1993 Demise of My Father
Dear Śrīla Prabhupāda,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Your Divine Grace.
As I write this year’s offering, an unexpected event coincides with its composition. It is the recent demise of my father, a good friend and well-wisher. The realizations evoked by the force of such circumstances supersede my planned composition. Therefore I sit and write briefly, narrating the history of events.
Death comes to everyone. You taught us that by your words, in your books, and finally by your personal example. My father had been ailing for three years. While in India, I had phoned my mother regularly to keep in touch. All things seemed to be going well.
At the end of March, as I had begun to settle in for a month of intensive sādhana, I received an unexpected call.
“I think you should come immediately if you want to see your father alive. He is waiting for you.”
No need to give the medical history. Suffice it to say that he was in hospital and not doing well.
Some events obviously transpire by Lord Kṛṣṇa’s will. Vṛndavāna to Montreal in thirty-six hours, without a ticket or reservation, was only possible through divine intervention.
Arriving in the early afternoon, in three feet of snow, we drove straight to the hospital. As I entered room 719 my mother was sitting by the bedside looking tired, but relieved. She woke him as I entered. “Peter is here.”
My father smiled and leaned forward. “Oh, you came too, all the way from India.” We talked very briefly. He mentioned that he was embarrassed. All strength was gone. He was not able to even eat on his own. “Things are becoming hazy. I have difficulty thinking straight.”
It was our last conversation. When I returned the next morning he was no longer conscious. There were some decisions to be made. Should we try some special treatment? No! Better let things take a natural course.
After some hours a nice, soft-spoken doctor met with us. He was honest and straightforward. “Actually there is nothing more we can do for him now.” It was obvious. There was nothing left to do. It was a matter of waiting for him to die.
He was an honest and dignified man. I do not want to narrate every detail of his last moments. It was a semi-private room. I sat beside him softly chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, occasionally speaking, but receiving no outward response. The hours melted into the afternoon. At first he was convulsive and uncomfortable. Then he became peaceful, and gradually his breathing slowed, like a metronome just about to stop, a clock that had run down.
Then his tongue protruded and his life air left his body. He died.
It was the first time I had witnessed someone leaving this world. My mother watched, resigned to the inevitable. I placed a Tulasī leaf in his mouth, a mahā garland around his neck, sprinkled the body with Ganges water, and offered some prayers for the departed soul.
That person I had known in his youth, associated within his middle age, and lately watched struggling under the burden of old age, was no more. My mother asked, unprompted, “Where has his soul gone now?”
In the days to follow I had to manage with family grief and making the last arrangements. A year ago we had sat in the backyard, all three of us. My parents requested they be cremated at death, and their ashes taken to the Ganges.
“Where did you get such an idea from?” I had asked in amazement.
At the ceremony I spoke as per a previous arrangement. My mother had worried. “Don’t proselytize.” I didn’t. I explained the science of the soul and spoke to them about a perspective that I alone had known in my father. The spiritualist. That person who first asked me decades ago … “Do you ever think of God? …You should. After all, we are all in His debt.” … And who at our parting last year, the last time we spoke together, said in private: “I am very happy with what you are doing. Now stay with it. Don’t leave Kṛṣṇa.”
At the gate we bid the guests good-bye.
“Thank you for that lovely ceremony,” someone said.
I left as efficiently as I had come. My father’s ashes as my only extra luggage. Having arrived back in Vṛndavāna, I spoke to my mother over the phone. She was in grief.
“Don’t you feel sad, now that he is gone?” she asked.
Having consigned his ashes to the Yamunā, my last obligation was complete. The story ends there. I am writing it as it happened.
It is my twentieth year in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. It was to be a special year I had earmarked a long time ago. A generation, by the calculation of men. I had high expectations. Someone had told me the day I crossed the threshold to the temple that I would be a pure devotee by now. Somehow that was not to be. As a result, I was lamenting throughout the year. An existential crisis. “What has come of me in this time?”
My only awareness of pure devotion has been to recognize its rareness. My knowledge of Kṛṣṇa has revealed His elusiveness as a consequence of my reluctance to surrender.
But in this episode, at the eleventh hour of my second decade, well into middle age, you have given me another assurance in your usual pragmatic way.
Somehow, without my noticing, you have softened my heart, enough to care about an old man in his final days. I answered my mother, “Yes, I want to see him. I want to help him.”
Somehow, although penniless, I had acquired a priceless gift by which to repay a lifetime of kindness. “Yes, I came,” I told him in the hospital; “despite the odds, I came to be with you. Now just think of God.”
Somehow, to the amazement of others, you have taught me to be calm, free of illusion, in this ever-changing world, while all learned and affluent persons around me were bewildered.
Somehow you arranged for me to be the witness. It was true! That first teaching you had repeated to the very last day. I could see it. When the soul departed, what was left was no longer my father. I could see! I chanted to myself in amazement, tathā dehāntara-prāptir …
Somehow, because we follow your teachings, the greatest pessimists accept our authority. I answered my mother, “He was a good person, so he will go to a higher destination, closer to God.” She was pacified.
Somehow, your books sat on the basement shelf for eighteen years, unopened. Then when it was time to inquire about death, they were read. My mother replied, “It says so in those books you gave us.”
Somehow you have invested your potency in those who repeat your words. The most reserved audience I had ever spoken to, and they went away in appreciative disbelief. It was the Truth that had touched their hearts.
Somehow I replied.
“Yes I feel sad.”
“Then what do you do?” she asked.
“I have been trained for this for twenty years. How to understand the impermanence of matter and the eternality of the soul.”
A pause. “Yes, that’s right. And after all, what else counts,” she replied.
Somehow, that conversation was it, in a nutshell. Thank you, Śrīla Prabhupāda. You have so expertly opened my eyes with transcendental knowledge. Gradually I am beginning to see.
Somehow I have been waiting here, such a long time, hoping for oceans of nectar. I had great expectations. But first you opened my eyes, then you taught me to see, and now you are making me into a person. It was not what I had in mind. But you know best. “Be conscious, then Kṛṣṇa conscious,” you had said.
Somehow, no doubt, I will continue to hope, by following that line of training that you have left us, perhaps after the next twenty years, I will become the pure devotee, that I once came to you to be.
Somehow, once again I am here, prostrating at your lotus feet, to thank you for your mercy, from the core of my shallow heart.
Your insignificant servant,