So where is she now?
SATURDAY, December 12 – My alarm clock was set for 5:15, so that I’d be up well before the boys. I felt the need to meditate. It’s been 49 days since Jennifer’s death. Her Buddhist friend N had written me to explain that according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Jennifer – or her soul – would now be entering the next phase of the bardo.
Forty-nine days after her first passage, her consciousness finally undergoes the process of reincarnation. This is our last opportunity to do something for her. Meditation is one way of helping the roaming spirit to achieve the most positive reincarnation. N also added that he was not entirely convinced that this was true.
And I certainly wasn’t… and yet, like N, I felt that, at least, we should not let this moment pass. So, I knelt down on my meditation cushion to wish Jenn a good journey, but on this day I never actually reached a meditative state. In spite of my frantic efforts. I was trying much too hard to breathe slowly in and out, in an effort to achieve a higher level of awareness. It was hopeless.
All I could do was cry and cry and cry. I sincerely hoped that Jenn would have a wonderful journey. But my unwillingness to let her go was stronger. Even now. Every day it becomes more difficult to accept that she is gone. The physical exhaustion, the mental pressure, the gaping void she left behind… I haven’t even begun to accept it, and meditation makes that painfully clear.
The last time I meditated was in the Buddhist Center, on the Monday following Jennifer’s death. She’d been taking a course there. That evening there was, instead, a service of remembrance, during which I talked about the accident and then joined the others in meditation. It was strange, but I was conscious of an enormous sense of calm surrounded by twelve Buddhists doing whatever it is that Buddhists do.
It felt good to be there. This is where Jennifer went to fine-tune her inner tranquility. Since then I’ve regularly felt the need to meditate at home, in the living room and, yet, each time I resisted the urge because I couldn’t get rid of the nagging thought that Jennifer might tap me on the shoulder. With such a notion in the back of your mind, it’s hard to close your eyes and surrender to the moment.
We had meditated together once, shortly after I had attended a beginners retreat in Bergen-at-Sea. It was strange: Jenn with all her experience and devotion and me, the newcomer, green as grass, searching in vain for the correct breathing technique. And yet it felt right, our meditating together, and we planned to do it more often. But nothing came of it.
As for reincarnation, Jennifer was a firm believer. A week before her death, one of the teachers at school was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was on the beltway and he crashed into the car ahead of him when it suddenly braked. Sander knew the man and he was badly shaken. He and Jenn lit three candles for him at the shrine in her study. After some gentle observations, Mom allowed herself a bit of levity. ‘Let’s hope he has a bit more luck in his next life.’
That was Jennifer all over. She approached serious matters seriously, with a kind of intellectual earnestness, but sometimes the urge to give things a twist was too tempting. An erudite wise cracker.
If it’s true, reincarnation and all the rest, then I am confident that she has gone to a better place. She was a good person. She had compassion, and she cared about people, about animals. She gave her love unconditionally to all and everyone. But that doesn’t make it any easier to bear.
This evening Sander and I lit three candles for her. I told him about the 49 days. He and I stood there crying. We are nowhere close to accepting that she is gone. ‘Maybe one day we’ll run into someone who reminds us of Mom,’ Sander suggested. ‘And that person will be her reincarnation.’
I didn’t answer immediately. ‘Do you know what I noticed today?’ Sander went on. ‘It was really sunny out. I bet that has something to do with the 49th day.’ I couldn’t resist a smile. I was prepared to believe him as it had been, indeed,exceptionally bright and warm. I remembered standing in front of the window for ten minutes, just soaking up the rays of the sun. Heartwarming.
That afternoon I decided to call up a few memories. I presented the boys with five shoe boxes full of photographs, some of which are already quite yellowed. Together we selected all the pictures with Mom in them and put them in a wicker basket in front of her framed portrait, so that whenever we felt the need, we could easily see for ourselves how things had been when Mom was here.
I really could not say where she is now and I confessed as much to Sander. After lighting the candles, he confronted me with the Big Question: ‘What happens to you when you die?’
‘Son, I honestly don’t know.’
We shared our anger at our colossal ignorance and we talked about the journey she would take, according to the Tibetan book. Maybe that gave him hope, even if it was only a tiny ray.
We talked about Jennifer’s journey during her life here on earth, and I pointed out to Sander that actually it is this journey that is what it’s all about. Having no regrets about the road you take, about the cities you visit, the people you meet along the way, the joy you experience, and even the pain you may feel.
‘At a certain point, sometime in the future, we will be happy again’, I promised him. Maybe that was what the sun was trying to tell us today.
Today is day 49 for us as well, if you count the day she died. Acceptance does seem to be getting a bit harder each day – denial kept that away during the first few weeks.
Believe me, Paul, it will get better. It will. That’s a promise.