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.”
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.
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.
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.
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