A Krsna conscious nurse helps the dying with their material and spiritual needs.

I am a Registered Nurse who specializes in hospice care for the terminally ill. The medical professionals I work with fully understand that their patients will never recover so they must relieve their patient's pain and make them as comfortable as possible. Because of this, they embrace the tenets of the hospice philosophy, which includes the understanding that every terminally ill person deserves to be treated with respect; that each patient must be allowed to decide the care he or she will accept or refuse; that every terminally ill person has the right to be cared for by sensitive, knowledgeable people who will attempt to understand their needs and will gain satisfaction in helping them face death; and that all patients should be allowed to die with dignity in the environment they choose.

Because facing one's imminent death or that of a loved one requires a tremendous amount of inner strength, spiritual support by the hospice staff is offered to those who wish to accept it. No matter what religion patients and family members adhere to, a hospice professional or trained volunteer will encourage them to seek shelter of their beliefs and traditions.

Most hospice patients I have cared for have expressed the importance of a strong spiritual faith. When someone is told that he or she has six months or less to live, spiritual issues have a way of surfacing and moving to the forefront. Many people I have cared for felt a sense of urgency to become more religious or spiritually enlightened before death. For each one, this meant something different, but I encouraged each of them to become more introspective and to pray to the "Supreme Powerful Lord" at a crucial time in their lives when they were realizing just how powerless they really were.

Encouraging my patients to speak about their spiritual beliefs has helped many of them to recognize inner strengths they never realized they had, and to confront their fears and spiritual pain, which can be intensely private. Often, a person does not wish to speak about such personal things. A patient may even vacillate between feeling spiritually strong one day and emotionally weak and vulnerable the next. But when my patients have trusted me enough to confide in me about their fear of dying and their spiritual uncertainties, I have appreciated their honesty, and our relationship has deepened.

Spiritual Encouragement

My being a devotee of Lord Krsna has often opened the door to conversations with my patients about reincarnation, the laws of karma, and the spiritual world. Yet I have never been adamant that they believe in something different from what has given them solace throughout their lives. I have simply encouraged them to use what precious time they have left to come closer to the Lord, the same Lord who resides within the heart of each of us. In this way, we developed a mutual respect for each other's values and faith.

Many times I have been asked to kneel at their bedside and pray with them and for them. Occasionally, family members have asked me to join them as they read aloud from their family Bible. An elderly Jewish couple invited me to come to their home when their Rabbi would be present so we could all hold hands and pray together.

In each situation, I have explained to the families that just as expectant parents prepare for a good birth in anticipation of the arrival of their baby, there is such a thing as "dying a good death." One who is pain free physically, emotionally, and mentally, and is rightly situated spiritually, will have an auspicious, most glorious passing away.

One Atheist

Out of hundreds of patients I have cared for, only one admitted to being an atheist. This man refused visits from the hospice Pastor and proclaimed that there was "nothing after death."

"You're born, you live, and you die," he stated. "That's all there is to it."

Unfortunately, in spite of the attempts made by the hospice staff to comfort him, he lived out his final days angry, lonely, and depressed.

Sadly, this patient exemplified how living one's life bereft of spirituality will cause one increased pain and suffering. Similarly, facing one's death without a spiritual belief system will increase one's fear and deny one the hope of an eternal, joyous afterlife with the Lord.

Regarding this, Krsna states in the Bhagavad-gita (8.6), "Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail." In his purport, Srila Prabhupada writes,

The process of changing one's nature at the critical moment of death is here explained. . . . How can one die in the proper state of mind? . . . One's thoughts during the course of one's life accumulate to influence one's thoughts at the moment of death, so this life creates one's next life. . . . If one is transcendentally absorbed in Krsna's service, then his next body will be transcendental (spiritual), not material. Therefore, the chanting of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare is the best process for successfully changing one's state of being at the end of one's life.

The chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra is the recommended means for self-realization in this present age, as taught by Lord Krsna Himself in His form as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. This mantra is the essence of all Vedic wisdom and is the most sublime means of understanding your true self and your relationship with God. Chanting this mantra throughout one's life will help one remember the Lord at the time of death, assuring one's promotion to the spiritual world, the personal abode of the Lord.

Like the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, the hospice philosophy teaches that death is inevitable, that spiritual questions challenge those facing imminent death, and that spiritual support for the dying is laudable. Once again we turn to the Bhagavad-gita (2.27) for guidance. Lord Krsna instructed Arjuna, "One who has taken his birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again." Who among us will not be in need of spiritual support and care at the end of our life?

Sangita Devi Dasi (Susan Pattinson, RN, Certified Hospice Educator), a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, has years of experience caring for the terminally ill. She is the author of The Final Journey Complete Hospice Care for Departing Vaisnavas and is a voting member of the Hospice and Palliative Nurse's Association. She is the president of Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. Inc. and lives in Philadelphia.

Hospice Care for Lord Krsna's Servants

Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. (Counseling, Assistance, Resource, and Education for the Terminally Ill and Their Family) was founded in 2002 as a non-profit organization that offers support to devotees of Lord Krsna, as well as to others in a hospice situation who feel they can benefit from the assistance.

Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. is a worldwide network of volunteers, both healthcare professionals and laypersons, prepared to assist within their own communities the terminally ill and their loved ones when the need arises. These compassionate volunteers span the globe from the United States to Australia to India and to Europe.

For more information on this project and how you can help, visit ww.vaisnavascare.com. For a comprehensive guide to learning the art of hospice care, The Final Journey Complete Hospice Care for Departing Vaisnavas (available from the Krishna.com Store) teaches, step-by-step, how to assist others in "dying a good death" as they make their journey back home, back to Godhead.