She was ready to leave long before she did…

My mother was 92 when she died in January 1998, a case of perfect retirement planning. She died in her sleep the month her bank account went to zero. It was the kind of death we talk about wanting for ourselves, but for almost a year she had asked me why she couldn’t just die now. The mystery of life and death. She wasn’t unhappy; she was just ready to go.

The night after she died I was having dinner alone at Oasis, a vegetarian restaurant in Salt Lake City. I was seated at a window looking into the interior courtyard of the small shopping center where the restaurant was located. Across the courtyard, in the window of a New Age bookstore, I saw this Buddhist scroll.

When I finished dinner I walked over to the bookstore and asked about it. I learned that it was an ink work on silk by a Chinese monk named Zhi Yuan. It was offered for sale, on consignment, by the Chinese owners who had brought it with them when they left China.

The description accompanying the scroll read, “Many years ago, there was a high ranking Buddhist monk living in China named Zhi Yuan (In Great Expectation). Every day after worshipping Buddha he would practice his calligraphy, year after year until his death. Not surprisingly, what Zhi Yuan most often practiced was the character ‘Buddha,’ a written picture, which depicts a figure like Buddha sitting with his legs crossed, and his arms folded. It is the Chinese character ‘Buddha’ written with one stroke of Zhi Yuan’s gifted brush in the late, devout period of his life. If you soften your gaze, you will discover the Buddha image implied in this magnificent piece.”

The family was offering the scroll for $2500, the exact amount I learned that morning that I would receive from my mother’s only life insurance policy – a policy my Dad had taken out 60 years earlier when I was born. It seemed like an omen. I asked the store if they would accept $2500 exactly. With tax the $2500 purchase would have been roughly $2750, but I wanted to test the karmic quality of the discovery. I figured that if they were willing to accept my offer of $2500 it was because of my mother’s good karma and meant to be. If they said no, I would move on and find another legacy gift to remember her. In the end they agreed to the price and every day the Buddha scroll hangs in our entranceway as a tangible reminder of my mother.

I recently read this poem by WS Merwin that seems appropriate:

To the Way Back

If you can be said

to remember


and by that I mean

if you

can be said to remember




if you

can be

said to be



remember how

you came to be

how you came

to pass


remember who it was

in whose feet

you took the first steps


that was me

not watching

to see whether

you were there


not waiting for you

don’t’ forget

the way back my

mother said


not forgetting you

forgetting you

in the dark of the shoes

in the sounds of the stairs

in the opening door


now that you

have not been there

for so long

do you remember

where you were

before I turned

to look for you


More tomorrow…


  1. Dear Jack, this morning your New Post is received in Jinjiang, China and it brings memories back to me, when my mother died aged 92, in march 2014. Almost similar thoughts and feelings have surrounded my mother`s life during the last 2 years. She was ready to go, but waited day by day until she was allowed to do so. Thank you for sharing; all best wishes and kind regards from China, Bernd*

    This message comes from the iPad of Bernd D. Hummel*

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