It is eight weeks since our daughter Aislinn left us. She was in a sick and painful body where she didn’t want to be, where she was in a prison, but now she is free. Aislinn was happiest when she was able to allow her talents and creativity to flower, and when she was in the company of friends and family. She was always so willing to give and share of herself with everyone she encountered. She gave her very best to all her relationships and in return she received the very best from all her relationships. Self-expression was her greatest gift and is the best gift you can give to anyone, not material goods but a gift from the heart. She is still touching everyone’s lives, whether through her blog , her drawings or the wealth of memories she has left behind. When life handed Aislinn a lemon, she turned it into lemonade; she never let her pain cloud her beautiful smile and caring heart.
We had Ajahn Brahm (through Aislinn’s request) conduct Aislinn’s service. He is the abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery and the spiritual director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia. In the service, Ajahn Brahm shared a story of ‘Falling Leaves’ with us, and this is perhaps one of the most touching stories of the nature of death in our communities. I feel Aislinn would like to share this story in her blog so that her friends who weren’t able to attend the service and anyone reading the blog could be more accepting of her passing. What Aislinn left behind is a beautiful spirit that is omnipresent and omniscient, that is real and permanent and can never be destroyed.
Probably the hardest of deaths for us to accept is that of a child. Most parents go through the obsessive demand for an answer to the question ‘Why?’. There is no specific answer but the following helped our understanding and acceptance. This is Ajahn Brahm’s parable:
A simple forest monk was meditating alone in the jungle in a hut made of thatch late one evening when there was a very violent monsoon storm. The wind roared like a jet aircraft and heavy rain thrashed against the hut. As the night grew denser, the storm grew more savage. First branches could be heard being ripped off the trees, then whole trees were uprooted by the force of the gale and came crashing to the ground with a sound as loud as the thunder.
The monk soon realized that the grass hut was no protection. If a tree fell on top of the the hut, or even a big branch, it would break clean through the grass roof and crush him to death. He didn’t sleep the whole night. Often during that night, he would hear huge forest giants smash their way to the ground and his heart would pound for awhile.
In the hours before dawn, as so often happens, the storm disappeared. At first light, the monk ventured outside the grass hut to inspect the damage. Many big branches, as well as two sizeable trees, had just missed the hut. He felt lucky to have survived. What suddenly took his attention though was not the many uprooted trees and fallen branches scattered on the ground, but the many leaves that now lay spread thickly on the forest floor.
As he expected, most of the leaves lying dead on the ground were old, brown leaves, which had lived a full life. Among the brown leaves were many yellow leaves. There were even several green leaves. And some of those green leaves were of such a fresh and rich green that he knew they could have only unfurled from the bud a few hours before. In that moment, the monk’s heart understood the nature of death.
He wanted to test the truth of his insight so he gazed up to the branches of the trees. Sure enough, most of the leaves still left on the trees were young, healthy green ones in the prime of their life. Yet although many newborn green leaves lay dead on the ground, some old, bent and curled up brown leaves still clung on to the branches. The monk smiled; from that day on, the death of a child would never disconcert him.
When the storms of death blow through our families, they usually take the old ones, the mottled brown leaves. They also take many middle-aged ones, like the yellow leaves of a tree. Young people die too, in the prime of their life, similar to the green leaves, and sometimes death rips from dear life a small number of young children, just as nature’s storms rip off a small number of young shoots. This is the essential nature of death in our communities, as it is the essential nature of storms in a forest.
There is no-one to blame and no-one to lay guilt on for the death of a child. This is the nature of things. Who can blame the storm? However, this helps us to answer the question of why some children die. The answer is the very same reason why a small number of young green leaves must perish in a storm.
The tide recedes but leaves behind bright seashells on the shore,
The sun goes down but gentle warmth still lingers in the sand,
The music stops but still it echoes on in sweet refrains,
For everything that passes, something beautiful remains.
Thank you Aislinn for being in our lives.
Lany (Aislinn’s mum)