The News Agency of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
My Visit to Mother Isa
By: Niranjana Swami
for niranjanaswami.com on Sept. 6, 2012
Photo Credits: niranjanaswami.com
This picture of Mother Isa, taken in 1974, was published in a 1974 Back to Godhead magazine article describing the dedication and devotion of those who assist Srila Prabhupada in publishing transcendental literature for the enlightenment of the whole world. It was during this time that Mother Isa was serving in the BBT in Brooklyn, New York, transcribing Srila Prabhupada's translations and purports to Srimad Bhagavatam.
About two weeks ago Syamarupa dasa, Caitya Guru dasa and I drove eighty miles south of Boston to visit my godsister, Mother Isa, in southern Massachusetts. She is an amazing devotee who would only speak about Krsna and Srila Prabhupada throughout all the time I had known her (at least thirty-five years). I was very eager to see Isa again, especially since I had not seen her since 2006, shortly after the time she had a severe stroke at age 89. The stroke took away almost all of her memory.
Shortly after Mother Isa's stroke, I, along with several other devotees who knew Mother Isa, made several attempts to situate her in a place where she could be cared for by devotees. Unfortunately, we ran into many obstacles. Among them was a strong resistance from Isa's only living family member, her niece, who would not permit Isa to leave the area. After many weeks of research and inquiries on Isa's behalf, we all had to accept that Isa would have to remain where she was.
Soon thereafter we learned that Mother Isa was released from the rehabilitation hospital and was sent to a nearby assisted-living facility. I arranged for devotees to visit her from time to time and would always inquire about her whenever I visited Boston. Some time later she was put under the care of a state nursing home where she now lives.
When we arrived at the nursing home, we signed in and were then directed to a place where we could find Mother Isa. I was taken aback by her appearance, but soon remembered that she is now ninety-five years old. Time has a way changing the body's appearance, but as I was soon to observe, it can not take away the essence of the soul's yearning for Krsna.
I spent the first part of our meeting trying to establish some connection with Mother Isa, but was disappointed to find that she was extremely tired and for the most part was unresponsive to my attempts for a dialogue with her. After fifteen minutes or so, I went back to the nurses' station to tell them who I was in relation to Mother Isa and to ask them if they could tell me all they knew about her current medical state. I did not expect them to be able to tell me about her state of consciousness, knowing that they would probably not understand Mother Isa's symtoms of devotion to Krsna. Still, I explained that she seemed a lot less responsive since the last time I saw her in 2006.
I was told that mornings were not a good time for Isa and that if we wanted her to be more responsive, afternoons were always a better time to get her to speak and to hear her sing the "Krsna chant." I immediately smiled when I heard "the Krsna chant" and was relieved to learn that she still seemed to be the same Mother Isa I always knew. I couldn't imagine Mother Isa not chanting Hare Krsna. I returned to the visitor's room and tried once again to establish communication with her.
This time I held out my hand, started talking to Isa about Srila Prabhupada and Krsna and then tried to induce her to respond to the mahamantra. She gripped my hand tightly, looked very intently, right into my eyes, and started to enthusiastically chant the Hare Krsna mantra together with me two words at a time. This went on for several minutes but it appeared she was too tired for a long session with us. Though I tried to get her to say something else related to Krsna, it seemed that the only words she could speak without difficulty were the Hare Krsna mahamantra. I had hoped for a lot more, but I figured that if that's all she can remember, then what else does she really need?
After spending approximately forty-five minutes with her, we decided that it was probably best to let her rest and to just hope for a better session during another time when we could visit in the latter part of the day.
As we were leaving the nursing home, there was a vehicle for disabled persons just outside the front door. One by one, residents from the home were being carried into the vehicle in their wheelchairs. One of the nurses who worked there and who was assisting all of them saw me out of the corner of her eye. She noticed that I was dressed in robes and approached me to ask who I had come to see. I told her that I was there to see Edith Graves, which is the name Mother Isa is known by in the nursing home.
The woman immediately burst into a huge smile and exclaimed, "I knew it! When I saw your robes I knew that you must have come to see Edith! I love that woman! Everyone loves that woman! I'm so happy that someone has come to see her. You should come and see her on Friday afternoons at 2:00 PM when we are all gathered to sing patriotic songs. She leads everyone in singing the Krsna song with such enthusiasm."
But that wasn't all. Another elderly woman in a wheelchair was listening nearby. She extended her hand to me and introduced herself as Kay. With the most pleasant smile and a look filled with charm and respect she also started glorifying Mother Isa. "I love that woman too", she said. "She's a real live wire, especially when she sings that beautiful Krsna song for all of us." She went on to express her appreciation for Isa and once again confirmed that everyone who knew Isa had nothing but feelings of affection towards her. They described her as the most self-contented person in the whole building. Then she asked, "Can you tell me how old Edith is?" I told her that she was ninety-five years old. The woman smiled again and said that she was always wondering how old she was. She then asked all of us to please come back to visit again.
I thanked both of them profusely and told them that meeting them was the icing on the cake of my visit to see Mother Isa. I was leaving Isa, feeling somewhat disappointed by her lack of responsiveness. But it was now becoming crystal clear that Mother Isa was none other than the Mother Isa I always knew— taking advantage of every opportunity which came her way to induce other's to chant Krsna's name. Even at the advanced age of ninety-five, and even though she had lost all memory of her past as a result of severe stroke, she was a shining light of enthusiasm for singing the "Krsna song" to everyone without reservation.
On our way back to Boston I requested Syamarupa dasa to visit Mother Isa on a Friday afternoon in order to film her chanting during the session when everyone sings songs all together. I also asked him if he could interview other workers and residents in order to hear their words of appreciation for Mother Isa. And last but not least, I asked him to establish a clear line of communication with the nursing home so that we could be kept updated if there were any major changes in Mother Isa's state of health.
As it turned out, Syamarupa dasa was scheduled for an evening kirtan event not far from where Mother Isa resides, just three days after the day when we visited her. I gave him the video camera which Madana-mohana dasa uses for making videos of my lectures when we travel together, and asked him if he could get as much on video as he possibly could.
Unfortunately the nursing home has a strict policy which does not allow visitors to take videos of events. Syamarupa dasa was also unable to interview the residents as we had hoped. Still, he was able to take several video clips of his exchanges with Mother Isa.
Please watch the following edited version of the clips Syamarupa dasa took during his visit with Mother Isa and closely observe her. I'm amazed by her enthusiasm and especially by her spontaneity for chanting Krsna's names. She seems to be right there, in Krsna consciousness, when she is chanting, remembering nothing else but Krsna in the form of His holy names.
I find these video clips to be precious and my admiration for Mother Isa and my gratitude for what Srila Prabhupada has given to all of us has increased without limit due to my association with her.