“If palliative care had not reached us…”
Three of us from the palliative care team walked into the tiny hut. The patient was lying on her side with her face to the wall. The middle-aged daughter, who had been busy in the kitchen, wiped her hands on the edge of the lungi she was wearing and gave us a smile.
“Could we turn her to face us?” I asked after the usual pleasantries.
“Sure”, the daughter replied and, gently cooing, “Mom, let us sit up,” helped the woman up. She added with an apologetic smile to me, “it is good for her to sit up for a while”.
The elderly woman sat up leaning on the daughter and smiled. Later I understood that the smile did not mean anything. She had either dementia or delirium. Though she would recognize the daughter at an occasional moment of lucidity, most of the time she was talking to people who were not around or sometimes who had left this world at some point of time.
The younger woman told us the sad story of a loving mother of three children, now with no one to look after her except this one daughter. The other daughter and son had chosen to live their own lives. The son-in-law was a bit resentful of the elderly person’s presence. “Well, it’s your Mom; if you want to look after her, that’s your business; I want no part of it”, sort of summarized his position on the matter.
Tears streaming down her cheeks, and with the mother resting against her shoulder with her blank stare and fixed meaningless smile, the daughter continued. “It is okay if no one else cares for her. My mom is the whole world to me.” And she turned to the mother. “It is okay if no one else cares; I shall be here for you, Mother. I shall always be here for you.”
Punctuated with sobs, the daughter told us the story of a loving mother who never demanded anything of others and just went on ladling out love to everyone around.
And then she turned to me. “But she and I are alive because of you all. If palliative care had not reached us, I would surely have given her poison and ended my life too”.
She hugged the mother tight, planted a kiss on her cheek and repeated, “I am here for you, mom. I will always be here for you.”
This elderly woman has lost her mind, has no material possessions; yet she is so rich. How many people in the world would receive a wealth of such love at a time like this? Indeed, she is rich. And I was glad that her mental state was such that at least it left her with that perpetual smile, not sorrow.
As we parted, I told the daughter that I saw God in her. I meant it.
* illustration by Cartoonist P V Krishnan