BEING PRESENT FOR OTHERS AT DEATH
“It’s through dance that I found what you would call faith. I was not a religious, and I’m not a religious person, but yes, I have faith, I believe. I can tell you about a time I had to rely upon my faith: the moment when my father was dying in my arms. Even in that moment I knew he was going. It was tough for both of us, but tougher for him because he was fighting it. I was like, ‘Don’t fight it, go peacefully.’ I was just trying to call whatever I knew I could call to help. Go peacefully. I mean it’s tough, tough on us, tough on you. And there was a moment, the moment he left; there was a sound, there was a sensation in the sternum. It was like a ‘pop.’ I don’t know whether it was his soul or my soul…or what? It was just a click, a pop. And that was it, he was gone.”
I met Faredoon “Dodo” Bhujwala in Mumbai and it was hard to be in his presence and not be affected by his love of life and people. Raised as a Zoroastrian, Dodo has migrated to a belief in the Divine that spans all living beings—not limited but enhanced by his upbringing. As his father lay dying in his arms, Dodo remembered and recited one of the important Zoroastrian prayers. His father was surprised that Dodo remembered! I was deeply moved by Dodo’s story of his father’s death and being present to the very final moments of his life.
I am sad that I was not present for my own father’s death in 2015. It was something I always hoped to be present for and to hold his hand as he took his last breath. My father died in the middle of the night, about 1 am, lying in a hospice, alone. I saw my father the night before and kissed his forehead, blessing him on his journey ahead. But I did not suspect it would be the last time I would see him.
Years ago, I participated in the Jewish ritual of chevra kadisha, preparing a body for burial with purification and clothing the body in shrouds (men do this for men and women for women). It was a profoundly meaningful and difficult task that I took on as part of my grieving for my friend Elisa Levine who died as a teenager and which I was trying to process. Preparing the dead for burial is considered the highest mitzvah (good deed) in Judaism because it can never be repaid.
The act of being present for those dying is, I presume, to be among the most sacred tasks we can perform as well. In some ways it reminds me of this entire Portraits in Faith journey which has been a journey in learning how to be present and listen. Being there for my father the night before he died was similar. All I could do was love him and be present to his process. I am realizing as I write that this is all we can really do for each other anyway all through life—love others and be present. Everything else is just an illusion of power or control. Thank you to Dodo for the gift of sharing his love and being present.