On the evening of March 28, 2020, my best friend died. I had met her in 2011 at a public talk of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche in Hamburg, and we became friends instantly. A few months later, she went to volunteer at a Buddhist center elsewhere in Germany, and I came along to give a workshop on Songs of Realization. She joined me as a singer and co-director of the choir. We shared a strong bond in which a natural understanding of each other, our love for music, language, and food, a dark sense of humor, and the dharma were some of our foremost links.
Then, last October, she called. “It’s worse than what we thought,” she said, laying out the test results. She was forty-eight and diagnosed with multiple cancers. Since the illness was recurring, she decided against chemotherapy treatment and chose to face death.
When she left her apartment to move into hospice one morning, it was clear that she would not see it again. So she tried to make room 205—where she shared a bathroom with “Mr. Thode” (the name sounds like the word “death” in German)—into her new home. “I am so lucky in all of this!” she would often say, and she really meant it. She was lucky because she had a group of seven people who would be there for her through the final stages of her life, 24/7. But also because she knew that the “dharma had her back.”
Spiritual friends and entire sanghas offered prayers and advice while she was fully experiencing impermanence and opening up to the direction her journey was going. This made it possible for us to be open as well. And because of that, there was room for laughter and love, stillness and meditation. Our experience was not just fear of death.
Though reflecting on these experiences and putting them into words grieves me (as might be the case for any samsaric human being), there is another part of me that is not shaken. That part is closer to accepting the nature of change and is curious to learn more about what change and death really are. I am striving to come to a point of being full of love towards all and free from attachment. I have definitely learned from my best friend’s death.