“Don’t worry, Babe, I’m getting better. I’ll recover from this, just like I did ten years ago.” My husband, Vasudeva (or “Vas” as he was called by close friends), faced illness with the attitude of a spiritual warrior.
In 1992, Vas experienced his first episode of Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the disease process ulcerates and, in some cases, eats right through the intestinal wall. Vas was admitted to the hospital none too soon, as the disease had become almost life threatening.
After two hospitalizations and several months of convalescence, he returned to his job as manager of East West Bookshop in Menlo Park, California with a changed diet, a shortened workweek, and mellowed work habits.
The disease recurs
When the disease flared up again in September 2002, Vas spoke only of getting well. Each day, whether at home or in the hospital, he continued to meditate. We were alternately hopeful and gravely concerned as the weeks went by and he was hospitalized again and again with complications.
After one of his medications caused nerve damage in his right ankle, Vas had to use a walker. He struggled just to get through his bedroom door. Behind the door, and partially in view was his golf bag. A recent “convert” to golf, he had been out to golf courses several times with friends from the Seattle Ananda community.
When I suggested that we move the clubs so he could get through the door more easily, he said, “No! Leave them there. I want to see them each day.”
The challenges mount
The challenges of the disease, and the side effects from the medications—at one point 29 pills—mounted. Later, there were three weeks of “home health care” with intravenous feedings.
Through it all, Vas maintained a matter of fact attitude. At home or in the hospital, he was sweet and grateful to his nurses, and addressed each by name. Several knew him as customers of East West Bookshop in Seattle, where, since 1996, he had worked as co-manager and book buyer.
Occasionally, however, the illness was a challenge to his equanimity. But he would apologize, saying, “I don’t mean to be so sharp, Babe.”
A different kind of leader
Following the first episode of Crohn’s disease, Vas had worked conscientiously on his attitudes as a manager. No longer the strict taskmaster, he became much more the nurturing mother.
He had understood the truth of one of Ananda’s guiding principles—“people are more important than things,” that compassionate sensitivity to people is more important than a project turning out perfectly.
Vas came downstairs on Christmas Day 2002 to greet East West staff and other friends. He was deeply “present” with each person and spoke of his gratitude for their friendship and prayers.
By then, the medications had weakened his heart to the point that he had already experienced one episode of atrial fibrillation, in which the heart behaves erratically. The doctor had warned that if it happened again he might not come out of it so readily.
“I’m getting better.”
The Thursday before Vas left his body, his doctor suggested that he consider surgery. Vas replied, “I’m getting better. I won’t consider that until I’m on my deathbed. Short of surgery, he was doing everything he could to get well.
By Saturday, Vas’s body was under great duress. It was apparent that he was suffering. But without further explanation, all he would say was, “I’m not going.” I knew then that he would not go, once again, to the hospital emergency room.
The following morning, January 5, 2003, at 4:46 a.m. I heard his breath stop. His heart had gone into atrial fibrillation and couldn’t right itself. It was Sunday, Yogananda’s birthday.
We had been preparing to celebrate our Guru’s birthday at the mandir, with a banquet to follow. Now we were preparing for my husband’s astral ascension service.
The sky was a blaze of yellow and coral as we drove to the mandir for the ceremony. In the midst of the dazzling sky was a beautiful crystal prism, round and rainbow colored.
At the service we played the recording of Vas singing “Nightingale” just before Swami Kriyananda gave a major talk in Seattle in June 2002, a few months before Vas became ill.
The Guru’s grace
With his remaining strength, Vas seemed to have surrendered his life into the hands of his Guru for the final decision. The timing of his death, the crystal prism in the sky—showed me that Yogananda had called him home.
Vas was a man of reserve, dignity, and energy. That he stopped short of surgery was very understandable. The idea of a post surgical life with Crohn’s disease was not a compromise he was willing to make.
Yet, my first thought was a question: what about the possibility of prolonging his life as a devotee? This seemed of value, certainly.
But, as Terry McGilloway stated so eloquently in his eulogy, it was as if Yogananda came and said “You don’t have to live that way,” and released him from that sick body.
Self-concern the greatest enemy
In the two years since Vas slipped away, I have experienced both sadness and peace. Death is not to be feared. Loss is not to be feared. Self-concern is the greatest enemy because it is a natural by product of the first phases of grieving. “Poor me” is a pretty formidable temptation.
Along with the prayers and support of friends, what sustained me most after his passing was meditation. At such times, I was truly between worlds, conscious of spending time both there and here—where he was and where I was. I felt so close to him, and so at peace in that meditative space. The certainty that he lived helped me to move forward.
“You’ll do fine, Babe.”
God took my loving life-companion and asked, “May I be your companion now?”
Swami Kriyananda said in a recent video talk from India: “You think when someone dies—how cruel. No! God came to you in that form. God is taking Himself back so you will look at Him again and seek His love.”
The biggest gain has been a deepening of my love for God, for Guru, and for a life of renunciation. I have lost a great friend only to find that the love in my heart has multiplied.
At various times during our life together I would say to Vas, “I don’t know what I’ll do without you if you go first.” And he always said, “You’ll do fine, Babe.”