At Aryaghat, ‘Ghat doctors’ witness deathbed wishesSome dying patients want to see loved ones. Others want to make sure the money they once let someone borrow is paid back.
When doctors said Parbati Maya Balami had no chance of recovering from pneumonia, her son took her to the Pashupati Aryaghat for her last rites. The 89-year-old from Nuwakot was kept at the Pashupati Aryaghat Sewa Kendra, a white three-storey building above the Brahmanal. Upon examining her pulse, Suvarna Baidya, Pashupati’s ‘ghat doctor’ and the founder of the Sewa Kendra, said she would last two more days.
But he was wrong. Fourteen days after she arrived at Pashupati, a nurse at the ghat said that her son came to see her, and told her that her grandson had been married, and that he had laid the foundation of a new house in Thamel.
“She passed away immediately after,” Kalyani Bista, the nurse, said.
Most people brought to the Sewa Kendra, where Baidya and Bista take care of their needs until the moment of death, aren’t able to speak. But those who can often express a final wish—to see family members, or to see some obligation through, religious or financial, and Baidya does what he can to fulfil them.
Many patients want to see a distant loved one. When the children of 53-year-old Sunita Khadgi asked her if she had any wishes, according to Bista, she expressed her desire to see her husband, who had lived with another family for two decades.
“She said she was alive for over a week only to see her husband,” Bista said. When he came, “she opened her eyes, looked at him and died”.
In another case, a grandfather died once his son confirmed he was leaving America to visit him. There are dozens of cases, Bista said, of people passing away after getting a video call from their children abroad.
For some people, the final wish is connected to their family’s financial welfare. In one case, a woman survived for 34 days in the Sewa Kendra, according to Bista, out of worry about the money she had lent out. “Her daughter came with a bundle of 1,000 rupee bills and kept it on her chest, and told her that her neighbour had returned her money,” Bista said. “She died half an hour later.”
Dr Prabhakar Pokhrel, a psychologist at Kist Medical College, said research into deathbed wishes is uncommon because it requires difficult ethical clearances. But many people have some idea that they hold on to during their last days. Some get tunnel vision about it.
Cancer patients, especially those who are young, speak about their desire to live. Others don’t show interest in anything. “They just want to go home before they die,” Bista said.
Baidya says he has seen people’s views change on their deathbed. When he was ten years old, in 1959, he saw Laxmi Prasad Devkota, the national poet, pass away at Aryaghat. “Devkota was an atheist but he showed belief in God,” said Baidya, who now sleeps near the spot where Devkota passed away.
Baidya believes that Devkota “lived in illusion” during most of his life. But at the end, Baidya said, “he realised the existence of God.”
For most people, this change is less serious. Some, for example, want to experience something they have never experienced before. Vegetarians wish to eat meat, and those who don’t take alcohol want a drink. “Once a piece of meat or drop of alcohol is kept in their mouth, the person passes away peacefully,” Baidya said.
According to Pokharel, people’s behaviour might change because the frontal lobe system of the dying is disturbed, so they “do not distinguish between right and wrong”.
Baidya’s explanation is different. “Life is full of uncertainties,” he said. “It’s so uncertain that you go against your own rules in your last stage of life.”
His request to those whose family members are dying is to be with them in their last moments. “At the end of their life, everyone wants to see their loved one,” he said.
Regardless of what someone’s deathbed wishes might be, it is important to try to fulfil them, Baidya said. “Then they will have an easy death.”