Death - Death in a hospice
by Dr Mrs Satyavati M Sirsat and Dr Hemang D Koppikar
Shanti Avedna Ashram (now known as Sadan), near the Mount Mary church in Bandra, Mumbai, is a haven of peace and serenity both for the terminally ill patients and their traumatised relatives. Describing his wife’s death at the hospice, a well-known author exclaimed that God’s gentle presence was evident in the hospice all around. Let us narrate a true story of an unusual death of a patient, reported by an experienced caregiver, who has been with the hospice since the beginning.
One day, the caregiver got numerous calls from friends requesting her to look after their mutual friend who was terminally ill with cancer.
Some days later, the hospice doctor told her that a patient was looking for her. The caregiver went to the patient’s room and asked her, “Comfortable?” The patient replied, “I was in such pain, the doctor gave me some morphine, and now I can dance!” “Don’t!” said the caregiver, “The director sits downstairs! I understand you know music.” “Yes, Carnatic kirtans (songs), and the piano,” replied the patient jabbing the invisible keys with her fingers in the air, “Chopin Prelude, Thou Art So Like a Flower, and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.”
The first week passed cheerfully as did the second week as she hummed the songs and jabbed the piano keys in the air. She ate well, slept well, and forgot the cancer and the pain. The third week came. The room was unnaturally quiet, her eyes were closed, and the shadow of Yama was hovering around. Her husband said, “She is very quiet today.” “Maybe something will happen,” the caregiver replied.
Putting her hand on her chest and pointing towards the patient, the caregiver told him, “Keep your hand here.” There was silence in the room. The breathing slowly became shallower and shallower, sounding hollow and slowly it stopped. “She is gone,” said the caregiver.
The husband gave a sob, removed his hand, and said, “I will tell the sister.”
The caregiver said, “You stay here, I will tell the sister.” On hearing about the death of the patient, the sister said, “Cheerful woman!” and went to see her body. The body had the strange, deep, and distant look of the dead, sleeping in peace. Freed from the struggles, she was beautiful again and already years younger – it was as if at the moment of death, time went backwards.
The husband told the caregiver, “Please tell my son about the death, and ask him to inform all my friends downstairs. The funeral will take place as soon as the body is released in the prayer room.” The son said to the caregiver, “I do not know many of her friends as I live abroad, so will you please inform the friends downstairs?” and went to his mother’s body. The caregiver went downstairs and informed the friends about the arrangements.
Suddenly a distraught lady raised her hand with clenched fists towards the sky and shouted, “Oh God! What do you mean by giving her so much talent and then giving her a fatal disease that took her away?” The caregiver walked across and drew her hand down and said, “Don’t blame God, He gave her a beautiful life and now a good death in this hospice.” “What do you mean by a good death?’’ she demanded. The caregiver explained, “Pain and symptom management, clear decision-making, preparation for death, affirmation of the whole person, and final closure in the presence of loved ones, dying peacefully and above all, she lived till she died.”
Soon after, the funeral took place. The caregiver waited until the fragrant smoke of wood and sandalwood wafted away. Soon after, one day the caregiver found herself humming her late patient’s favourite song. She stood quietly and thought, “Death does not take everything away – habits, taste of food, talent.”
She was right. Death is not the end of life. It is merely the cessation of an important individuality and the departure of the soul from the body. We know that even after the death of the individual, the component parts – blood, organs like the kidney, liver, skin, and cornea do continue to live and are viable for varying lengths of time after the body from which they were collected has been cremated. This is the basis of the altruistic concept of “generativity” – contributing to the well-being of others through organ and eye donation after death.
Dr Satyavati Sirsat is the founder trustee-counsellor of Shanti Avedna ashram,
India's first hospice located in Mumbai,
Delhi and Goa. Contact: 022 - 2642 7464,
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