Update: Plum Village France is currently closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pandemic Practice / How to deal with illness and death?

Sister Chân Đức has been a disciple of Thich Nhat Hanh since 1986.

To continue our series on Pandemic Practice, we would like to offer this excerpt from a recent interview with Sr Annabel Chân Đức. The question was “When we encounter illness and we’re not able to do the things that perhaps a week ago we were able to do and we feel incapacitated, how do we continue to enjoy life, or to live in a meaningful way?” This is Sr Annabel’s response.

I remember I had an elder brother in the practice, Br Giac Thanh who was very sick. He had very serious diabetes, and was losing his sight. He was suffering from gangrene, kidney and liver failure, and many other things. One time a woman came to him and wanted to consult with him because she also was losing her sight. He said to her, “a strange thing is that I’m losing my sight, but every day I’m happier.”

a strange thing is that I’m losing my sight, but every day I’m happier.

Br Giác Thanh

Last year I was able to walk up the hill to the church. This year, I can’t do it. Sometimes I look back in my diary and see that I’ve written down all my plans this year – where I would be now, where I would go, and then now I can’t be there. So I think something has been blocked, and I can’t do that. But as a human being we have that capacity to open up to something else. So when someone is very sick and lying on their death bed, most paths are blocked. They are no longer able to walk, to eat, to speak. But with the practice, another path is opened up. And that is the path of peace, a deep peace and acceptance. This is wonderful that as human beings, we have that capacity to open up other paths when some of our physical abilities are blocked.

when someone is very sick and lying on their death bed, most paths are blocked…but with the practice, another path is opened up.

Once I read in a newspaper about an Australian nurse who used to accompany the dying working in palliative care. She wanted to write a book about what people regretted. So she would ask her patients, what do you regret? And most of them came up with one of five answers. The first was I did not allow myself to be happy. The second was I worked too hard. I sacrificed other things for work. The third was I didn’t spend enough time with my friends. The next was I didn’t share enough with my family. And the last was I didn’t do what I wanted to do.

How do we know what we really want to do in life?

Here, I would like to add something about the meaning of life. We need to look deeply into this and we need to know what is it that I really want to do, what is it that can bring me fulfilment? And not leave it till too late. I think the meaning of life has to be something spiritual — that material life cannot bring us satisfaction and fulfilment as a human being.

I think the meaning of life has to be something spiritual — that material life cannot bring us satisfaction and fulfilment as a human being

So what is important for me to do at the moment is to live every moment of my life as deeply as I can. And that means that I need to avoid those five regrets. I need to allow myself to be happy. I need to do what I want to do. I need to be able to communicate, with my loved ones, my Sangha members. And I need to be able to have time for my sisters in the community.

All these things make my life meaningful and also will make it possible not to regret anything.

If you are caring for a sick loved one, you may like to listen to Thay share about how to care for the sick and dying

Listen to Sr Annabel share about how to live life deeply to touch happiness

Join the conversation

  • My 23 year old nephew died on Friday, we don’t know why yet, his mum, dad,and brother are broken, as are the rest of us… how can i help?, this pain is unbearable, he was such a wonderful, beautiful, kind soul 😢😢😢😢

    • Dear Paula, sorry to hear of your sorrow and of your family’s loss. It’s not easy to lose someone so young. We send you and your family deep peace and compassion. You can practice to generate solidity within yourself first by following your breathing, being grounded in your body awareness and relaxing your body, or you can practice walking meditation in nature to get in touch with all the elements that make up us (the sun, the earth, water, air, wind and consciousness). When you feel calm and stable you can offer your presence to your family to just listen with compassion. When appropriate you can recall the good qualities, the good memories of him to remind everyone that he is still very much in everyone’s hearts. Below are two links to support you in your practice to generate peace and solidity during this time. Sending you loving-kindness.

      Thay answers a question on how to deal with the loss of a loved one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4LhQNsrI5A
      Sr Dang Nghiem talks on how to grieve: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAW3L0fQ8_c

  • Sr Annabel Chân Đức, and Plum Village Sangha
    Thank you for this teaching. It is very valuable for me personally and it reinforces my practice. I find in the pandemic that I am assisting health professionals, counselling them as they assist people who are dying, both within their work and in their personal lives. They find this very difficult. My work with them uses what I am aware of from science, and from my personal experience and my understanding of Buddhism. In looking more deeply into my work recently I found that it would be good to learn more, and especially the spiritual aspects of assisting people who work with those who assist their clients as they die. I am wondering if Plum Village could do a special news article for those incredibly dedicated staff in such situations, especially when they work with people as they die, and have their own grief to deal with at the same time? That is my request.

    Thank you also for the two most recent retreats, they were both heart-warming, connecting, and deeply supportive.
    with love,

  • Thank you for sharing. This is also very relevant for those of us living with chronic illness and/or mental health issues.

  • Thank you these words have helped me today. I am frustrated by my concerns that today’s world is taking valuable time from me.
    Reflecting on how I spend my current time and to rejoice in the moment has regrounded me

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    What is Mindfulness

    Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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