After Death Care

Care for the Deceased

Although death is definite for all that lives, the time of death can come suddenly from trauma or slowly after a long illness. Often the time after a death in the family is a busy one, planning the funeral, but care for the body immediately after death and that which leaves, whether you call it spirit, soul, subtle mind or energy is very important.

Many Asian cultures and Buddhist philosophies recommend not touching the body after the last breath. They believe that this life force, spirit etc. is still present for a time and if the body is moved then a smooth transition to the afterlife cannot take place. Also an outward gushing of emotion is not recommended because it may cause the spirit, or subtle mind to regret dying and be more attached, making letting go and leaving harder.

However this is not the time try to stop someone from crying as this would cause more tension and unrest. On the contrary it is best to keep the atmosphere as peaceful as possible and this is best served by generating love and compassion for all present. Sometimes these arrangements can be made beforehand with medical staff and family, but remember the dying (like infants) sense the vibration if there is discord among people.

A simple practice for the dead that is appropriate for Christians, Buddhists or a person of any spiritually, is to visualize God, Buddha (or whoever) on the top of the head of the deceased and while saying out loud or silently to the deceased "Now you have died and will leave your body, your work here is finished, there is nothing you can take with you, let go of everything including all regrets and be your true self, a being of light and love for all those you have known and not known. You are pure, unstained, free, and full of radiant love. Soon you can learn everything you need, generate supreme faith and devotion to your refuge and the wish to be unified with your (divine source, your God, your spiritual master, the Dharmakaya, Amitabha Buddha, etc)." Then the caregiver visualizes the dead person’s consciousness as this being of light (with a very strong wish to unite to the heart of their refuge). The caregiver visualizes that it goes straight from the dead person’s heart and ejects out the top of their head into the heart of their refuge and they experience the mind of (God, Buddha, whomever is their refuge). Then depending on the caregiver’s understanding and beliefs (s)he meditates on that peaceful experience. This can be done even after the body has been dead for some hours but it is best done before the body is cold.

In the days and weeks following the death especially for the first 49 days one can help the dead person’s mind by avoiding harming others, generating love and compassion, doing kind actions, making charity and specific prayers and practices that their spiritual teachers recommend and dedicating this positive energy to the mind or soul of the deceased, wishing only peace and happiness for them and rebirth in the presence of their God or Buddha.

Self Care for the Bereaved Caregiver,
Next of Kin or Close Friend

Be kind to yourself. If you have been the primary caregiver for the dying, often there are feelings of relief, as well as deep pain, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, lack of concentration, tiredness, anger, guilt, regret, anger, waves of emotions, ideas that seem true, truths that look like fantasies. You may want to be alone; you may want to party. Some thoughts are hard to deal with; things can get way out of perspective. When there is more space in the mind because its not occupied with the tasks of caring for the dying or settling the estate, a lot of memories and commentaries on the past may arise.

What works: Basically each person grieves in their own way, but there are some methods that help when it seems like life will never be the same (it won’t be the same) but different can be better than the heartache you feel at the moment.

  • Talking and accepting the help of a good friend, sharing your burden, does lighten it.

  • Having a ‘good cry’- yes it helps both physiologically and psychologically.

  • Be kind to yourself, have compassion for yourself, what is done is done, accept your and others’ limitations of the past and the present. Replaying old hurtful scenes will not improve them but every time you judge yourself or others it will take on your current temperament and view. It is only your view, painted as you see it – others will see it differently –make room for another way of seeing the past.

  • When we hold one view too tightly, its going to cause us or someone else pain. Let go of wishing to change the past and accept what can’t be changed. The present is the only time we have. The future is created by present moments.

  • When the pain of loss and desire is overwhelming there are some Buddhist techniques that are very powerful.

One is to imagine all the people in the world, just like you who have strong grief, and think "Just as I want to be free from this pain so do they – Since I am presently experiencing this suffering then may I experience it for the sake of all these people, on their behalf, that their suffering is immediately finished." Hold that thought as strong as you can. It can be done with the breath – inhaling in the form of black scoot all the suffering of loss and grief in the world (thinking of individual people or nations at war, in famine etc). When this blackness reaches your heart think that it explodes your own pain and loss and transforms into white light which then you breath out freeing everyone from their grief and every form of suffering.

At first glance this may seem to be adding more suffering to your misery but it dramatically has the opposite effect. Why, because the deeper our misery the more isolated and detached from the rest of the world we feel. This further increases our feelings of uniqueness, separateness and disconnection adding more misery and can also bring feelings of fear (how can life be good again etc). By remembering that we are not alone and generating good will for others opens the prison of selfdom and allows us to reconnect with our essential nature and the world.

Another technique is to look directly at the pain. Where is it? Does it have shape, colour, size? Can you find the feeling, see the thought or the see the mind thinking or find the "I" suffering? Every time you do this meditation the suffering may look less concrete, more hollow or dream-like. When the way it appears changes, it is easier to let go, when the pain comes back.

  • Practice rejoicing in the good memories, enjoy the memories of mutual kindness and laughter and dedicate all these to the future success and happiness of the dead and those left behind.

  • Focus on the positive, start with what’s near: a sunset, a summer breeze, a hot shower, a fresh flower, take a deep breath and let the beauty and enjoyment fill your being, giving you strength, comfort and healing. When you’re ready imagine sharing that liberating feeling with others on one or more of your out-breaths. Rest in the awareness of this experience.




Contact Information:
Ecie Hursthouse, Amitabha Hospice Service,6 Lyttleton Ave, Forrest Hill, Auckland 1309, New Zealand PH: 64-9-4101-431 FAX: 64-9-4101-432