This is a story from the pre-COVID days. I had barely begun getting recognition and work in my current career as a Meditation Teacher.
An enterprise that I had helped set-up in my previous career as a startup consultant and that subsequently ventured into running Eldercare-cum-Palliative Care centres in Mumbai, India, engaged my services to offer spiritual care sessions to their incumbents.
A great majority of people at this place were Dementia patients. Thereafter, people undergoing post-operative recovery.
My work at the centre began as an experiment. Thankfully, thereafter by the Almighty’s grace, it worked so well that soon I began doing a session every day with the elders and the recovering patients at this place.
That day, I was in the middle of my session, which comprises singing of devotional songs, doing simple meditative exercises and telling popular spiritual stories, when a loud screech disturbed the serene air.
It was clearly someone in deeper than imaginable pain.
Indeed, the centre manager had informed me of the new admission, a person awaiting amputation of both his legs due to gangrene.
Since the 22 bed facility had more than a few bed-ridden patients, hence, everyday after my session, I would visit them all, indiviually, to learn of their well being.
That day when I reached this new entrant, he asked immediately, “were you the one who was singing shortly before?”
When I nodded in affirmation, “lovely bhajan (devotional song), excellent voice,” he added, as promptly, as we exchanged a handshake. His face pale and drained, yet his grip firm.
“I am not afraid of death,” he once again broke the silence, “I have been a soldier. I have been to war. I know death,” he explained, “but what drains my strength is this process of dying… this pain!”
With this little converstaion, we became friends.
That day onwards, everyday after my session, I would visit all the other immobile patients and then in the end, stop by his bed and where we would have our little conversations.
What a life this man had led. Was part of Indian Army in 1972 war against Pakistan. Then quit the army to be an Architect. Worked in 5 countries including 16 years in Japan.
Fell in love at the peak of his youth. Took away his bride against all the societal odds. Became father of two sons.
Even when wife passed away, untimely, took care of the boys. Ensured they felt well settled in life.
“There is nothing more beautiful than being in love,” he would say and we would smile together and in that moment, his pain from the rottening leg would magically disappear somewhere. His eyes would shine so bright, as if possessing a million twinkling stars within.
We would talk on all sorts of subjects. I would narrate my spiritual stories – of saints, scriptures and serenity.
He would share his life experiences, covering the entire globe and life in various countries.
Sometimes, we would even hum a song together. This became our daily routine.
“I fought a war against them,” one day he said, “however no matter what you say, Pakistanis are some of the most amazing people in the world,” he added. “No one loves we Indians, as much as those fellows from across the border. Politics has spoiled everything!” He declared one of the days in a firm voice.
Every word he spoke was full of love, compassion and wisdom.
He even found a way to scream at his pain. This became necessary because when the nursing staff came to dress his wounds, what he felt within must have been truly unbearable.
Yet, he would tell everyone, “kids, I am not shounting at anyone of you. It’s just that I somehow can’t stop myself from shouting… this pain is so bad.”
A few days later, I heard him shouting, “paaaiiinnn… go away…”
This way he guided his every whale towards the pain.
What a man! I had to confess.
But how did this gangrene happen? This puzzle he only unfolded.
“Cigarettes,” he spoke, this time not hiding his naughty smile. “Not these ordinary ones you get now a days,” he added, “the old ones… those without filter….”
“You know, they don’t make such cigarettes anymore in India,” he explained, “so, I would get them from France instead.”
Anyways, the day of inevitable eventually arrived. His amputation couldn’t be delayed any further. Thus he was carried to the hospital.
He was gone from the Palliative Care for a month and when he returned, he was much paler than ever.
He seemed to have lost his voice completely. Most of the time, he would be very still, with his eyes closed. Sometimes sleeping, other times, as if unconscious. Possibly, effect of the ongoing medication.
A few weeks passed like that.
I would visit him daily, pay my salutations in form of a ‘pranam’ 🙏 (namaste); stand besides him for a while, pray and then as quietly, move away.
There were no converstaion now between us. Instead only silence.
Then one day, as I was offering my greetings to him with my eyes closed and saying my silent prayers within, I felt someone touch my hand.
His eyes were wide open and there was a big smile on his face. A smile of victory! A smile of celebration! A smile of joy!
He gripped my palm and I gipped his, immediately.
“I… am… g…oo…d,” he communicated in a hissed voice.
We both kept looking at each other and then there was a tear each, in the respective sets of eyes, on both the sides.
With a smiling face he then closed his eyes, letting the tear roll down his face and simultaneously nodding his head slightly in affirmation, as if to tell me that he would just be fine.
I saw contentment all over his face. I touched his forehead as softly as I could with all the love in my being and then left his bedside that day with a smile, letting him rest.
A day later, when I returned, the centre incharge informed me that he passed away peacefully during the night.
“The process of dying too, you simplified… Hat’s off to you my dear brave soldier lover architect friend.”
Somehow, I couldn’t stop myself from saying that in my head.
To be continued….
Special Thanks: Aarambh Elder Care Home, Thane (Mumbai), INDIA.
Author: Puneet Srivastava, who writes his own blogs at https://meditation30m.blogspot.com/?m=1