Death, a touchy subject for many and not one that we talk about openly. This is an up close and personal experience I had witnessing death in a completely different way than ever before while volunteering at Mother Teresa’s hospice in Calcutta. Seeing the eastern perspective and views about death makes me that much more focused on living this life as fully as possible, without fearing the inevitable, whenever that may be…
What I KNOW for sure is that we are born and we will die. No one knows when their last breath will be. When we lose our friends and family, it can shake us to our core, forcing us to revaluate our lives. Life is unpredictable and doesn’t always make sense, especially when those we love leave this life unexpectedly. It is out of our control. Our time is short, make it useful and meaningful and an inspiration for those to come.
I believe we are souls/spirits having a human experience, a temporary cosmic play. I believe our purpose is to leave this world a better place. I believe it is important to “grow up,” mentally, spiritually, socially and emotionally (the physical happens naturally). I believe that we should value introspection and self-growth and that it should be incorporated in schools and the workplace, as should a meditation practice. I believe it is VITAL to discover who YOU are, not who you THINK you are or who you were TOLD you are/should be. It is easy to be defined by the “roles” we take on in this life and to let friends, family, relationships, jobs, work etc define you and your self-worth. I believe attachment and deep identification to who we think we are causes suffering. Who are you when you strip away the titles, achievements and definitions we use to describe and identify ourselves from one another. Who are YOU when all that is stripped away, when you go within your own heart, when you meditate in silence and listen? What do you hear? Are you open to listen?
May your spirit be set free…
Mother Teresa did not want anyone to die alone. The homeless and dying are washed, given food, and allowed to die with dignity, surrounded in love. A patient passed away. I can’t say that this was unexpected as I realize this is, first and foremost a part of life, especially volunteering at a hospice. I was grateful to have had a few connections with her before she left her body during my first week. I wasn’t expecting to feel so emotional considering I barely knew her but at the end of the day, I was there to serve and to love and my heart was wide open, hence feeling what I did so strongly.
She knew she was going to go. She was alert this morning and moving around and mid-day, she went to her bed to lie down and closed her eyes. I was finishing making the beds with several others any noticed some of the sisters gathering around her as well as several other volunteers. She seemed to be in a deep sleep and was still breathing. One of the girls was a registered nurse back in Europe and stayed nearby. As we gathered around her singing and praying, I sat with another volunteer by her side, gently rubbing her leg, hoping she felt the love. Within 30 minutes, her temperature dropped and there was no longer a pulse, she was confirmed gone. As she lay there with a smile on her face, I was overwhelmed with emotions. I said my final goodbye and I left the room with a fellow volunteer and we just hugged each other as the tears came rolling down our faces.
The tears weren’t necessarily out of sadness but out of love. To see how peacefully she passed was unlike anything I have ever experienced. The sisters said her soul is free and it is only the body that remains which really changes your perspective. Soon her body would be picked up, prepped and taken to the crematory. People mourn for a short time and then they set them free and it’s truly a beautiful thing. This was unlike any experience in the west. Many people from the east think it’s bizarre the money spent on funerals, caskets saying it’s really for the living. Here they wear white when someone passes. It’s just so different.
Below: Mother Teresa’s tomb
A few last words…
Project #3 was not only incredibly emotional but took a toll on me and many other volunteers physically. From the bedbugs, to a fever/diarrhea combo package, to bronchitis, it was a tough place to spend 3 weeks and no wonder Mother Teresa chose this city to start her charity. The poverty is in your face and you can’t escape it. The noise is non-stop and there is no solitude and place to run away. I remember the days of blowing my nose and coughing to see my napkin black. There were days that hurt to talk, forcing me to just listen. This project was raw, real, and filled with some of the most selfless and loving people I have ever met. We all fed off one another and supported each other as each of us had moments and difficult days. I appreciated that we would talk amongst one another daily, usually over lunch and reflect and share the good times and bad. I appreciated that each person opened up to one another, sharing their voice, their story, their song without a fear of being judged. We are a family and will always be to one another. We are bonded by love and service and that bond will never be broken.
*Love, Yesmeen Nicole*