A Wonderful Book for Anyone Living or Dying
"The subatomic world is a continual dance of creation and annihilation, of mass changing into energy and energy changing to mass."
My father is in a difficult place. He's almost 83 and has been qualified for state assistance and placed in a nursing facility by his second wife and son who are unable to care for him. He has Lewy body dementia, but is high-functioning especially compared to other residents of the nursing home. He feels imprisoned, abandoned, unloved, and is full of regrets about the way he has managed his life and finances. Even though he may have made some poor choices, I feel it's a crime to have him in such a restrictive setting. Yet it's not in my legal power to change his physical circumstances. And I live very far away, so I can't visit him as much as I'd like.
I'm not sure how or why I started reading the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, but it was most likely motivated by an investigation into some personal paranormal experiences. While reading the book, I kept wondering if it might help my father. We've spoken at length about his difficult situation, and he's admitted to me that he often wants to die. Suicidal feelings were especially strong when he was first admitted to the facility. He told me he'd never act on these feelings because he believes in a higher power. Although he's never been to Asia, he's had a life-long fascination with Eastern culture and religion. Interest in Buddhism might be common now, but it was uncommon for a working-class guy from Dorchester of his vintage. He still tells stories about his martial arts masters: Cha Marc and Wan Kill Sue. I thought he might be interested in an Eastern perspective on death and dying. Sadly, I was told that I shouldn't send him any more books because he isn't mentally capable of reading.
When I visited him in early December, he recalled an important dream he had. In the dream he was feeling badly about his life and he desperately wanted to escape his circumstances. He found himself in a room with a fireplace. On the mantel was an ancient book. He reached up, took the book down, and began reading. He said that the book contained all the wisdom he needed to make the most of his difficult situation and transform his experience.
I took out my phone and pulled up a random page from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I gave him my reading glasses and handed him the phone. He read the text flawlessly and eloquently pronouncing even the Sanskrit and Tibetan words perfectly. I kept turning the pages and handing him the phone, and he kept reading, often adding brief commentary.
"I think I've read this book before, " he said.
"I think this is the book from your dream," I said.
I got him the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying for Christmas, left it by his bedside, and said a sad good-bye. Leaving him there is always so hard. It's like leaving a child at kindergarten. But it is a kindergarten of death.
He can't hear me on the phone, so I usually write instead of call. When I do call, he pretends to hear me and makes up generic responses to what he images I might have said. Since I last visited in December, I've wondered about the book, and if he's been able to read it, or if someone who thinks he can't read took it away.
I called today, and we made small talk. I knew from his responses that he couldn't hear me. But he said several times with conviction: "The book is very helpful. That's a wonderful book you gave me-a wonderful book."