Friday, April 28, 2017

The End Of The Road

At a discussion on death and dying, at Fort Kochi recently, participants aired their fears and concerns

Photo: Dr. Suresh Kumar 

By Shevlin Sebastian

When yoga expert Nuthan Manohar saw a Facebook post mentioning a talk about dying and death, at Fort Kochi, she was keen to go. “I found the subject fascinating,” she says. “After all, every breath you take is bringing you closer to death. You need to think about it, because most of us live in denial of death.”

The discussion on death and dying was moderated by Dr. Suresh Kumar, one of the leading lights of palliative care in Kerala and the Founder-Director of the Institute of Palliative Medicine in Kozhikode, a World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre. He is also a Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bradford, UK, as well as a Ashoka Fellow.

Interestingly, when Suresh asked the audience which death touched them the most recently quite a few, including Nuthan spoke about the death of animals.

Nuthan had two kittens, Hedley and Unda. She had taken them to a vet's clinic, for grooming. However, owing to the presence of infected cats, both her kittens contracted the parvovirus and died within days. “I couldn't understand why something so innocent and powerless had to die so painfully,” says Nuthan. “What was God’s role in this?”

Suresh is not surprised by Nuthan's reaction. When asked about the reaction of terminally-ill patients, Suresh says, “Many of them have questions about the meaning of their life. It is a time when they take stock. They think about the issues they want to settle before they leave. Sometimes, they think, 'Is it okay to die?' If a person is a young father, then it is a painful feeling that he will not be there, for his wife and children. Some will think, 'What will happen to my bank balance and all the possessions that I have acquired? What will happen to me in the afterlife?'”

There are other concerns, too. Do you want a life support system, or do you prefer to die at home? Do you want to be cremated or buried? Has it been discussed? “One participant said that her father did not want any rituals,” says Nuthan. “But after his death, this request was ignored by the family and all the rituals were done.”

Interestingly, very few people say that they are afraid of death. “They will call it a worry or concern,” says Suresh. “A fairly good percentage feels remorseful about certain things they did in their life. They want to make amends, although it may be late. They tell me, 'If I get another six months, I will do things differently'.”

Meanwhile, the good news is that, in terms of palliative care, Kerala is way ahead of the rest of the country. “Out of 1500 centres in India, 1300 are in Kerala,” says Suresh. “Kerala is one place where the common man is involved in the care of dying people.” Suresh is also running similar projects in Puducherry, West Bengal and Manipur, as well as Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.

Asked about his own experience at viewing death so often, Suresh says, “It reminds me of the fragility of life. It tells me that my time is limited. I will be taking the same path tomorrow or after a few years. It is only a matter of time. So, each moment counts. I tell myself, ‘When I die, I should have minimum things to regret’.”

As for what happens after death, a stoical Suresh says, “I don't believe anything happens after death. I am a non-believer. Life ends. That is all.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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