|Sarah Wiggins: 10/28/75 - 2/7/16|
A week ago I learned the news that the youngest sister of a friend of mine had passed away. I didn't know her that well. She was born the week before we moved to NH and even though her brother is only a year older than I am, I don't really have many memories of her. I had heard of her struggles with addition and her battle to live in an active state of recovery but didn't know any details. She leaves behind her parents, aunts and uncles, brother and sister, and her 16 year old son.
With a heavy heart I drove to her memorial service at the Ashram on Saturday. There was nothing I could say to the family except I was/am so sorry for their loss. I have a hard time at memorials, in general, but I wasn't going to miss this because I might get uncomfortable. And it seemed the least I could do...to be present and show my love and support at the service.
I walked into the Hall ten minutes or so before the service began. The front of the Hall had been set up with chairs and most of them were full. The left side of the room was filling in with Sant Bani community and school folks. The right side sat folks that I didn't know. I sat quietly, reading the program, and watched people stream in. As I looked around, faces from my childhood walked by. Just seeing my friends and extended family go past me, silent in their own thoughts, remembrances, and grief, made my heart expand and the tears flow.
A bit past two, the Wiggins family entered the Hall. I can't imagine the strength it took to walk down the aisle made first by rows of cushions on the floor, and then the chairs to the front. Where do you get the courage to face the loss of your child, your sister, your mother? How do you stand up in front of all the friends and family present and express your love, gratitude, and grief? All of us have known loss of some kind, but I can't begin to imagine having to say goodbye to my child.
Fletcher led the service. He did an amazing job. His voice was clear, unwavering, welcoming. He read two passages early in the proceedings. The first, by Master Kirpal: You do not know how dear you are to the Master. It is he who binds our inner relation which can never be broken even after death. Each one has to go his own way, but that inner relation can never be broken, even after leaving the body. Our Master used to give an example of people crossing a river. The sailor first takes one load, then another load, then a third. Those whom Master have initiated are taken one by one. All will go, some before, some after, but on the other side of the world, you will all meet.
Then a passage from Sant Ji:
The relationship of the Master with the disciple is very deep, it is very serious. His job is to make us progress. His job is to take us back to the Real Home, and his relationship with us does not end in this world, it continues even when we go in the beyond. Where does the Master take the disciple? He takes the soul back to the Lord Almighty.
Russell couldn't be there, but he wrote a very beautiful letter where he cited Psalm 139 which, in part, goes like this:
Oh Lord, thou hast searched me and known me!
Thou knowest my downsitting and my uprising;
thou understandest my thought afar off.
Thou compasset my path and my lying down,
and art acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word in my tongue,
but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.
Thou hast beset me behind and before,
and laid thine hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain unto it.
Whither shall I go from thy spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven thou art there!
If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there shall thy hand lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me,
even the night shall be light about me,"
even the darkness is not dark to you;
Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee;
but the night shineth as the day:
the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
There was more to Russell's letter and this Psalm, but the part about both darkness and light being the same to God struck me. It doesn't matter to Him where I am, my struggles and my triumphs on this Earth are the same. I've always known that He is with me always, but there was something so beautiful about that Psalm, in that setting, that gave me solace.
We sang two hymns, Abide with Me, and then from our spiritual path, Satguru Pyare Meri,
Oh, beloved Satguru, improve my life
Suffering by karma, I am calling at your door.
I have not even a little control over you.
Except You, in this world, nothing else is mine.
I have come to your shelter -- don't reject me;
I have got much suffering -- no more agony!
Cool my heart which is heated by pain.
Oh, beloved Satguru, improve my life.
I think I've been singing that bhajan/hymn for almost 40 years and this time it game me the chills. Except You in this world, nothing else is mine. At the end, that is the most true relationship I have and the hardest one to keep hold of, from my perspective. He doesn't let go, but my grip isn't as firm as it should be at all times.
The other aspect of the service that struck me was the number of people from various recovery programs who were there to support David and the family. Addiction and the obstacles to recovery are in the news every night in this state. Death from overdose is moving up the frequency list. Every night there is a story on overdose death or overdose and survival. And to see so many people who struggle with the disease of addiction in the Hall was remarkable. They were there to talk about the struggle and the battle that each of them have fought to be alive and in the Hall that afternoon. I was so moved and consciously grateful beyond measure that battle has not been mine in this life.
After the service we gathered for food, fellowship, community, and remembrance. As I sipped chai and nibbled on tofu sandwiches, I realized how important it was for me to be there -- in that room, with all those people. There is comfort in our community. I hope the family felt it, as there is nothing that I could say or do to ease their pain and feelings of loss.
And now, in my family, we get ready to say goodbye to Aunt Kathy. A week ago, the doctors estimated she has between two weeks and four months to live. Uncle Bob went up over the weekend and said that she isn't eating. Hospice is there and she doesn't seem to be in pain, but she doesn't have very many lucid moments either. Last night Uncle Wes held the phone up to Aunt Kathy's ear so that Mom could say, "I love you." We are encouraging Mom to head out west this week.
This death business is so hard. I need to work harder on my spiritual discipline and to ensure that I hug my family and tell them that I love them frequently and without hesitation.