I have reiki on the brain. Just yesterday, I interviewed a reiki teacher for the Death Dhamma Podcast. She taught me about the true origins of reiki and how it is a masterful blend of Shinto and Buddhism. You can hear her more accurate explanation in the podcast episode titled “Reiki, Buddhism, and Impermanence.”*
As I prepared for our discussion. I could not help but be reminded of my own experience with a reiki healer, and how she was the friend I needed most when I most needed a friend.
My husband Ed and I were meeting with a representative from the home-hospice team. It was part interview and part sales. We were being assessed as candidates for their services, and the representative wanted us to know about the amazing support we would receive from them. The support that they offered turned out to be disappointing. And toward the end I began to look for additional assistance. It was not all bad. There was something they provided that turned out to be truly helpful. They had a reiki healer. And not just for the hospice patient—also for the family. And while Ed did not feel inclined toward trying reiki, I did.
On the day that Ed died, I knew that he was dying; I just did not know that he was dying today. Until I did. And as the day progressed, everything changed, and everything became about his comfort, a final visit from his best friend, and our time together. In the late afternoon, there was a knock at the door. I ignored it. The knocking became more insistent. Reluctantly I opened the door and there stood the reiki healer. I had completely forgotten our appointment. I apologized and explained what was happening. And instead of quietly disappearing, she asked if she could come in. She quickly assessed the situation. She led me in a brief meditation. She sat with me while I sat with Ed.
Soon, there would be another knock at the door—this time, expected. A member of the hospice team had arrived. It became clear that she was extremely uncomfortable. At that the time I felt surprised and annoyed by her inability to respond to the situation at hand. Later, I would be able to look back with some understanding and compassion, realizing that not all hospice workers have experience with being present during someone’s final moments. There are many visits that are about taking blood pressure, and samples, and checking up on medications.
The arrival of the hospice worker created an opportunity for the perfect exit for the reiki healer. But she did not leave. She stayed, she quietly observed the situation, and then she stepped in. She could see that I was not in good hands. And while some might feel that she overstepped, I will always appreciate that in that moment she became my advocate. She asked the right questions, and she gave the hospice worker kind but firm direction. She was fiercely compassionate on my behalf. And when the hospice worker tried to leave, my advocate rattled off a checklist from memory of all the things she knew were the hospice worker’s responsibility. I truly believe that the hospice worker was in over her head and freaking out. And maybe this experience either led her to a different type of patient care or helped her grow in her capacity to be with the dying and their loved ones.
Now, several years later, I look back and I understand that, in that situation, the reiki healer was my spiritual friend. I only saw her two or three more times after Ed died. And during one of those visits, she confided to me that the reason she had stayed and helped me was because six months prior, she had helped a loved one through their transition, and she recalled how difficult it had been. And so, on that day, she felt that her true purpose was not necessarily reiki, but healer and helper.
When I look at this passage, from Aṅguttara Nikāya 7.35 on the definition of a true friend, I find that she was a kalyāṇa-mitta; a true and admirable friend. If for only that short period of time. The Mitta Sutta describes an admirable friend:
He gives what is beautiful,
hard to give,
does what is hard to do,
endures painful, ill-spoken words.
His secrets he tells you,
your secrets he keeps.
When misfortunes strike,
he doesn’t abandon you;
when you’re down & out,
doesn’t look down on you.
A person in whom these traits are found,
is a friend to be cultivated
by anyone wanting a friend.
Her help was truly beautiful and gave Ed and I peace as he transitioned. It was hard for her to step in because the situation was triggering for her. I know this because she told me later. And, as you can tell from her actions, she did not abandon me. She did not pity me or act condescendingly. How fortunate I was to have this admirable friend. May she be well, may she be happy, at ease, and free from suffering.
* The Death Dhamma Podcast (Margaret Meloni)