was happening in the middle of life and neither had to be repressed.

Yet I also admired my father’s total commitment to my mother. During my previous visit, she was in hospital where they had in place fixed visiting times. There were at least two options of several hours every afternoon and evening from which to choose. Although most visitors, including me, chose an hour or two, several days per week, my father spent every minute of every day during those permitted times at my mother’s side. That was very impressive, even though he often sat reading a newspaper or book while my mother dozed. For the funeral offering later, my father chose one dozen red roses, a gesture that came from his romantic depths and belied what, on the surface, was his prosaic approach to life.

After I had been back for nine days, my mother entered into a coma. Her breathing became more laboured and noisy. Waking early the next morning, I went in to give my dad a break from his night vigil. While he was showering, shaving and sitting with a cup of tea, I took my mother’s hand again. Something compelled me to say, ‘It’s alright, Mum, you can go now. You don’t have to struggle anymore.’ Almost immediately, her breathing seemed to slow down and then entered a more chaotic pattern. I went to fetch my dad. We sat either side of the bed, holding one hand each, until my mother’s final, rattling outbreath came. Then it felt right to leave my father to his final communion. I went into the living room and drew back the heavy curtains. A bright scarlet fireball of a sun was rising over the horizon and I sensed my mother’s spirit flying off into the sky with it.

Having registered the death, my father and I made preparations for the funeral after which we hosted a small, family gathering at his home. Probably the most difficult time for me was sitting silently while an overconfident vicar conducted his service in the church. It was painful to watch my father looking up, with the mournful eyes of a hungry hound dog, to a vicar who dispensed crumbs of fake consolation about Jesus and heaven. At the graveside, the poisonous bane of religion was again lewdly on display in the words of the vicar as Osho’s comments to this effect reverberated inside me. My expression provoked my cousin to ask immediately afterwards if I was alright. I remained quiet and merely nodded. My dad was troubled enough and I did not want to add to his dismay at this point. Rather, I chose in the ensuing days to help him move on. It took several trips to take mum’s clothes and personal belongings to the local charity shop. We cleaned the house and made it ready for his new life on his own – without his partner of more than fifty years. I could only begin to imagine what that might feel like. In comparison, my own life seemed like that of a fickle, rolling stone… and soon it was time to roll on back to Pune.

As I recall, Osho once said that in strong partner relationships a lot of our energy becomes bound up. When the relationship ends, all the energy that we have invested is suddenly returned to us. Some of us may have experienced this overwhelming situation that feels like too much to handle and impossible to contain. My father wrote about being unable to sleep and spending many nights wandering the streets until dawn. Within a few months, partly because of his intense devotion to my mother, my father had no qualms about finding another companion.

My father could be truthful in the face of challenges. I remembered my mother’s consternation when she asked him, over the years, whether he would find someone else if she died first. He always said that he would, even though this was not what she wanted to hear. I feel sure however, that it was Osho’s energy that helped my father through the mourning process and helped him to act so easily and promptly on his own words. Just as it had helped my mother to die. After all, we sannyasins all carry and spread Osho’s vibration wherever we go, whether we, or others, realise it or not.

Surendra TN sSurendra is a regular contributor –
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