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.
I searched for this image this morning after my grandmother recounted a dream, one which evoked a remarkably similar feeling. After finding the image, I read the corresponding section of translation in Jung’s Red Book for the first time.
The section, entitled Nox quarta — The Fourth Night — begins like this:
I hear the roaring of the morning wind, which comes over the mountains. The night is overcome, when all my life was subject to eternal confusion and stretched out between poles of fire.
My soul speaks to me in a bright voice:
“The door should be lifted off its hinges to provide a free passage between here and there, between yes and no, between above and below, between left and right. Airy passages should be built between all opposed things, light smooth streets should lead from one pole to the other. Scales should be set up, whose pointer sways gently. A flame should burn that cannot be blown out by the wind. A stream should flow to its deepest goal. The herds of wild animals should move to their feeding grounds along their old game paths. Life should proceed, from birth to death, from death to birth, unbroken like the path of the sun. Everything should proceed on this path.”
Thus speaks my soul. But I toy casually and terribly with myself. Is it day or night? Am I asleep or awake? Am I alive or have I already died?
Is it just a coincidence that my grandmother recounted to us her own journey, reminding me of Jung’s image, after the fourth night following her stroke? Now home on Hospice, following the nox quarta after she moved abruptly into what appears to be the final phase of her life, my grandmother described her dream: a knife was in her hand, a big creature, a stomach cut, a battle for truth undertaken.
What sense do we make of her image? What insights can we gain from her journey?
While listening to her whispered story, her family was reminded of (or introduced with surprise to) the archetypal psyche. She told us a story from in-between realms, from the bridge between the conscious world of health care and family, and the unconscious world were mythical battles are fought and won. We can never know what exactly her story and journeys mean, nor interpret them for psychological purposes alone. A story as rich as hers, one that evokes some of the most ancient tales ever told, can neither be reduced to simple “fantasy” nor concrete “psychology.” But it is my sense that, like Jung described in the passage that corresponded to his own image of battle, my beautiful grandmother is wondering lately, when her eyes open: “Is it day or night? Am I asleep or awake? Am I alive or have I already died?”
Blessings to my grandmother, one of the most beautiful souls I will ever know, or love. May you battle in your dreams, sort through all that must be sorted through, and find safe passage to wherever we all will journey when our time in these bodies, and on this earth, ends.
Te quiero mucho, abuelita mia. Eres una maravilla.