Deeva shares with us the last precious moments with her dying mother, experienced together with her father, beloved Premdas and other family members.
“You are not exactly beaming with good health”
My mother was diagnosed with a rare bone-marrow cancer in 2013. Premdas and I committed to help care for her, as well as for my father who was sliding into dementia at the same time. Fortunately, my parents lived near Osho Risk so we had loving support from the Buddhafield while looking after them.
The process was at the same time very sad, touching, loving, tiring, rewarding and often surprisingly funny because of my father’s observations and comments from his demented state. “You are not exactly beaming with good health,” he said, for example, when we were sitting around the sofa table in January 2017. My mother had just been released from hospital and told she was now in the “terminal” stage. The three of us had been ushered into a small dark office at the hospital, and a very serious-looking cancer specialist had told us that my mother’s body could no longer handle life-prolonging treatments, and they could not help her any longer.
“What do you want to do?” the doctor had asked my mother, who sat gingerly in the wheel chair, sunken together because of the weak spine and with one leg resting on a stool, to ease the always-present pain in her leg. Dad sat silently with his back very straight, wearing his beloved old cowboy hat and clutching his walking stick in front of him, so as not to forget it when we would leave. Mum looked at the doctor and whispered, “What do you mean?” The doctor took a deep breath, leant forward and smiled gently. “Well, we have a wonderful hospice… or you can stay here in the hospital….” My mother interrupted with the old fire in her eyes, and mustered all her strength to say, “I want to die at home!” She looked at me – I could only nod. The doctor seemed relieved and we were all ushered out – me pushing the wheelchair, Dad concentrating on keeping his balance and not forgetting his walking stick.
Some days later at the breakfast table Mum and I were discussing the side-effects of the medicine she had been taking, but could no longer handle: nausea, pain, sleeplessness, dizziness, diarrhoea – the list was long. Dad was sitting silently eating his morning porridge with prunes and mashed apples. When he was finished, he put down his spoon and declared, “I can with full authority say that this porridge has absolutely no bad side-effects.” Mum and I shared a quiet laugh, and love spread over the kitchen table.
“Our mother, you who are in Heaven…”
At another time, Dad was sitting by my mother’s bedside making a small speech. “I love you Kirsten, you are the closest thing to God in my life. You are my ideal. In my prayer I say: ‘Our Mother, you who are in heaven.’” He went on like this praising her for a long time. My father always liked to make speeches, he was good with words and had a love for Søren Kierkegaard and the Christian mystics. I was very touched and later shared the moment with my brother, who pulled me back to earth saying, “Remember this comes from a man who might glorify a bread-roll.”
Some time later, about a month before my mother died, they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. My father wanted to give a speech and was constantly practising. I tutored him as best I could, “Dad, you have to talk about how you met Mum.” But by this stage his mind was consumed with the memory of how he was driven in a Willis Overland automobile to the church in his childhood village when he was little.
On the anniversary day Mum still had the strength to be dressed in a fine red dress and was helped onto the sofa. Dad was sitting next to her and a few friends and family had been invited for Othello cream cake. Eventually Dad started the speech – with finger pointing and much gesticulation he rambled on for 15 minutes about the Willis Overland, before his older sister finally managed to stop him by saying, “It was my fault the two of you met each other 65 years ago in Holbæk…” Before Dad could pick up the thread and continue talking, Mum needed to go back to bed. She thanked me for the party, I put my arms around her fragile body and gave her a gentle hug. She looked at me and whispered, “You sure learned some good things at that Osho Risk place,” before she lay down to sleep.
“I don’t want to die yet”
Two weeks before her death her strength deteriorated drastically. When I asked her if there was anything she needed, she answered, “More strength!” Ingesting food, managing pain as well as bathroom visits were the main happenings in our lives. She could still make it to the toilet but needed help holding her body upright while sitting there. Her portions of food became smaller and smaller. I wanted her to eat more, and made all her favourite dishes, but the home help who came to support us, said I had to let her eat less. It was part of the process. Her body could no longer absorb all the prawns with mayonnaise that she used to love.
One week before dying she couldn’t make it to the toilet. We got a toilet chair and used that for a couple of days, and then the strength to get up to the chair was no longer there. “Great Grandma is lying here in bed making a pee,” she joked with great grand-daughter Olivia five days before she died.
One evening when we were having dinner in the kitchen the home help came to get me. “Your mother wants to talk to you… she thinks you want her to die.” My heart sank and I went to the bedroom. Mum looked at me and said, “I don’t want to die.” I assured her, she wasn’t going to, yet. What else could I say?
Later, Premdas and I sat quietly with her. Suddenly she opened her eyes and asked, “What is all this light in the room, are they filming?” Then she disappeared again. We continued our quiet sitting and she again opened her eyes, this time asking, “What is that man doing on the ceiling?” She was obviously journeying and we tried to support her as best we could, saying things like, “You are doing just great,” and “All is good and as it should be.”
Managing mother’s pain was my main concern. We tried morphine, but it made her too drowsy. She wanted to be present in the process, so we went back to a morphine-like painkiller called Tradolan. But how to get the dose right? While she could still talk it was easy, but the last four days, when she could no longer communicate with words, I felt a lot of stress – wondering if she was receiving the right amount of painkillers.
Her very last words to me were, “I will need you these next days.”
“Yes, what do you want me to do?” I answered.
“I need you to make sure my cushions are lying right.”
Oh… so on all my vigil by her bedside in the final days, I worried about her cushions and her pain. Was she OK? Sometimes I relaxed and tuned into Osho, and sometimes I was busy propping the cushions up the way I knew she liked it. Hoping that what I did was good enough. Feeling hopelessly inadequate some of the time. She did once tell me that I was no good at spoon feeding her. Apparently, you need to have just the right wrist movement when food goes in and spoon comes out. My fear of giving her too much and suffocating her was sometimes getting in the way!
Many ways to say goodbye
In her last days lots of people came to visit. I was the prime carer, but Premdas was my rock who took over and helped me when I fell apart from lack of sleep and worry. When we could find the time we also listened together to Osho discourses sitting on a mattress on the floor.
My brother arrived with his African wife Fatou and their son Mathias. She took one look at grandma on her deathbed and went into hysteria. With hands flailing and the whites of her eyes showing, she ran screaming through the house. “Oh, no no no, grandma can’t die. Oh, no no no…”
Premdas helped her into a bedroom and she lay sobbing on the floor for a long time. “We must take grandma to Germany,” she insisted. “They have very good hospitals in Germany!” Premdas took his time and explained to Fatou that grandma was dying and that nothing could be done now. It’s nature. Only when we told her the cost of grandma’s treatment (15,000 EUR per month paid by the excellent Danish Health system) did she settle down. With such an enormous amount spent on medicine, the treatment must have been OK.
The second nephew arrived with his two children, the beloved great-grandchildren. Premdas and I wanted the room to be quiet and meditative – we liked to sit by mother’s side and do Atisha’s heart meditation or just tune in. But Mum had a different death planned. She wanted everybody around. The great-grandchildren asked questions and soon started playing noisily. When Premdas told them to be quiet, she indicated that she liked the noise. And the door to the bedroom should NOT be closed – she wanted to hear the talking and feel life happening around her in the house. That was her choice, her way of dying. No candles and quiet music.
The day before she died, neighbours passed by the bedside saying their “Thank you” and “Goodbye.” My deaf sister also came; she put a wooden cross in mother’s hand and sat by her side stroking Mum’s arm for hours. Mum looked uncomfortable sometimes, and in the end a nurse agreed to explain a few things to my sister. My sister had many questions. While I acted as translator, the nurse answered patiently.
Sister: “Why can I not stroke her like this?”
Nurse: “Sometimes it can be irritating for a dying person when you stroke the same spot repeatedly as the skin is very sensitive. It is better to hold the hand quietly.”
Nurse: “It makes her feel safe.”
Sister: “Oh… OK, thank you. Is she in a coma?”
Nurse: “No, she is not in a coma. But because she no longer eats or drinks she is in a kind of trance which gives her peace.”
Sister: “Why is the skin in her face suddenly so smooth?”
Nurse: “That is a fine observation. It is part of what happens in the dying process. Your mother’s body now prepares to die, and the skin in the face changes.”
Sister: “Why does she smell in a special way?”
Nurse: “That’s because the body expels certain waste-products.”
The nurse looked at me and continued, “When your mother smells like this I don’t think she has longer than one day left to live.” I felt a pull in my stomach.
Me: “Why does she make such a rattling sound when breathing? Will she die from something with the lungs?”
Nurse: “No, she will become weaker and the breathing more laboured, but she will die from the heart giving out at some point.”
The inevitable happens
On the morning of April 16 my sister left, and my father sat by Mum’s bed. “We are having a party for you Kirsten,” he started. “We are all gathered here today to celebrate you….” I left the room and let him be alone with her. Around lunchtime Mother’s favourite nurse, Marie, came. Marie was short and stocky and spoke with a strong country accent. She took one look at Mum and cradled her in her big arms.
“Is it hard Kirsten?” she said lovingly, and turned Mum onto her side. I rushed to adjust the cushions.
After a while Marie got up and looked at me seriously. “I think we need to call the doctor-on-duty,” she said to me looking for confirmation.
“OK,” I said, and half an hour later a Sikh who spoke good Danish showed up with an ominous black doctor’s bag. The Sikh doctor and Marie talked in hushed voices and then they asked me, if it would be OK to give Mum a shot of morphine. I should be aware that she may die shortly after it. I felt the weight of the decision and looked at Marie who nodded quietly. “Yes, go ahead,” I said, and he proceeded to fill the needle and inject it into her hip.
When the doctor left, everybody gathered around Mum’s bed. After a while the gaps between her breaths became longer and she seemed to labour harder. I was holding her hand and her forehead as she took a breath in, which was then followed by a long breath out. We all waited for the next in-breath, but it didn’t come! A long time seemed to pass. I couldn’t believe it – no more in-breath came. We waited, and Fatou fainted at the bottom of the bed. Finally my brother said, “I think she is dead.” He reached over and closed her eyes. She lay there like a little bird, so tiny, so fine, our mother! The room filled with reverence and love for her.
Then the practical issues came upon us. What do we do now? I had never considered this moment. So called up the Home Care Service and told them we thought Kirsten had died, and asked what we should do. “Don’t do anything, we will be there in a minute,” they replied. Shortly afterwards the nurse who had answered our questions stood at the door. “What clothes shall your mother wear?” she asked me. Uhmm? I rummaged around for some of her favourite clothes and together we dressed her and made her look nice. Finally, a little lipstick was applied to her chapped lips.
Then the nurse collected Mum’s medicines and motioned for me and Premdas to go into the kitchen with her.
“What do you want to do with this morphine?” she asked. I had no idea.
“It is yours, you can keep it and sell it downtown.”
I looked at her to see if she was joking! She wasn’t…
When the nurse left, Dad came into the kitchen. “Have you ever been part of something like this before?” I asked him.
“You mean, killing someone with morphine?” he answered back, and I felt horrified.
“No, I mean following someone to their death?”
Dad said he hadn’t and continued, “I always take my medicine for high blood pressure. My father died a terrible death. He ran around the yard on the farm, then fell to his knees and died in agony.” Dad paused.
“And how did grandma Anna die?” I asked.
“That was easier. She had a visitor who went to get some cake from the bakery. When she came back, Anna took a big bite of cake and fell over dead.”
Life goes on and Mum is somehow still here
Our dead mother stayed the night in her bed in the bedroom. She looked peaceful. Dad slept in his bed beside her. Late in the evening a doctor came to write the official death certificate. This can only be done six hours after a person dies, to ensure they really are dead.
The second morning the home help came to help Dad get up. I could hear them in the bedroom. The carer asked Dad if he had slept OK. He answered: “Yes, but I am tired of sleeping with a corpse in the room. It is spooky. I hope I don’t have to sleep with a corpse again anytime soon!” The carer mumbled something. “I will have to try to forget this quickly,” Dad finished and headed for his porridge.
Later there was the carrying out of the body, the burial, all the practical things. It was a very emotional time. Eventually my dad was placed in a nursing home. In the beginning he called the home: death’s waiting room, a slave camp, a hotel, a prison, a concentration camp, etc. He hated the place and promptly ran away, only to be found late at night by the police, scratched up and bloody. Now, 10 months later, Dad is settled and happy in the nursing home. The staff tells me they are very fond of him, and he regularly stands up at the dinner table and gives speeches, some of his favourite topics being: insemination of cows, Willis Overland automobiles and illegal smuggling of Jews across the border to Sweden during WWII.
Miraculously the tears that were always there just under my skin and ready to roll whenever I thought of Mum, have also dried up. Now I look at the sky and the trees and the beauty of the world around me, and I feel that Mum is still HERE. Not in the way that I would talk to her. But really, she is here in this universe, in the air, in the birds flying across the valley in front of our house, in the breeze, in the very substance the universe is made of. Where could she go to? Where can anything go? Everything is always here, just like Osho is still here in the universe.
In 1979, after finishing high school, Deeva travelled to India and took sannyas in Pune two years later. She lived in the Anand Niketan and Medina Rajneesh communes and lived for four months on the Ranch. In 1986 she moved to Sydney and, during frequent visits to Pune, trained in Rebalancing and Psychic Massage. In Australia she also had a corporate career as IT trainer. In 2010, together with her partner, Premdas, she moved back to Denmark close to Osho Risk. deevajensen (at) gmail.com