Let’s call him Muthu. A few months ago, he was a successful florist. The garden most precious to him comprised his family—wife and three daughters. All three daughters were studying (eldest pursuing a degree, the second one preparing to enter college and the youngest in school). That was important to him. He did not have much of an education; he was not about to let his daughters suffer the same fate. One day his family would have their own house. And he would marry his daughters off in style.
Those dreams were his motivation to work hard and long.
However, by the time I first heard of him, Muthu was no longer a florist. When you are confined to bed with a damaged spine and advanced cancer of the lungs, there is very little that you can do. Except hold tight to those dreams, worry and wait ….
At the "abode of compassion"
“As it happens with most people at a terminal stage, the question that Muthu asked repeatedly was ‘Why me’? Then came the equally heart-breaking and even more worrisome second question, ‘What after me?’,” said K S Sundari, Counsellor at Karunashraya, Bengaluru, where Muthu was a patient.
“I have never done any harm to anyone. I have no bad habits. Why did this happen to me? And what will happen to my family after me? My wife is so innocent she does not even know how to make a phone call. How will my daughters continue their education? There is no one else who can help them,” Muthu would go on and on.
After Muthu was admitted early September 2019, the immediate aim of the care team was to keep him comfortable, free from pain and distress. “As the counsellor, for the first couple of days, my job was to let him vent. As professionals, we know about the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. That tough journey is for the patient to undertake. We can only offer a comforting hand and an empathetic ear.”
Helpless, but reluctant to burden others
Muthu’s first symptoms were backache, fatigue and cough. He dismissed those. There is too much work, and city pollution is bad, he justified. However, when his condition worsened, his wife forced him to go to a doctor. Then came the grim diagnosis.
As radiation therapy started, they hoped for the best. And kept their daughters in the dark.
What landed him in bed was not the cancer, at least not directly. He was travelling by auto-rickshaw when a bad bump on the road gave him a sudden jolt. He was in too much pain to move. The doctors at the hospital, where he was rushed, discovered a ruptured disc. The surgery that followed made it worse.
Two weeks after cancer was diagnosed, Muthu found himself at Karunashraya, limited to the bed and staring at an uncertain tomorrow.
A few days after the admission, the nursing staff observed that he was hardly eating anything. Was there a problem that they were missing? Sundari asked him.
“You see, the nurses here are all as young as my daughter. If I eat, I will pass motion. How can I make them clean me up? It is not right. I would rather not eat.”
Muthu relented only after the nursing team spoke to him, at Sundari’s request.
Relieved that family is cared for
Sundari also persuaded him to break the news to his family. Sundari had to take the initiative. The daughters were used to seeing their father constantly at work, when not with them at home. Their first question, as soon as they understood the diagnosis was, “Will he walk again?” It was difficult for them to imagine their always-busy father helpless, just lying there, totally dependent on others.
“We got one of his cousins to stay with him. That helped to lift his mood,” Sundari said.
Karunashraya tapped into its vast network of benefactors. Funds were soon in place to ensure that the girls would complete their education. The shy housewife started attending free classes in tailoring and embroidery.
“I am sorry I am troubling so many people. You have no idea what a relief it is to know that I do not have to pay for all the care you are giving me. And then you have made sure my family will not be in the streets after …”
His worries about “What after me?” addressed, Muthu greeted Sundari every morning with a resounding “Good morning!” Unfortunately, the sunshine did not last too long.
Muthu passed away in his sleep on September 21, 2019. His wife who was with him until a few hours before the end, remembered his request: “Please take care of our daughters.”
Karunashraya made it possible for him to take leave peacefully, relieved and with dignity. His family would always miss him. No one can ever love and care for his precious family as much as he did. But, with Karunashraya backing them, they are determined to fulfil the dreams he had for them.
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