Thursday, February 14, 2013
As it turned out Al had three cancerous tumors in his brain. They were spreading rapidly. It was terminal. In the hospital, at the bedside, our family doctor told him that he didn’t have much time left. I was surprised when Al asked if he could get two or three more years. And after all those times when he said that he was ready to go. I guess, we never give up the desire to stay alive.
Actually, his condition was sever. The doctor thought that he had less then two weeks. Fortunately, a bed was available at a local hospice center called Liza’s Place. The ambulance took him there the next day. He settled in and spent several happy days there attended to by Ruci and her two siblings who had quickly arrived.
On one of the days Al just said, “I have five days left.” It was a casual remark. The nurses took it seriously. They said that patients often knew when they would depart. Then his conditioned worsened rapidly. At that time, when Ruci would say “Hare Krishna” to him, Al responded with “Hare Krishna.” Ruci’s brother and sister had to leave. Ruci prayed that she would be there when her father passed, to attend to him and guide him. Al’s “Hare Krishna” became feebler and finally there was no response at all. He had also started picking at the thin air with his finger tips.
That Friday Al went into what the hospice people refer to as Stage Four. It was the finally stage. Barely conscious. Eyes open, but no eye contact. The patient is not communicative in the least. The last days. But we and the hospice people knew that hearing is the last sense to go. Ruci spent all day Friday chanting to him and telling him that we would all be OK if he wanted to leave his body.
The next morning, Gopa drove Ruci to the hospice and she was back at her father’s bedside by 10. I had a leisurely morning. It was all too intense for me with my own heart condition. I went down to the temple for lunch. I also got a flower garland from the altar and a little caritamrita (the Lord’s bathwater).
When I arrived at the hospice Ruci put some drops of caritamrita on his tongue (Al’s mouth was open, breathing heavily and his head stretched back – also a sign of Stage Four). I placed the flower garland on his chest. Ruci brought one of the flowers to his nose and then dabbed it along his forehead and on his eyes.
Ruci took a break and I stayed with Al, chanting to him. After a few minutes I wondered what it was like to be in his position. I imagined he felt alone and fearful. I spoke to him. “Krishna is your friend. There’s nothing to worry about. Krishna is our father, our mother, our eternal guide, our dearmost friend. You’ve lived a good life. Now just remember Krishna. Think of Krishna. Krishna will help you. Krishna will guide you. You can easily cross over. It’s OK. We’re fine. Thank you for all you’ve done for us. Don’t be afraid. Krishna will wash away all of your fears. Just remember Krishna and he will be with you on your journey.”
When Ruci came back she was torn about what to do. She didn’t want to leave, but she was emotionally and physically exhausted. She prayed to be there for his departure. She tried to find his pulse but couldn’t. She hadn’t been able to find his pulse for hours. She went out to the nurse’s desk and asked them to come and check for his pulse. She went back to the room and continued chanting. After five minutes no one had come in. And as she chanted the Holy Name, quite suddenly and uneventfully, Al took three final breaths and left his body. Then no breathing. Nothing.
Outside the room the nurse and two attendants were speaking together. Ruci peeked her head out the door and calmly told them that she thought her father had passed away. They all rushed into the room and hovered over the bed. Then Al let out one last great sigh and was gone. “He’s a fighter,” the nurse said. I had stepped out of the room for a few minutes and returned after Al’s departure. Ruci and the three of them standing around the bed in a hallowed silence. It had been about 25 minutes since Al received the Deities’ garland and water.
After the two attendants left tearfully, expressing their condolences, the nurse looked at us. You could see she was trying to put things together: how Ruci calmly mentioned that her father had passed. That there had been no struggle on Al’s part. The whole atmosphere was calm. We were calm. She noticed our bead bags. Finally she asked, “What religion are you?”
Ruci and I explained to her that we are devotees of Krishna. That we lived at the Hare Krishna community. She sincerely asked questions and for a few moments we spoke to her about Krishna Consciousness. She thanked us and quietly left to make arrangements.
Krishna had fulfilled Ruci’s desire to assist her father at the moment of death. She was sad but grateful. It also turned into an opportunity to tell people about Krishna. I think Al will get the benefit for arranging that. And Al hit it close to the mark. He went into Stage Four on the fifth day and departed on the sixth.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Ruci’s father, Al Iannuzzi – aged 98, passed away last month, just about a month shy of his 99th birthday. Ten months earlier, his wife Ruth passed away at 95 (see my articles from last year about that). They had moved in with us in 2004. They said they wanted to spend the last years of their lives with us here in New Vrindaban. They had started their yearly visits to the community in the late 70’s shortly after my wife and I moved here. After Ruth’s death, Al soldiered on surprisingly well. They had been together for 75 years and he often expressed how he missed his wife tremendously.
At 98, Al didn’t look his age. He was in pretty decent health, and was mentally sound. During his last couple of years Al had this thing about God and religion. There was so much fighting in the name of religion. Why would God allow that? And all the injustices that took place in the name of God. It didn’t make any sense to him. Still he acknowledged that he had a good life and that he couldn’t complain. Al was a good and kind man. Even though there were problems along the way, things always seemed to work out. He was quite happy that he and Ruth had come to live with us. Over the years they often enjoyed going to the temple to talk with devotees and guests. Al really enjoyed meeting different types of people and he especially liked talking with devotees, and the devotees were kind and respectful to him.
In his last months, he rarely left the house. His condition went downhill in November. His left arm suddenly grew weak. He noticeably started to forget things. We suspected he had a mini-stroke. On a doctor’s visit the doctor wanted to run some tests and blood work to get a better understanding of his condition. “What for?” Al said, “I’ve lived long enough. I’m ready to go.”
After that, as the days passed, each morning in the kitchen Al would say how lousy he felt. It became a morning ritual. Every morning he would say “What’s the purpose of living this long? It’s unnatural.” He advised against it. “I’m ready to go,” he would say. Ruci and I tried to nudge him toward meditating upon Krishna’s name, but he just shrugged his shoulders. Not that he was against Krishna Consciousness. He often joked that when he reached his 100th birthday the devotees could come and sing to him – and he would sing along too. Maybe, in his own way, he was petitioning Krishna to live to 100.
Then one morning in the beginning of January, he didn’t show up in the kitchen. Later in the morning I went to see him. I found him in his easy chair, barely able to move. Al said that he had a bad night. That he had been in pain. He was reluctant to admit it, but he finally said he was still in pain. And when he stood up he wobbled. But he was stubborn. He didn’t want to take my help and Ruci was with her class. It took me almost two hours to convince him to go to the ER. I was exhausted. My son drove in from town to help Al get to the car. He was still reluctant to go but we finally left for the ER.