for ISKCON News Weekly on Dec. 27, 2008
In 2001, two long-time friends and Godsisters, Sangita Devi Dasi and Jusaniya Devi Dasi, co-founded Vaisnavas C.A.R.E., Inc. (Counseling, Assistance, Resource, and Education for the Terminally-ill and Their Families). Their vision was that in every town or village, when devotees are in the process of dying, there will be trained volunteers to assist with their end-of-life needs. Assistance may include light housekeeping, writing letters, or chanting and reading to a patient. It may also include being present at the moment of death, and helping a devotee to remember Lord Krishna at that crucial moment.
Sangita and Jusaniya are both registered nurses. In addition, both are Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Nurses (CHPN). Sangita volunteers full-time with Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. and Jusaniya works as a neonatal nurse while also volunteering.
Sangita spends a lot of time talking on the phone with terminally ill devotees and their families. Sometimes she meets the devotees face to face. Though most of her contact is over the phone and the internet, the connection is powerful.
"You can reach out to a devotee across the world," Sangita stated. "We have so much in common because we are all related through Srila Prabhupada. Just by writing a letter or making a phone call, a terminally ill devotee can feel cared for. That is what Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. is all about."
Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. offers a range of services. For example, they have a free, on-line caregiver training course for lay people as well as healthcare professionals. Over fifty people, devotees and non-devotees, have completed the course. Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. also offers free educational seminars. They held two seminars this year at the ISKCON temple in Philadelphia.
Eventually, they hope to have a "C.A.R.E. team" in every ISKCON temple, with a room dedicated to hospice. This program is already in place at the Gita Nagari farm community in Pennsylvania. Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja, who passed away at Gita Nagari, was a board member for Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. A room at Gita Nagari is available for any terminally ill devotee who wants to spend his or her final months in a Krishna conscious environment. For more information, please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. also have a team of "Prayer Partners" who submit prayers on their website for ill and dying devotees. Devotees from all over the world send messages of love and encouragement. "It means so much to a person to receive these prayers," Sangita commented. "Everyone needs the blessings of the Vaisnavas."
Sangita's book, "The Final Journey-Complete Hospice Care for Departing Vaisnavas" (Torchlight Publishing) is mandatory reading for staff members in a California hospice run by the Catholic Church. It provides excellent information for caregivers of all religions. If you or someone you know is terminally ill, or if you are interested in getting involved in this type of service, you may visit the Vaisnavas C.A.R.E. website at www.vaisnavascare.com