Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Last Show

 It was an honor. The honor to be the sole caretaker of someone in their last days. In the family. Again and again .

 Sometimes these days stretched out over seasons, and sometimes, they hurried into hours, rushing somewhere,  like a single minded traveller hurriedly stepping to go home, in the evening gloom,  through rain,hail, and a blowing wind.

I have always wondered what goes on in a mind just prior to sensing a shutting down of physical systems in our bodies. 

She was someone very much involved mentally in her family. As many mothers are. You could be miles away beyond a sea and she could sense from an inflexion in your voice, and a certain word usage or tone, that you were troubled. She lost sleep worrying about you. She went to great lengths to ensure that you got the best even when she was away from you.  Your friends were her friends, and they enjoyed visiting her even in your absence.  So it went without saying that she also got upset easily at you and never hid it, as she struggled with it.  A natural manager , she might have been an excellent faculty somewhere, if she hadn't got caught up in family life. She wouldn't have had it any other way.

He was  what young folks today, define, as "chilled".  Not very interactive in family matters, he was interested in the course of his working life in a wide variety of people-useful projects.  Enjoyed quiet yoga, meditation, literary pursuits, and a possible lack of excessive professional ambition, which was great for his stress levels. Fairly impractical and unwilling to accept  it, he often left planning to folks at home and enjoyed the fruits , and no one grudged him that, because that was him. Often in a world of his own,  and a good teacher, he confounded  an entire set of doctors by doing the opposite of what they said, and recovering. He used to say its willpower, people called it luck.

 She passed away in what  felt like a wild tornado that suddenly struck her body.  Six years later, he passed away,  like a flower, slowly drying and withering away, petals slowly falling to the ground, and becoming one with the soil.

What was intriguing was  their momentary actions when the mind comprehended that perhaps the end was near.

Rescued from a sudden collapse, she recovered , all systems go, in the ICU, for a full day. Even in that one day, she worried about her daughter, why her son had rushed to her from the US, leaving his very young kids, and had he had lunch now that he was there . When her children sat quietly whispering , she bid them go home to their families.  Somewhere , around  midnight, she sensed  it was time. She looked at the children, steeled herself, and for someone, who barely had energy to lift her head, she amazingly managed to  turn on her side. Away from her children. Never answered when they called out to her. Kept talking to herself about consequences of a life lived the way she had, God's will, and was in her own world, till a sharp intake of breath ended it all. For someone who was so involved with family all her life, she had purposefully cut everyone off just prior to the moment of departure.

He, six years later,  was bedridden over several months, nursed by many dedicated folks.  He raged inwardly at his immobility and the mind imagined that he was visiting many places. He would talk about having walked two kilometres to visit someone. He would forget that he had had a meal and berate someone for being late with it. He forgot so many people, but realized that he couldn't recognize them as others thought he should, and so would playact, exclaiming in some standard phrases and smiles. He would occasionally talk about some very old acquaintances with his daughter, unaware or forgetting that they were no more. By and large he kept to himself.  Towards the end, he only recognized his caretaking folks including his daughter.

One unusual rainy night in November, he refused a serving of soup being fed to him, held his hand up .  He relaxed and  enjoyed a shuteye. Sometime later , he lifted his hand as if to search for someone. They heard him mouth somebody's name weakly, and signaled quietly to the daughter sitting nearby, who went to him, called out his name  and held his hand. He may not have heard.  His eyes, normally wide and hazel eyed (which she had inherited), were now slits , through which he could possibly see only a glimmer of light.  Unable to energize his eyelids,  he disengaged his hand from hers, then amazingly,  with unknown energy,  lifted it , grasping at her shoulders and neck till he reached her face. Touched her face, then held her chin between thumb and forefinger, as he would for a small child, and imperceptibly shook it. Lips moved a bit, and then all went  quiet as his hand slid down.        

What made the two be so uncharacteristic in the end ?  Did she not feel, at the end,  like being with those who she worried about so much and involved herself in throughout her life ? Did it hurt her to be so suddenly stoic in the end ?  For him, never as involved as she was, was it a sudden throwback to the days when his daughter was a very small child , and a remembrance of those days, as he struggled to see her before the end ?

Is there a mind separate from your brain that continues to consciously fully live  and reason even when things are shutting down ?  Do people hark back to the childhoods and old days, when they reach the end of their own days ?   What goes on in a mind, when realization finally dawns  that the end is near ?  Are we in error when we perceive people to be a particular way ?  Or does it have something do with with analytical minds and artistic minds ?

I don't know.  I think there is much more to be learnt.  Possibly, it will be very difficult to comprehend.
 George Washington University  researchers and doctors at Medical Faculty Associates recorded brain activity of people close to death. Turns out that, moments before death, the patients experienced a burst in brain wave activity, with the spikes occurring at the same time before death and at comparable intensity and duration.  Oxygen deprivation of brain neurons is said to force the neurons to all discharge together, creating a surge.  They say a  cutoff of oxygen would trigger a similar but recoverable event that becomes seared into memory.

It's very fashionable today to debate creation, and how the human design happened.  I find it difficult to believe that the human being as existing today, happened simply by chance , after some protein strings here and there evolved  by mistake in the correct manner.  There are too many smart checks and balances, decision making centres and processes happening in our bodies.

For those who think computers are the closest things, it would do well to remember that computer repair involves a shutdown and coldstart, and our amazing bodies mostly do it continuously online. Yes, restarts happen, sometimes, but for humans, a cold start is generally a cold shutdown.

 In the meanwhile, I must wildly and for a long time, applaud the Designer of this human system, whoever it maybe......   


  1. Profound.The tears are rolling down and I cannot stop them as I see through the glistening drops my own loved ones I lost in very similar conditions.Years have gone by and yet it seems like only yesterday.Where oh where in the innermost recesses of the mind are such profound memories stored to only come flashing back at the slightest pretext & then there is no stopping those tears ? You clutch those memories to eternity.Suranga Date you have strung my heart like a violin & the echoes are reverberating through my being.Sweet sorrow indeed ,every word haunts,pregnant with meaningful love and agony.

  2. What a wonderful thought provoking post. I guess we will all be left wondering until it is our time too to pass this earth. I believe we have a separate spirit and I cling to that. Simply because my father loomed large in my life and he is still with me. I like to think he still lives on in some shape or form. I know at the end he reached for something and had a big smile on his face. He was ready for that final journey somewhere and pleased to go. He always made it so easy for his family to accept his death - he managed it to the end himself. But goodness how I miss him.

  3. The mind has it's own entity it seems, the soul definitely knows what to do when not clouded by the worldly things.
    It is a deep deep thoughtful post that stirs up emotions.
    Hugs to you !!!

  4. I witnessed three demises at very close quarters, one in 2000, two in 2010. We knew that each was terminal- it was a strange feeling, as though one was the mid-wife of death- a death that was inevitable, yet with no known time frame. My mother-in-law had been delusional for several days prior to her death, but on that morning she called me and asked me to make offerings in 3-4 temples on her behalf. That very evening she passed away peacefully. My mother had had a stroke, so was unable to speak, and was fed from a tube. But that entire day her breathing sounded different-and I still wonder what unexpressed thoughts
    went on within her mind. My father had been bedridden for months- that evening he asked me to take him outside, and I promised that I would do so in the morning when my driver came. He repeated his request, and seemed satisfied with my response. The night nurse gave him some buttermilk and some juice. Perhaps he needed sustenance for that final journey- he was gone some five minutes later. It has been heart-breaking to live through these deaths, and yet I know how privileged I've been: 'Dhanya bhaag seva ka avsar paaya'.

  5. What an intense, eerie, thought-provoking post. I guess I agree with Lily. What we feel know, however, is how some people just fold up an entire world and vanish with it, whoosh! I can't even start telling you about my father.

  6. I have always wondered what happens to a person once he/she is gone? Such a presence, the body, the thoughts, the words, the deeds, the determination and will power....where does it all go? How can it all disappear when the body is cremated/burnt/buried?? Just like that??
    It leaves a huge vaccuumm.... and makes you wonder how finite and fleeting life is...

  7. "I think there is much more to be learnt"
    I do too.
    And, congrats on the Tangy Tuesday pick

  8. A really shaking post that made my eyes heavy. Really intense.

  9. Very true mam.. We need to salute the designer of human being who ever it or what it is ..

    It is always really difficult to understand what happens, I remember when my dad passed away, I am told that he actually sat up and told my mother to take care and he is off.. and then he went..

    I do believe that the person does come to know when it is all ending, I have sadly been their in a few instances, I sometimes think that why me , why do i have to see so many deaths around, so much so that I am the only adult male left in our family now.

    It is scary too, how can we just GO.. I have so many things to do , what will happen when i go , who will complete those tasks , this and that a lot of questions .. but then as they say the show must go on ..

  10. Very profound post...very sobering and thought-provoking. I witnessed my grandfather's death at close quarters and can relate to some of what you so vividly describe.