When I called her on my last day in Brisbane - before flying out to Mumbai - I could immediately sense that she was not well; her voice was weak and feeble, and she was coughing a lot. And I already looked at onward flights from Mumbai to Germany - Paramatma prepared me....
Arriving in Nashik outside of Mumbai on the 6th of October, I immediately checked my email and received the news that my mother had Covid. Speaking to her over the phone I understood that she would most likely not survive this and was entirely helpless - all her numerous assistants and caregivers would not be able to come any longer, some of them also being sick with Covid. So I cancelled all my plans and engagements in Nashik, Navi Mumbai and other temples and flew on to Germany the next day to take care of her. I knew how much she desired not to be admitted to a hospital or old age home, but rather leave her body at home. And I was willing to do everything to fulfil this last desire of hers.
The timing was perfect - Krishna's arrangement! I had concluded my time in Australia and New Zealand, and the programs in India I could park for the time being and return to them whenever I was free to do so.
I arrived at my mother's home on the 8th of October - her lungs were full of mucus, and she was very weak, with her oxygen level being low - 84%. Needless to say, she was overwhelmed with deep gratitude by the fact that I had come so quickly - all the way from India...
We spent ten days together. There are many sweet and deep moments when accompanying a person on this last journey - I had the opportunity to serve my father in the same way in 2008. At the same time it is also a very intense service - I got up every two hours at night to check up on her and assist her in meeting various bodily needs. It is a fine balance of being near, and yet allowing her to gradually withdraw to get ready to leave, while balancing and digesting my own emotional experiences...
It was a time of consciously bidding farewell. The summerlike temperatures allowed me to take her for a last tour around the nearby forests and fields in her motorized wheelchair - she consciously said goodbye to all her favorite places in nature. We spent some hours sitting in the warm autumn sun on the veranda, while sharing deep thoughts and realisations - on death, on our spiritual practice and convictions, on the Lord, on her upcoming funeral celebration, and which dress she wanted to wear when her body would get cremated. I requested her to try and communicate with me after leaving her body, and show herself to me. She smiled and said: "Let's see - I will try..."
Her cough tortured her - she did not have the strength to rid herself of the mucus sitting deep in her lungs. It was painful for me to watch her gasping for air. Sometimes I massaged her head, and she would smilingly remember the head massage she received from an Indian fellow in a park in Delhi, on our visit to India more than 20 years ago...!
On the third day of her journey, realising that she was more and more losing her appetite and strength, she decided to entirely stop eating and drinking - to speed up the process of leaving her body. "Why eat or drink, if the body doesn't want to accept anything," was her reasoning. She knew a lady in her village who had done the same, and now she was determined to follow in her footsteps. She requested me to assist her in maintaining this decision by not offering her anything and reminding her if she would request something to eat or drink.
Her decision was a painful moment for me - I could not cook for her any longer! Only now I realised what a dear loving exchange the cooking had been for me... Cooking for myself now seemed awful.
Once I encountered another painful moment, when she requested some water. I was at a loss what to do and gently reminded her that she didn't want to drink any longer. She simply responded: "Oh, that's right...!" and dropped the idea of quenching her thirst. She was so strong and determined! I would moisten her mouth instead.
She was complaining, why this dying process takes so long. "I want to die right now! What am I doing wrong? Somehow it doesn't work! Maybe I am moving around too much in my bed...!" I tried to pacify her, that she had to patiently wait until the Lord would pick her up. After all - it was not in our control. "It's like sitting at the Airport at the departure gate, waiting for the flight. And sometimes, there are delays...!" She was amused about this comparison.
Another time she exclaimed: "Dying is horrible...!"
On the third day of her fast I asked her whether it was difficult for her not to eat or drink. She said: "Not really", and added "I guess one always likes to receive something." And I responded: "Now you only receive my love and care - nothing else...!" Hearing my answer her eyes lit up in a big smile.
Interestingly, during those days of her fast, she recovered quickly from her Covid infection. Her body burnt up all the mucus in her lungs, and her cough subsided; her Covid test turned negative.
On Friday, the 14th October, my brother came from Switzerland to see her for the last time. She suggested having a last meal together, and we concluded that this was indeed a nice idea. She could only eat two spoons of a thin, pureed soup - her body simply did not want to accept anything. Now there was no difference for her between eating and fasting...
On Sunday, another dear friend came for a last meal on the veranda - we spent an hour together in the late afternoon sun. She felt very bad and could barely participate in any conversations, until she requested to be taken back into her bed.
Her body was rapidly falling apart now - it became more and more difficult for her to stand on her feet, and to speak.
On Monday, another close friend came with her husband to perform a Christian rite and read some prayers with her. I had meanwhile discovered many nice psalms on youtube, read with a deep and warm voice penetrating one's heart. It was a new discovery for me, just how many beautiful prayers there are within Christianity, expressing the same thing which Srila Prabhupada also teaches us: longing for the Lord, crying out in utter helplessness, begging for mercy and shelter, desiring to return to His abode. I would play these psalms to her several times a day, or simply sit in her room softly chanting on my beads. Some nights when she was very restless, I would give her a Tavor tablet to sedate her a little.
Her bed was fancy - very much like a hospital bed, where we could make all kinds of adjustments. And it also had a grid along the side. As she became more restless, especially during the night, and would try to get up alone to use the toilet chair, I suggested to pull up the grid - for her own protection, to make sure she would ring the bell for me to come and assist her. I was worried she would fall over and break her bones. And how she hated this grid...! She would protest, saying we were taking her freedom and try to control her. It was a tough topic, which came up again and again. Finally she agreed - I won her over by begging her to consent for the sake of my peace of mind, so I could have some hours of sleep at night, without having to worry that she may fall over.
Tuesday, the 18th she could barely express herself any longer, while at the same time being very clear in her mind - on that last day she did not take any painkillers or tranquilizers. Early in the morning she wanted to ask for something, saying "I want....". But I could not understand WHAT she wanted, no matter how hard I tried to catch what she was trying to express. I felt really sorry for her - it must be so frustrating if others cannot understand you any longer! So I pacified her: "Don't worry - your only desire is now to go back to the Lord's abode. Nothing else is important now. Simply let it go - it does not matter any longer." She accepted it and dropped it - whatever it may have been.
During this final day she withdrew more and more, lying on her back with closed eyes. Her dear friend Ulla was scheduled to visit in the evening at 7pm to read some prayers with her. I informed her: "This evening, Ulla is coming to bid farewell and read some prayers with you. She will be the last visitor - everybody else was here and said goodbye. So nobody else will visit, and you will be free to leave - everything is taken care of. You have brought everything to a conclusion, and you can leave this old and useless body. Very soon you will have made it...!" When I mentioned the name Ulla, she raised her eyebrows - as if saying: "Oh, how nice...!"
It almost seemed as if she had waited the whole day for Ulla to come...
She left at 7:30 pm, with a tulasi leaf on her tongue and maha oil from Mayapur's Nrsimhadeva on her forhead - longing for God...
What a glorious departure...!
When she had gone, we talked to her, saying: "Amazing - you made it! How glorious! Now you can move on - no need to hang around....!"
The undertaker who would arrange the cremation and funeral celebration suggested to notify some close friends and neighbors in the village and invite them for a last visit - a last darshan.
Quite a few people came, brought flowers, candles and cards, and they were talking to her and crying. For the last few days I had been lighting an aromatic oil lamp every day, so the whole house had a pleasant fragrance and added to the heartfelt atmosphere. It was a sweet and intimate mood - people came throughout the whole day, and we were sitting around her bed in her room, sharing thoughts and realisations. Some old ladies were exclaiming: "This is exactly how it used to be in the old days in our village...!" In the early evening, they came to pick up her body - suddenly the house was empty....
I remember my mother saying: "The flu and now also Covid are the best friends of the elderly - they allow them to leave....!"
Your servant, Devaki dd