It is a month since my mother passed away. I can still visualise her sitting on her ‘custom made’ chair in the room with a book in her hand. She did not move around much, nor did she lie down. She always sat. Sometimes she took a nap, sitting, but was almost always reading. Her presence was like that of the family deity sitting in its place in a corner. Does not do much but provides a feeling that you have someone who cares for you, with you. I don’t notice her absence much but I do feel an emptiness somewhere within me, now and then.
She took care of us when we were young. We took care of her when she was old. But we are not quits. Can children take care of their parents with as much love and concern as their parents did for them? I don’t think it is ever possible. We did to the best of our abilities. She had a mind of her own and we always did what she wanted. But it was Ok if we couldn’t. She was a very good example of being flexible while remaining firm. Don’t ask me how that is possible. If you had spent some time with her you would know. She maintained the trend till the end.
The end was unexpected but was in fact expected. She expected it. Longed for it, rather. But it was unexpected for us. That, in spite of her stating in no uncertain terms, that she was leaving. The trouble was we did not believe that she meant what she was saying. Her end is still puzzling me and feels surreal.
I will try to go back and put down the facts of the last week of her life, in the chronological order. We were climbing down the stairs and the taxi was waiting to take us to the airport. I was to drop her at Chennai and return. She never travelled alone, even by flight. One of her children or grand children had to be there with her. While climbing down the stairs she missed the last step and fell. Her thigh bone had fractured. She needed an operation and was admitted to the hospital. As she was on blood thinners the surgery was scheduled after three days. By the end of second day there was a small bed sore and a bit of urinary infection. I was worried that the surgery may have to be postponed but it wasn’t. Considering her age - 88 years, the surgery went very well. As per the operating surgeon’s prognosis, she was expected to be able to sit the next day, stand after three days, and be home on the fifth. Very optimistic.
She was operated in the morning and was under sedation till night. All her medical parameters were fine. Since my sister had arrived to be at her side, I went home hoping to make up for the previous three sleepless nights. The first indication that she was not her normal self, came about half past eleven when my sister called. “Amma is behaving weird” she said. “Says that people have come to take her and she has been chanting Naraayana, Naraayana (Name of the Lord). The staff are unable to control her and it is disturbing others in the ICU. I think you better come here.” I went there and tried to calm her down. “Calm down?”she retorted, “can’t you see? They have come to take me. If I stop chanting they will carry me with them immediately. I am ready to go but am asking them to wait for two days. Just two more days. I want to see my son and I want to go home. After that they can take me with them.”
I had to call for all the mental resources at my disposal, which again, is not much, but managed to quieten her a bit. Made her swallow a tablet to induce sleep but it was of no use. She continued chanting ‘Hari Narayana’ through the night, but in a low tone so that it did not disturb others. After sometime she called me closer and said “You think this is funny? You are not getting what I am trying to say”.
I discussed the matter with my brother in the morning and we decided that it is some sort of psychosis and that she will get over it. He had some pressing work and said that he would finish his work and reach Goa after a few days. I agreed with him. In fact I said that there is no hurry and mother is fine.
Amma did not get over her ‘psychosis’. She kept insisting that she will be gone after a day or two and reluctantly took the medicines and underwent the physiotherapy. She very clearly mentioned that none of those things are of any use and that she is trying to do what she is told, just to humour us.
She kept seeing things and chanting the lord’s name for the next forty eight hours, without break. She did not sleep. In between she spent few minutes recollecting her past and requested forgiveness from people if she has hurt them inadvertently. When I insisted that she get some sleep, she said “I am going to close my eyes one last time. If I close them now, I will not open them again.”
All this when we thought and when in fact, she was, perfectly normal medically. There were no complications and the surgeon felt that she can go home in another three or four days based on her progress with physiotherapy. Whenever her grand children called on the phone, or when there were visitors, she took a break from her chanting and talked to them as usual recollecting all relevant facts about them.
The third night a small dose of an anti psychotic drug was given and I found her a bit drowsy with her eyes closed when I returned to the hospital after dinner. She had stopped chanting at last and may have been sleeping. My son was holding fort that day and was by her side. I went to sleep with much relief.
I was woken by some noise. Mother was coughing and there seemed to be some gurgling sound from deep inside her throat. My son had already informed the doctor on duty and they were using a nebuliser to make her breath better. When it did not help much, she was shifted to the ICU again. She was put on Oxygen, a suction machine was put into use and her throat cleared. The attending physician and the anaesthetist examined her, felt that it was some congestion of the lung caused by inactivity, assured me that she was fine and told me that she could be taken back to the ward in the morning. It was decided that the physiotherapy be stepped up from the next day so that her lungs got back to normal fast.
I was falling asleep whenever there was no action and within fifteen minutes I was sleeping again. An attended woke me up around 1 am and said that I was required in the ICU.
The physician was there again and she escorted to me a room next to the ICU, made me sit and said “I am very sorry. Your mother vomited about half an hour back, aspirated it (swallowed and got it into the lungs) and had a cardiac arrest. I am afraid nothing much can be done.” Some exercises were being carried out to bring her back to life which only worked partially and I knew that she would be alive just as long as the ventilator kept breathing for her. By the next afternoon it was not needed anymore.
It was then that I realised that my mother meant every word that she was speaking during the last forty eight hours of her life and we were foolish enough to conclude that it was psychosis. From the first indication that something may be wrong with her, to her being no more - was just about an hour and a half.
This is precisely the happenings, post surgery, as I recollect. Now, the questions that are not answered are
Assuming whatever she said about people having come to take her away was just imagination - Was it just co-incidental that she said those things when she was normal medically and that she really happened to die forty eight hours later?
Did she will herself to die? (She had made it abundantly clear that she would not like to be on the bed, needing assistance for every small thing)
Did she really see that her end was very near?
Is it possible that a human being decides to end his/her life and the body obliges in some way or the other?
Going by what I have written above, I am forced to answer “Yes” to all the questions except the first,in spite of a part of my brain insisting that it is not possible. And my biggest regret at this moment is not asking my brother to rush and come over - in spite of her repeated pleading. She did not plead to me to call him, she was pleading with the lord to wait till she saw her son. My brother.