Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Passing of Ruci's Father - 2 of 2 Parts

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.