Norbert, my father in-law, passed away during Christmas time in 2022. His dying process has brought rich reflections in me, and I was deeply touched by the peace, compassion and contentment of this process.
Thanks to his faith and spirituality, in the last 2 hours of his life, Norbert had a friend in his prayer group who guided him through this process. It was amazingly peaceful. These past days have been emotional, yet rich in learning.
Norbert served as a teacher and school dean in a city close to Nuremberg in Germany. He was also very active in local communities, founded, led and served in many associations on a volunteering basis for 40+ years until age 80. For this he was awarded the German chancellor medal for serving the local community. I mostly know him as a loving and wise elder in the family, very curious about spirituality, culture and philosophy.
In preparing for a ceremony after his funeral, I decided to create a video photo album. During the time I spent collecting his life time photos I grew to know him even deeper. In his study room I found 3 walls of books organized in topic themes, from philosophy to art and culture, from history to spirituality. What caught my attention was his collection of wisdom works in various cultures. Although a devoted Christian, he read about Chinese Dao De Jing, I Qing and the Tibetan Book of the Dead as well as works from Egypt, India and Greece etc.
In the last year, despite that he became physically weaker and weaker, I never quite had the sense from him about fear of death. He might have been nervous and excited about our visits, but about his life path, and the death ahead of him, he always talked about it as a natural part of life. In autumn 2022, he even got physically better and planned to return to his old house for xmas and new year. I remember he told me and my daughter “well I thought in April this is it, it’s time to say goodbye. But it seems not time yet”. The peace that I felt around him while he said these words left an impression on me.
I also remembered a near-death experience he had experienced back in 2014. One day he called his partner in, saying “don’t be nervous, everything is gonna be fine, call the ambulance”. As the emergency doctor told us in full shock, I realized how rare of an occasion I experienced. Norbert had a massive cardiac arrest, which is rare to survive because the early symptoms are easy to overlook. The doctor told us, over 95% of the patients would have been too late by the time they arrived at the hospital. Norbert was able to recognize the symptoms at a very early stage because he founded and led a health improvement association for heart patients for 25 years. And exactly that knowledge saved his life. This association was one among many that Norbert helped found and contributed to in the period of over 40 years.
In Buddhism theory, especially in Tibetan Buddhism the word “Bardo” is used to describe the stages of life. And death is one of the stages. “Bardo” means transition. Even if I have learnt about Bardo, I read books like <Tibetan Book of Living and Dying>. The experience was never quite as intense as what Norbert has shown me.
On that evening, Norbert’s body was already very weak. His daughter was by his side. Coincidentally, one of his prayer group friends called him. Knowing he is having a difficult time, she spent 2 hours on the phone singing for him, praying with him. Until midnight 00:30, she was really tired and needed to rest a bit. Norbert was conscious the whole time and even called the name of the friend. As they hung up the call, Norbert acknowledged and said goodbye. A few minutes later he passed away in peace.
Perhaps of some connection I have with Norbert, I’ve always felt a peaceful and content energy. This energy even got stronger when we returned to his family house and later on at his coffin. I had a long chat with the friend who guided Norbert in this process, she also revealed her sensation of peaceful energy at the moment of his passing. In fact, she immediately called back and that’s moments after he passed. In the next few days I lit candles everyday in front of his picture, and that peaceful joyous energy felt like a pink cloud surrounding me for the next 2 days. Perhaps to other’s disbelief, I didn’t continue with the emotional sadness in those following days. Precisely because of the joyous and peaceful energy surrounding me. This is quite indescribable, it is more intense than reading any text book.
I feel grateful that Norbert gave me such an incredible opportunity to experience his dying process with dignity, peace and joy. This has become the most memorable experience I’ve had related to death and the dying process. It also gave me faith that a person like Norbert who dedicated his life to be kind to others, to serve and support the community, to be loving and to care for family and friends, no matter what challenges they might face, at the very last moment in life, they can face their path with peace and joy.
On 3 Jan we had a beautiful and heartwarming service for him and we spent many hours celebrating his life, remembering his love, his faith, his service wholeheartedly to local communities. It’s a rich experience. Over 200 people attended his funeral, most of whom came after reading the newspaper, we only notified around 10 family members. After seeing all those people, I indeed started to feel sadness arising, because Norbert’s journey with us has ended. We will hold him in our hearts.
Norbert has been a role model for me and I hope to bring his philosophy and spirit to my life and work as well❤️🙏