You mentioned in your letter that you and your students care for dying people and that you are teaching your students how to provide a peaceful, compassionate and supportive presence for these patients.
I gave some teachings at a Dharma center about how to take care of a dying person, when I led the retreat on the Four Kadampa Deities: the founder of the teachings–Shakyamuni Buddha; all the Buddha’s action–Tara; all the Buddha’s compassion–Chenrezig, and the deity for eliminating obstacles–Miyowa.
The reason why the few days’ talk also includes how to prepare oneself and what to do at the time of death is because a student’s father died suddenly and she didn't know how to help. It became a great question. I was shocked, so I did the talk on how to help a dying person, so students can help their parents or anybody.
The most important thing is, in general, that Western people do not know the Dharma, so they don't know about karma and reincarnation. There are only two choices, either rebirth in the lower realms, with the body of a suffering migratory being, hell, preta or animal, or the body of a happy migratory being, deva or human being. So, the virtuous thought to generate at the time of death is compassion towards sentient beings, and devotion towards Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
If the person is a Christian, then he or she has devotion and faith in Jesus, holy beings, saints, people who are compassionate to others, taking the suffering of others and experiencing it. If the person has difficulty generating compassion for others, then he or she can develop devotion to God as somebody who has compassion for all sentient beings, including him or herself, and who has omniscience, perfect power, to help. You can place Buddha's qualities on God, even though you don't hear that explanation in Christianity, so that you don't have to use the label Buddha. In this way, the person makes his or her refuge and reliance most worthwhile, very secure, and reliable. This way there are no mistakes in the object of refuge and they are taking refuge in an enlightened being. This is one way to do it.
The other way is that the person’s heart is one with God, which means the nature of compassion for all beings. The person's mind becomes this, the nature of this, and meditates on this, on loving all living beings. This might be difficult for people to do. Also, the person can think one’s mind becomes God or the holy mind, seeing the ultimate reality of all phenomena, including oneself, that death is also empty, fear is also empty, suffering is empty, nothing exists in them, there is nothing inherently existent there.
The other thing is to stop thinking of the past and future, just look at the present mind (the mind looking at the mind). When you do that, the mind is calm, and sometimes you can see the clarity of the mind, for oneself and others. This is one technique to use at the time of death. An example of the clarity is like clear space or very clear water. In some other Tibetan Buddhist traditions or for some meditators, seeing the clarity of the mind is regarded as seeing the Dharmakaya. However it is a nice meditation, it helps the mind to be neutral; even if it doesn't become virtue, it doesn't become non-virtue.
Of course, for a meditation like this to become virtue, the motivation has to become virtue. As Kyabje Choden Rinpoche mentioned during lam-rim teachings, at the time of death, even if the mind doesn't become virtue, at least neutral is good, because it does not become a cause for the lower realms.
The other very profound thing to do is to think that your mind is one with the Guru Deity's holy mind, that one which you are practicing. Just focus on that and keep on thinking that. As long as the mind has this object as its focus, other things can’t come in, so that also helps to keep the mind away from fear and worries. If one is able to do this meditation, it is extremely profound. There is some similarity with Dharmakaya meditation.
Some people suggest thinking of heaven, but that is nothing special. Maybe the person will be reborn in the deva realm, with that attachment. My point of view is, even if the person has no idea of Buddha’s pure land, I think it is extremely important to mention the specific name of the pure land. There are so many, like Amitabha's pure land, where it is easy for ordinary people to be reborn by the power of bodhicitta. Amitabha's pure land is called Dewa Chen, or Sukhavati, the Blissful Pure Land. It’s very important for the person to hold on to the name as a refuge. That wish enables the person to be born in that pure land. For example, wishing for Shambhala, thinking of that, enables one to be born in Kalachakra's pure land. It is similar with other Buddhas’ pure lands. Mention the name and ask the person to generate the wish to be born there, to think of that pure land. For example, Amitabha's pure land–describe how beautiful it is, so that it inspires the person and causes the person to be born there. If the person dies with that thought, it is positive, and the person is saved from the lower realms. You should particularly mention those things that were the person’s favorite things in life, whether it is a boyfriend, girlfriend, ice cream, whatever. Tell the person those things are hundreds and billions of times better in the pure land.
You can tell the story of the monk who knew the technique for transferring consciousness to the pure land, but at the time of death his mind was attached to the leftover butter from Tibetan butter tea, called 'shag', in his wooden bowl. His guru knew he was having difficulty, so he sent a message with a young monk, for the dying monk, saying that there is much better shag, leftover butter, from Tibetan butter tea, in Tushita pure land. The minute the old monk heard this message immediately he was able to transfer his consciousness to Tushita pure land.
Depending on the person dying, you can also ask him or her to generate compassion for numberless beings who are suffering while dying. You are not the only one dying. Ask the person to generate compassion, wishing all sentient beings to be free of the suffering of death and to cause that oneself. This can be a very good bodhicitta practice at the time of death. The best things at the time of death are bodhicitta and tonglen practice, taking other sentient beings’ suffering and its causes and giving one’s happiness and merit to others.
You mentioned not having fear at the time of death. There is one more practice for preparing for death, so as not to have fear at the time of death. This is from the Kangyur, Buddha's teaching:
In the Indian language:
ARYA AVARANA VISHKHAM BINA MAHA RANI NAMA DHARANI
In Tibetan: Zung that is called "The Exalted Totally Eliminating Obscurations."
I prostrate to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. By having prostrated to them, I am expressing here the Zung "The Exalted Totally Eliminating Obscuration."
If you recite this heart (mantra) seven times, the Destroyer, Qualified, Gone Beyond, Goes As It Is, the One Having Destroyed the Enemy, the Fully Perfected Enlightened One, the Exalted Totally Eliminating Obscuration, it purifies all the negative karma of continuity of the body (generations) at the time of death, and one will die only in happiness.
OM SHAVADE VARA BISA LINE SVAHA
If you recite the Bodhisattva Great Sattva Totally Eliminating Obscurations seven times a day and seven times a night, it purifies all the negative karma collected continuously, and at the time of death intensive torturous suffering won't occur and one will die in happiness.
OM SARVA AH PARANA VISHKAM BINI SVAHA
To the Buddhas and Sons (bodhisattvas, male and female bodhisattvas): If one makes clean food offerings and so forth purely and continuously to the buddhas and their sons (bodhisattvas, male and female bodhisattvas), that person will die free from sickness and pain and only in happiness and be reborn in the deva realms such the Realm of the Thirty-three, the Realm Free from Fighting or Tushita. One can say this will be true for bhikshus and bhikshunis and upasakas and upasikas, without doing astrology, checking the time, day, and stars, without washing and keeping clean, by abiding in the innate mind. Those who do not do this won't have this achievement. Therefore, one should devote to and respect this, thinking this is very precious.
Here, the Zung (“Zung” means with remembrance and awareness, unforgetful wisdom, abandoning non-virtue and engaging in virtue) "The Exalted Totally Eliminating Obscuration" is completed.
This practice and reciting the mantra is good for people doing hospice work, because they can teach those who are dying, like people who have cancer and AIDS, and the people doing the hospice work can also make preparations for their own death. They should be a hospice for themselves and recite this mantra for their own happy death too.
In conclusion, the practical preparation for death is how you live your daily life. Even if you don’t practice patience many times, when anger arises, that one time you are able to practice patience, to stop the anger arising, you create one less negative karma, which destroys your merit. The more one is able to practice patience, the less negative karma is created to be born in the lower realms, in the hell, hungry ghost, and animal realms, which is the most unbearable suffering and also for an unimaginable length of time. You create one less negative karma, which destroys your merit, the cause of full enlightenment, to enlighten other sentient beings, the cause of liberation from samsara for oneself and of happiness in future lives, besides the happiness of this life. Anger destroys your peace and happiness, day to day, moment to moment, in your daily life.
This is one example; the other is living life with as much sincerity and good heart as possible. For that purpose, learning about karma and remembering and protecting karma is essential, and then to practice kindness in everyday life towards other human beings and animals.
Being aware that they are suffering, knowing this, is useful. Through just this knowledge, this reason, you have to help them by practicing kindness. Others also do not want suffering, they want happiness just like you. So, practice joy, that others may have even small comforts and happiness. Practice kindness in daily life. Another thing is rejoicing in whatever good thing happens to others. Do that in your daily life.
Practice contentment in daily life, not contentment with regard to compassion and wisdom, such as Dharma knowledge. That is the wrong practice of contentment. Practice contentment with the mind of desire, which brings long term pain in life and which creates life’s disasters, such as tsunamis.
The other thing is to immediately offer an apology when you commit some hurt or make a mistake with others. Also, forgive others when they harm you; offer forgiveness immediately.
This is not only preparation for your own death, but it helps others to not create negative karma, and inspires them to collect virtue. You become the model for others by engaging in this practice. You rescue not only yourself, but so many countless sentient beings, from your family, office, from the lower realms, from samsara, the deva realm, human realm, from falling into lower nirvana, from the Lesser Vehicle path, and nirvana of the Lower Vehicle path, and bring them to full enlightenment, great liberation.
These are the most practical things to bring peace and happiness for yourself, your family, office, wherever you are in the whole world.