My grandmother, Dr. Anita Figueredo, pioneering cancer surgeon, mother of nine, devoted wife, grandmother of eleven, beloved family doctor, devout Catholic, friend and colleague of Mother Teresa, advocate of the poor, passed away on Friday night, after a two week illness, with her family around her.
My grandmother’s death could not have been more peaceful, and the two weeks prior could not have been more full of love. Her passing was her final gift to her whole family, and her final modeling for me.
The morning after she passed away, two individuals from the mortuary came to take her body; as they were climbing the stairs to her bedroom, it began to rain. It rained for two minutes, a surprise shower that left people outside running for cover. And as her body was leaving her home of nearly 60 years for the last time, a magnificent rainbow appeared just in front of the house. Her gathered family watched in awe, from the balcony and from the lawn, as we knew undoubtedly that my grandmother was sending her love and care to us one last time. Seeing that rainbow, such a rare sight here, linger in the sky at that moment, left even the most skeptical of miracles in remarkable awe.
There is an idea in the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism that great masters and accomplished practitioners can attain “the rainbow body”, an occurrence that includes the spontaneous manifestations of rainbows after their death, indicating the attainment of a certain state of enlightenment. Was this what we were witnessing?
Though Catholic, there is no question that my grandmother was a Bodhisattva. In all ways, she was a one of a kind being, a ray of light to all who knew her and a powerhouse of engaged goodness in the world. Her modeling of grace and kindness, skill and devotion, taught everyone who knew her about love and compassion and the courageous pursuit of truth.
I have to admit that I don’t know what I believe about religious ideas in general at the moment, so I can’t say that I am certain whether my grandmother entered into the Dzogchen state of non-dual consciousness or immediately found herself in heaven. (I’m inclined to believe both are true.) But regardless of religious philosophy, when seeing that rainbow in the sky, just in front of her home for her family to see, none of us doubted for a second that we were watching her truest essence say goodbye.
We watched as her beautiful form appeared, and then faded away.
I love you, Grandma. Thank you for all your gifts.