I just got off the phone with my good friend, Gertjan, who is spending his last days in a hospice in The Hague. We first met in 1977, shortly after I'd moved back to the Netherlands, seeking a fresh start in the wake of my disastrous first marriage. We bonded instantly over our shared interests in folk-rock music, spirituality and holistic living, and have remained close ever since, even though we seldom wrote or spoke after I returned to Texas in 1979. But we reconnected whenever I have visited the Netherlands (including our last meeting two years ago, pictured above), and each time, we picked up our conversation as if it had been just a few days since we'd seen each other, rather than the 2 or 3 years it would actually have been, according to the calendar.
Then today, I got an email from my aunt, informing me that Gertjan is dying of liver cancer, and is in his last days at hospice. Shocked and saddened, I called him immediately, and was pleasantly surprised to hear his calm, cheerful voice coming through loud and clear, just as kind, caring and engaging as ever. Being a professional woodworker and an ardent gardener, as well as a long-time meditator and student of spiritual principles, he's always had a quiet, direct way of being, combined with a dry, piercing wit. As usual, we skipped right over the small talk, and went straight to discussing his impending death and the various ways he had prepared for dying consciously, including a detailed description of the beautiful, hand-dyed linen shroud and bamboo bier that are laid out on a table right next to his bed, as a graphic reminder of what lies ahead for his body.
He said that ever since being diagnosed with advanced cancer about a year ago and declining medical treatment, he has felt happier and more at peace than ever before, which is saying a lot, since he's always had a fairly serene and tranquil spirit. He's only in his mid-sixties, but feels he's had a good life, having travelled widely, learned much, loved deeply and lived well. He is surrounded by a loving circle of family and friends, his affairs are in order, his soul is at peace and his mind is wide open to the Great Mystery of whatever comes next.
We only spoke for a few minutes, and said goodbye when it was clear that his voice and strength were about to give out. We said a few words of warm, loving farewell; it was not sad or heavy in any way, even though we both knew that we would probably never speak again. After I hung up the phone, I automatically headed out into the sunshine, picked up a pair of pruning sheers and began cutting away some of the old growth in our flower beds, feeling Gertjan's strong, steady presence alongside me, smiling sweetly from the inside out...
FREE TO CHOSE
I'm not feeling any sadness as I write this, and there's no need to send condolences as you read this. To the contrary, I'm sharing this story with you as an affirmation of Gertjan's powerful teaching: that there is absolutely nothing to fear in the face of death, if we are willing to face and embrace death consciously. At a time when there are so many voices of doom, gloom and fear resonating in the air around us, Gertjan is gently, but forcefully demonstrating the power of focusing on a path of inner peace instead, and I for one, am deeply grateful.
With gratitude and blessings,
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