[Listen to Asha read this story]
Paula checked herself into the hospital because of severe bronchitis, but I think she knew the cancer had returned for the third time. The doctors tried one more procedure, but in the middle, she went into convulsions and for a few moments her heart stopped. After that, the doctor said, “There is nothing else we can do.”
She lived three more days. It was one long going-away party, with constant phone calls, a steady stream of visitors, and a crowd of friends and family camped out in her hospital room. She was much loved and would be sorely missed.
It was impossible to be sad, however, for Paula was obviously in a state of grace.
She had a little unfinished business with a few people, but by afternoon of the third day, it was all done. The transition came suddenly, in the middle of a conversation about coffee. (Paula loved coffee.) She stopped talking, gazed upward, then closed her eyes. An even deeper aura of holiness descended and we fell silent.
Paula began to murmur ecstatically, “Swamiji, Swamiji, Swamiji, Swamiji.” From then on, there was a subtle shift. Paula continued to relate to the people around her, but her attention was no longer on this world. She was focused now on the world beyond.
To one of her Ananda visitors she said, “You must listen to Swamiji. You must help him, and do everything he asks of you. You don’t know what you have in him.”
Around midnight she organized a ceremony. Nothing solemn, that wasn’t Paula’s way. She was dying the same way she lived—light-hearted, happy, almost child-like in her devotion. From Master’s book of prayers, Whispers from Eternity, she picked a few of her favorites and asked that they be read aloud. Then with her own hand she gave each person a flower. After that, she disconnected the supplemental oxygen she had been using, and lay down as if to sleep.
We all went to sleep, too, in her room, in the hallway, or in empty rooms nearby. The hospital staff let us take over the whole wing. About 4am, Paula woke up from whatever state she had been in and started waking up the others in her room.
“Please, everyone, come in here now,” she said.
Her husband sat on the bed next to her and put his arm around her, as he had often done in the last few days. Always before she welcomed his embrace. Now she said, quite impersonally, “Don’t touch me. I can still feel it.” We knew the end had come.
At her request, we began chanting AUM. After a few minutes, Paula said, “This is very hard. You have to help me.” For the next few minutes, she was silent and we continued to chant. Then with great feeling she said, “God! Christ! Guru!” Those were Paula’s last words. For the next half-hour, we kept chanting, and she kept breathing. Then her breath stopped.
Suddenly, I felt power pouring over me as if a mighty angel were passing by. I was astonished to find myself sobbing with joy.
Paula was a spiritual leader at Ananda. Among other accomplishments, she helped develop the Portland community and successfully managed two retail businesses. But she never called attention to herself and most people thought of her as just one devotee among many. So it came as a surprise at her memorial service a few days later, when Swamiji said, “I believe Paula may have been liberated. Only a person of true realization could die the way she did.”
On her last day, Paula spoke to Swamiji on the telephone. “I hope you don’t have to come back to this world,” she said. “I hope I don’t have to come back either. But if you come again, I’ll come and help you.”