Sunday, March 25, 2012

End Game - 4 of four

For several days Ruth drifted in and out of consciousness. Even when she was conscious, she was muddled and incoherent. On that last day, the Hospice nurse called us. Her name was Kelly. She was friendly and very helpful. She had met Al a couple of times during the last few days.

None of us had gone in that day. Kelly said Ruth was doing poorly and we had to come down right away. She couldn’t find her pulse, and Ruth’s breathing was short and quick.

Ruci, her father and I rushed to the home. From the moment we arrived either Ruci or myself were at her mother’s side chanting softly. Looking at Ruth’s condition, Kelly said that she was coming toward the end. She thought Ruth might last for three days, a week at the most. She phoned her office to order 24 hour bedside watch. The nursing home doesn’t have the staff to provide that kind of attention.

Kelly mentioned that a person’s hearing is the last thing that goes. She said that even though Ruth was unconscious we could still talk with her. We thanked her although we were aware of this. She left at around 7PM. She hugged us all and told us she’d be back in the morning. The staff spontaneously brought in a tray of coffee, teas, and snacks. Everybody knew we were vegetarian.

At one point when Ruci chanted to her mother, we all noticed that Ruth stirred. It seemed she wanted to chant with her daughter again as she had done a few days earlier. But she was trapped in a body that would not cooperate. We saw how utterly helpless she was. Ruci tearfully gave her mother permission to leave her body. Ruci said her sister and brother would be there in two days. She invited her mother to hang on, but assured her that if it was too uncomfortable to remain in her body that they would all be OK, and it was all right for her to go. She reminded her mother that Krishna was always with her.

We were all getting tired and decided to leave. Ruci suggested to her father that he say his goodbye to Ruth. Al was tired and thought he would talk to his wife in the morning. Ruci however insisted, and we left the room while Al said his goodbye. Outside, Ruci obsessed about whether to stay or come home. I explained that this could drag on for days or even a week, and that even if she stayed for the night she might fall asleep anyways. In any event, she needed to rest. She reluctantly came back with us.

Several hours later, shortly after midnight, we got a call from the nursing home. Her mother had died. The woman at the nursing home had seen many deaths there. At the moment of death people were usually troubled and confused. Ruth died peacefully in her sleep.

Earlier that evening I had spoken to the woman who had brought in the tray of snacks. She told me that in the short time Ruth was at the home she had touched all the staff; everyone liked both Ruth and Al. She said Ruth had a contagious smile. She said, for her, when Ruth smiled, “it was like the lights at the top of the Chrysler Building going on.” “You from New York?” I asked, surprised by her analogy. “No. From the West Coast,” she said. “We’re from the New York area,” I said. “Funny,” she mused, “that we all wound up in Moundsville, West Virginia.”

Saturday, March 24, 2012

End Game - 3 of four

Almost three weeks before she passed away, Ruth lost the use of her left leg. She had come down to dinner one evening and her leg just wouldn’t work. We called for an ambulance and she went into the hospital that night. They couldn’t do much for her there. Tests showed up nothing. Her doctor suspected a stroke and looking at her over all condition (progressing breast cancer, a seeming lack of will to go on, and lack of appetite), he surmised that she had less than six months, and maybe sooner.

A couple of days later she was transferred to the Mount View Nursing Home in Moundsville for physical rehab to see if she would be able to stand on both legs. She made no progress. After a week we were making arrangements for her to come home. We had heard the usual horror stories about nursing homes and thought it would be better for her at home. On one hand she slept long hours. On the other hand, we were told she needed care 24/7. Assessing the situation, we realized it would be overwhelming for us to have her at home. We saw her condition was deteriorating. The doctor ordered hospice care to visit her at the nursing home. And the staff we met at Mount View dispelled our stereotypes. They were kind and competent and attentive. They made every endeavor to satisfy our concerns.

On the last evening Ruth was fully conscious, Ruci sat at her bedside. Somehow her mother’s age came up. When her mother asked, Ruci told her that she was 95. Ruth was surprised to hear that she was so old.

Ruci told her, “You’re not really that old. That’s the age of your body. But you feel youthful, don’t you?”

Her mother understood the distinction. She said yes, she felt young and different than her body.

“That’s because you are not this body. You are the soul,” Ruci continued, “and you, the soul, are eternally youthful.”

At this point Ruth’s eyes lit up. She was totally present and attentive to her daughter’s every word.

Ruci continued. “Krishna is in your heart. He is your dear most friend and He is always with you.” And they recited the Hare Krishna prayer together.

Friday, March 23, 2012

End Game - 2 of four

My wife’s mother and father, Ruth and Al, started visiting New Vrindaban shortly after we moved here in 1976. (Ruci and I had heard that whatever you undertake on Gaura Purnima would meet with success. And so after three years at the Chicago temple, we came here on the eve of Lord Caitanya’s appearance.) Of course, Ruth and Al didn’t really understand the choice we had made in accepting Krishna Consciousness, but they were open and accepting.

In those days the only half decent place at New Vrindaban was a couple of rooms in a trailer near the temple which was kept by Mother Vedapriya for herself and any stray guests who might show up.. The devotees themselves lived very austerely. The only toilet by the temple was an outhouse which was used year round. The bathing facility was small and the floor in the adjacent dressing room was always wet. To avoid getting your socks wet was a balancing act. Devotees would balance on one foot, put on a sock on the other foot and then quickly slip that foot into a boot. Ruth and Al later told us they avoided both going to the toilet or bathing on the premises during those early years visiting with us.

A few years after their first visit Ruth and Al retired and moved to Florida. They then started visiting twice a year. The conditions for visitors mercifully improved. In the late spring they would drive up from Florida, stay here for several days and then head for New Jersey, sojourning with their son and then their older daughter. Then they continued north to Maine and through Nova Scotia. Their destination was Prince Edward Island where they vacationed for the summer in a modest cottage. At the end of the summer they retraced their drive, returning to Florida. Their round trip excursion was over 4000 miles. Al drove that route until he was 90.

By then Ruci and I had purchased a house near Prabhupada’s Palace. Actually, Prabhupada stayed in this house and gave dharsan on the front lawn during his fourth and last visit to New Vrindaban in June of 1976. Ruth and Al, 87 and 90 respectively, were just beginning to get concerned about their old age. They knew they couldn’t go on by themselves indefinitely and asked if they could come and live with us. They had been so supportive and accepting of us all those years. They were always happy to see the devotees and also enjoyed conversing with them as well as with the visitors who came to the community. We suspected that it might eventually become a burden for us but we couldn’t say no.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

End Game - 1 of four

Old age is difficult for the elderly. It’s also difficult for those caring for the elderly. My wife’s mother Ruth passed away last week. Even though it was sad for her to go, I must admit that we were relieved.

Ruth was 95. Over the last three years she became enveloped in dementia. She couldn’t remember if she had just gone for a drive; or who just visited with her; or what she had at the dinner she just enjoyed. She couldn’t talk about the details in any part of her life. Fortunately, she still knew who we were. She also remembered her other kids who called regularly. And she remembered somewhat how to play at a card game she enjoyed.

When my wife’s mother and father (AL) came to live with us eight years ago, we got into the habit of playing cards with them once a week. For the most part, they won. Ruth took her card playing very seriously. She was determined and competitive. You could learn a lot about life by watching her play. Sometimes you might get dealt a lousy hand. Sometimes you might get a hand with a couple of wild cards. The thing was, whatever type of hand she would get, you could see her strategizing; trying to see her options and making the best use of that hand. Even in her dementia, she never lost her competitive edge. She was a fighter. Over the years we played cards less and less. The last game we played together was about a year ago. And I must admit, it was humbling losing to a 94 old with dementia.

More tomorrow.