My parents had a family friend who was terminally ill. As the time of his death approached, his wife suspected that he was struggling to let go. He had many brothers and sisters. And some of them may have been by his side during the dying process. But some were not. His wife realized that maybe what he needed was to say goodbye to her. She called each of the missing siblings and put the phone to their ear. Miraculously, she managed to reach everyone on the phone on the first try. And just minutes after completing the last phone call, her husband breathed his last and passed away peacefully.
Many people fear leaving behind unfinished business, unfulfilled dreams, or unresolved conflicts with loved ones when they die. They may also worry about the impact their death will have on loved ones, such as leaving them with financial burdens or emotional distress.
Happy are those who have loved ones who can help ease their fears. We see such an example in AN 6.16, the sutta about Nakula's parents:
At that time, Nakula's father, the householder, was sick, suffering, seriously ill. So Nakula's mother said to him, “Don't worry about dying, householder. Death is painful for those who worry. The Blessed One criticized being worried at the time of death.
Now, you might be thinking, "Nakula's mom won't be able to support the kids or the household after I'm gone," but you shouldn't see it that way. I am adept at spinning cotton, carding braided wool. I can provide for the needs of the children and maintain the household after your departure. So don't worry about dying, householder. Death is painful for those who worry. The Blessed One criticized being worried at the time of death.
Now, you might be thinking, "Nakula's mother will take another husband after I leave," but you shouldn't see it that way. You know like me how constant my fidelity has been for sixteen years. So don't worry about dying, householder. Death is painful for those who worry. The Blessed One criticized death when one is worried.
Now you may be thinking, "Nakula's mother will have no desire to go to the Blessed One, to go to the community of monks, after I leave", but you shouldn't see things in this way. I will want to go and see the Blessed One even more, to go and see the community of monks, after your departure. So don't worry about dying, householder. Death is painful for those who worry. The Blessed One criticized being worried at the time of death.
Le sutta goes on to discuss fears that Nakula's mother is not living up to the precepts, or attaining inner tranquility of awareness, or gaining a firm foothold in the Dhamma. And with every fear, Nakula's mother assures her dying husband that his fears will not come true. In this story, her husband is recovering. And after his recovery, he visits the Buddha, who tells him that it is also his great gain to have Nakula's mother to guide him.
I remember when my father was dying, he was worried about my mother. A discussion we always had was that when one of them died, the survivor would come and live with me and my husband. If not actually in our house with us, then in the area. The idea being that my husband and I were still working and it would be difficult for us to travel two states to care for the survivor. But when the time came, my mother wasn't going to do that. She didn't want to come and live with us or near us, she wanted to stay in the house where she and my father had lived, she wanted to keep her independence. When my father informed me of his decision, he was concerned about his well-being and his financial situation. At that time, we were making monthly trips to their area to be with them during Dad's last days. I assured her that if Mom wanted to stay, we were fully prepared to support her, whatever that meant. And I meant it, and he knew I meant it, and he was relieved. As he neared his last breath, we continued to assure him that Mom would be well taken care of.
My mum didn't go through a terminal illness, but the day before she died of a heart attack she expressed concern for my well-being – she knew my husband was terminally ill and she worried about what my future would look like. And I didn't give him false hope, but I let him know that I was in as good a position as I could be for his impending death.
When someone you love is dying, you can provide a peaceful environment for them by being with them and supporting their journey. Like Nakula's mother, you can provide reassurance and help ease their fears by giving them the freedom to let go and transition.
For you, travel light! Good advice for vacations and other adventures, and certainly a way of life. Be aware of what you are carrying with you and your willingness to let go. To live well is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path. When you're not living well or have unresolved issues, do what you need to do to find peace. That way, when it's your time, you'll have less aversion and less aversion.