Translation from an article by Shibasaki
MAHAYOGI YOGA MISSION, Kyoto, Japan
A message from the Mother
India had always been the country of my dreams. It is the country where Ramakrishna, the great Saint of Yoga who inspired and awakened many, was born. It is the country of Mother Teresa, who served the poorest of the poor and gave love without limits. I yearned to visit there one day, but the opportunity had not yet come.
Ever since I became a nurse, I have had a question on my mind. Unable to suppress my strong yearning for an answer any longer, I decided to go to Kolkata. Why Kolkata? Because I could not think of anybody other than Mother Teresa who could provide me with an answer. The question that was constantly on my mind was, “How can the dying best be served?”
I had been working in a surgical ward where many patients suffered from cancer. Often, we attended to patients during their last moments—those with recurrent conditions, metastases, or even those who had returned to the hospital after undergoing a successful surgery. Like many other hospitals, however, we were very busy. The ward where I worked was no exception; the circumstances did not really allow me to spend enough time with a patient during the final moments of his or her life. I believe that anyone who is inspired to become a nurse wishes to be with their patients, at their bedside until the last breath is gone, wishing them a peaceful departure.
One day, I had the passing thought that it is only we who may think that we do not have enough time to provide enough care. But if I were to ask myself, “If we are given the task of taking care of a dying person for a single day and asked to provide their terminal care to perfection, how would we really go about doing it?” “Does such a thing as perfect terminal care even exist?” “Isn’t an appropriate response to the process of dying possible even if we do not spend as much time as we would like with the patient?”
One day, I asked a co-worker. “If you were asked to take care of only one dying patient and tend to their needs as best you possibly can, how would you take care of that patient?” She thought for some time and replied, “I would be with this patient for the entire 24 hours. I would support them by making sure that they are in the most comfortable position possible, or bring them pleasant aromas, or...let them listen to their favorite music.” I questioned her further, “What if that patient was so weak that he or she could not speak?” She replied, “I would try to do the same things by reading the emotions from his o her facial expression.” I continued, “What if he or she does not show emotions on their face?” She said, “I don’t know…” Her answers were valuable and precious to me, but I said in my heart, “If these answers are the best ones, then we cannot do that perfectly in our hospital at this time.”
Even though I had this dilemma, I continued working in the hospital simply because many people die in hospitals, and I wanted to be with them during their last moments, even if I did not agree with certain aspects of modern medicine.
Mother Teresa had already passed away by that time, but I believed that her spirit was carried on in her Sisters. I wanted to feel and absorb the Mother’s teachings by observing and learning the way her Sisters work and I wanted to apply that in my own practice in Japan. So I decided to volunteer at one of the Mother’s facilities in Kolkata.
I left for India on March 11, the day the great earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan. I had no idea such devastation would occur only four hours after my departure. It was an ironic turn of events that I, a person searching for the perfect way to support the dying, left Japan on the very day that so many lives were taken there. When I arrived, people in Kolkata had already heard about the earthquake and tsunami. At the Mother’s House, the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, many Masses for Japan were being held. Throughout the Masses, I heard sniffling. People were beside themselves with grief. One Japanese Sister said, “Right now, Kolkata is in Japan.” I had come to Kolkata to find an answer, but, as soon as I arrived, Kolkata moved to Japan.
My sister lives in the affected area, so I was very worried. But I had an intense urge to find the answer that I had been seeking, no matter what, before I could return to Japan. I did not know it then, but I had a sense that finding this answer was the best thing I could do for the victims [in Japan].
At the facilities of the Mother, there are a few places where volunteers are welcome. When a volunteer registers, their task is decided at a meeting among the Sisters. A Sister said to me, “Please volunteer at the facility for disabled children called the Daya Dan (The Gift of Compassion). Their medical room is open to the general public on Mondays and Fridays. Work there as a nurse.”
The children at the Daya Dan were so cute; their big eyes were bright and sparkling. At the Daya Dan, I worked as a nurse, and also took care of the washing, cleaning, and rehabilitation work like the other volunteers. In the medical room, I treated patients’ wounds with some volunteer doctors from Italy and Chile, and an Italian Sister who was also a qualified nurse. Conditions were varied: there was a person who got a big nail through the foot while walking outside barefoot and a person whose finger was about to be amputated due to a machine accident. Many poor people who couldn’t afford to see a doctor came there for treatment. At that location, I had to do things that in Japan were usually done only by doctors, so I found myself overwhelmed at times. Fortunately, my experience at the trauma department [in Japan] was helpful in choosing treatment methods and medicines. Even if their treatment was minimal, the visitors were so grateful that they expressed it by touching my feet [a practice which is used in Indian culture to pay the highest respect.]
During the reconstruction of the well-known Nirmal Hriday (The Home of the Pure Heart) at Kaligat, patients had to be transferred to other facilities. For only one day, I was able to care for them as well. After volunteering there, I realized that the type of work being done at both the Daya Dan and the Nirmal Hriday is not much different from the work we do in Japan. The difference is in the level of cleanliness and the quality of care and nursing. However, when I attended the temporary Nirmal Hriday facility, I felt that the terminal care for patients in the hospitals in Japan was rather pitiful. I wondered why. Then I spoke with S, another nurse from Japan, and realized that patients do not undergo life-prolonging treatments here as they do in Japan, so they do not suffer for as long a time. I understood again that the imposed extension of the life of a patient who has already completed his or her life span leads to additional suffering.
The situation in Kolkata for patients who come in after collapsing on the street may look more miserable [than in Japan.] However, in Kolkata, patients die enveloped in the Sisters’ prayers. What is the difference between the Sisters and us? I remember saying to S one day, “I cannot consider the quality of treatment here better than that in developed countries, even by Sisters who are qualified nurses, of different national origin or who have attained various levels of education. However, there is a crucial difference between the Sisters and us; that is, we serve the patient in front of our eyes, but the Sisters serve for God. Which one is more noble? It is to serve God. In which case do patients feel more peace and bliss in their last moments? Definitely dying here is much more blissful.” In hindsight, I think that at that moment I may have begun, little by little, to find the answer to my question.
The Sisters who keep the spirit of the Mother are friendly and I felt very close to them. They are persons who are truly worthy of respect as they renounce so much for the sake of God and willingly work under very difficult conditions. The Italian Sister with whom I worked in the medical room was especially cheerful. She was always smiling, like many Italians, but she was also a person who treasured solitude very much. I heard that because their relationship with God is everything to Sisters and priests, they sever their strong bonds with families and intimate relationships. When I was around them, I could feel the great resolve of these Sisters who renounce everything. Every time I was with the Sisters, I recalled words Shri Mahayogi always says, “You must renounce them with your mind even if you have them in your hand.” And I was feeling that both we, who aim at Yoga, and the Sisters, strive to live up to the same ideals.
Three weeks passed by quickly and the day of my return to Japan came. I had had so many precious experiences as a nurse and as a human being. But still, even on the last day of my stay, I had not been able to get a definitive answer about the best way to serve the dying. I felt that if I did not find the answer, the visit would have simply been a nice trip, but nothing more. There was an empty hole in my heart. I felt neither sad to leave Kolkata, nor happy to return to Japan.
My airplane landed safely in Osaka, and I was on the train back to Kyoto. I casually picked up a booklet that a Sister had given me on the last day: “Dear Volunteers, Here is a message from Mother Teresa.” The message was, “Love others until it hurts.” “Be Holy.” Mother Teresa’s noble actions toward the poor tend to get the unquestionable attention, but when we consider her words carefully, we can understand that her message was about self-sacrifice and being holy. “I will, I want, with God’s blessings, to Be Holy.” She said, “Holiness is never a luxury exclusive to some people. It is one of our obligations. It is simply our duty.” I read these words over and over until I got home.
When I arrived at home, I looked at the blog of a Japanese priest whom I had met at the Mother’s House. There, I found a message from a Sister at the Mother’s House in Kolkata to the volunteers in Japan. The message did not simply consist of words to heal or encourage the people of our devastated nation, but rather, it had to do with how she hopes the Japanese youth will become. The words she used were different than these, but what they meant was “Be Holy.” Tears began to stream down my cheeks, not of joy nor sorrow, just that I had found the answer I had been seeking. There were no words about “end-of-life care” there, but I had definitely found my answer.
The highest level of end-of-life care is neither about the amount of time spent close to a person, nor about a special way of acting, but rather about the one assisting the dying process being “holy.” The way for a person in their final hours to be the most blissful is to be watched over by a holy person. A holy person is the only one who knows true love.
When the Japanese priest met the Mother for the first time, he felt that he was loved by the Mother more than by anybody else in the world. And that the Mother herself once said, “Many people come to me, but to me, the person in front of me is everything.” Truly, a holy person can give more love than anybody.
Then, I thought about the teaching of my beloved Shri Mahayogi. “Have strong faith. Whether you die in bed or on the street is not important, but die within God.” The most blissful way of dying is with strong faith. But then, if you do not have faith, what happens then? Is it still possible to die “in God”? Indeed, there is one hope, and that is to die in the presence of a holy person. The soul that is watched over at the time of death by a holy person will become holy. This soul can get close to God and can die in God. People live in suffering, much more than can be endured in one lifetime. No matter how one has lived, one should be allowed to die, at the last moment, immersed in the highest love.
To be Holy is what I aspire to; what I resolve to become, and it is the aim toward which I will move as close as I possibly can. I re-realized my mission and I felt that my path had already been pointed out for me. That was why God sent me to my Guru (Master), and saved my soul, a soul that was almost gone before I found Yoga. I have a living Guru. Through my faith in Shri Mahayogi, under the guidance of my Master, I must become Holy. This is the mission before me, a person who had given the chance to live again. For myself, and for the blissful death of the people I will meet, “I will, I want, with God’s blessing, to be Holy.” (Sequel> )