Saturday, 12 October 2013

Good-bye Mrs. Tina

This morning was fresh and rain-washed.

We were in the Jeevan Sahara training room, just starting the day's session.  Our last day of a 4 day training for church volunteers to help them reach out to people with HIV.

Peter was taking the devotions and was reading from Luke 22 about Christ's saying "not my will, but yours be done."

And then I heard it.

The low growl of an engine starting.  I looked out the window and a minute later saw the ambulance go up the small bridge that crosses the water drain at the border of our compound.

The ambulance was leaving JSK.  But it was not leaving empty.  I saw it cross between the red gladioli on either side of the bridge and could look into the back.

There was a purple coffin with a cross on it.  Next to it were three young women.

Inside the coffin was the body of Mrs. Tina.

She died last night at 9 PM.

Mrs. Tina did not come to Jeevan Sahara in an ambulance.  She was brought here by our staff in an autorickshaw.  She had been alone at home for over a month, suffering from PML a viral brain atrophy which has no known cure.   At the same time, she had a large wound that just would not heal, and she was alone all day as her grown daughter was out at work all day.  So we brought her in to care for her.  Our hope was for a cure.  But it was tempered with what we know about PML in people with HIV.

Over the last month Mrs. Tina was loved.  She was cared for in her ups and downs.  When she became incontinent, our nurses lovingly cleaned her.  Church members from her church came and went.  Members of another church cooked food for her.  Cared for her.  Had her daughter over to their places for meals.

So many prayed with her.

In her times of lucidity, she was able to review her life.  And be prepared for death.

One afternoon Sheba talked about forgiveness.  Mrs. Tina listen.  Taking it in like a sponge.  She understood crystal clear and prayed a prayer of forgiveness for what she had done.  Then she prayed prayers to forgive what others had done against her.  She was so happy to be able to do so.

Early in her stay 3 more wounds opened up.  It was so discouraging.  A pus swab showed resistance to the common antibiotics.  A high level antibiotic was started.  Things cleared up for a while.  It looked like she was going to pull through.

Then she got to gasping.  A week ago.  We called in those she knew.  They spent time with her.  Again she pulled through.

Yesterday afternoon she was gasping again.  Her daughter had taken off the last 2 weeks to be with her mother in these days.  Our staff were with her.  Praying.  Caring.  Touching. Loving.

In the night about 15 members of her church with her.   She breathed her last among her new family.

Was it a failure to see the ambulance drive off on a rain-washed morning, carrying a coffin for burial?

It sometimes feels like it.  So much we give.  So much care.  So many prayers.  All those hours of our nurses stretching themselves.  Doing 12 hour shifts so that one of them can take a day off.  All the night visits Sheba has made.  All the agonising and prayers.   We just don't want to give up.  Especially as long as there is breath.

But, at the same time, we had also been preparing Mrs. Tina and her daughter for her death.  Her slipping away into the arms of her Lord was not unexpected.  We know for sure that she is in a place where she is not feeling the pain and agony she did in these last few months.  Jesus told the dying criminal on the cross "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."  We firmly and resolutely believe that Mrs. Tina has gone to meet Jesus too.

In a closed system - even a mind-bogglingly large one as big as the known universe - there is little hope for the Mrs. Tinas of the world.  Only a cold silence in the spiralling galaxies.   But in a system that is breathed with the breath of a living God it is quite another matter.

I watched the ambulance drive away.  It was followed by two men on a motor-cycle. Other church members had gone ahead.   I know that the world will not notice Mrs. Tina's passing.  The moment the ambulance was out of view, the same traffic passed outside beyond the garden in front of JSK.  The normal number of pavement walkers head's bobbed by, small buoys propelled forward by unseen legs.  A red-rumped bulbul twittered from the side of a tree.

But we have added another legacy.  Another person is part of the kingdom.  Awaiting resurrection and the coming fulfillment of time.

And here in her sorrow, Mrs. Tina's daughter also has much hope.  Her mother is gone.  But she has a new family.   Her mother has died, but her death was 100 times better than what it could have been in the hell-holes that so many of our government hospitals have become for the poor.  She suffered much, but her suffering was alleviated by being in a beautiful clean place.  With sunshine flooding in the windows and the green trees outside.  With nurses who gave their very hearts for her.  With church folks who held her hand during her last days.

Good-bye dear Mrs. Tina.  The next time I see you, we will both be very different from when we met each other last....


No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee. 
- John Donne

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