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Happiness in a passing

January 10, 2018

I learned yesterday morning that my father, who was 88 and had been in declining health, died peacefully while in a hospice facility in Cambridge, U.K. His death was not at all unexpected and when I had visited him in November he was very weak and frail and had no real wish to continue a life that had been lengthy and interesting and productive and was now coming to an end.

And it brought to mind a story that is told in different ways, but essentially goes as follows:

A very prosperous young man hires a wise old sage to provide him with a definition of “happiness.” The sage then retreats to his shrine and meditates on the matter for a lengthy period of time.

Eventually, the sage returns to the young man, who is eager to absorb all that the sage has to say on the matter.  The sage says, simply: “Happiness is when the grandfather dies, and then the father, and then the son.”

There is a Zen koan that, roughly paraphrased, states that  “If before you yourself die,  your son should die, this would grieve you greatly. If your grandson should pass away before your son, both of you would be brokenhearted. If, however, your family, generation after generation, passes away in the natural order, that is happiness.”

My dad’s death leaves me a little empty, but it’s hard to mourn a long life well lived, ending, as it should, after the grandfather and before the son.

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