2. Tell us about your experiences meeting Mother Teresa.
In the 1970s, as many did, I looked to Eastern philosophy and religions as a source of wisdom and set off on a spiritual pilgrimage. At one point I was living in a tiny village in Nepal, where I lived happily until I began to have nightmares that I or my father was dying. After weeks of nightmares, a Sherpa (the mountain guides) walked three hours up the mountain path to my village and brought me a copy of Newsweek with a photograph of Mother Teresa on the cover.
That night I had a dream about Mother Teresa instead of about dying. I decided the way to get over my fear of dying was to put myself if the middle of it. I would go to Calcutta and ask Mother Teresa if I could work in one of the homes she created for the dying. The next day I packed my bag and made my way across Nepal and India, walking, taking buses and airplanes. When I arrived in Calcutta, I was very sick but I dragged myself to the public telephone, dialed O for operator and said, "I want to speak to Mother Teresa." Miraculously, she was on the phone in a few minutes and said "How can I help you my child?" I told her I'd had a dream about her and asked if I could come see her. She said, "Yes. Come right over my child."
I took a rickshaw to the Sister of Charity Convent where she lived. In her tiny office, seated across the desk from her, I had the feeling that I'd always known her and she knew me. I told her my story and asked if I could work in one of her homes for the dying. She said, "No my child. There is suffering and sadness around you at home. Go home and work with that."
And I did. I returned to live in the US for the first time in my adult life, completed a master's degree in psychology, became a counselor with her terminally ill, and wrote Coming Home.
3. You cared for both your mother and father when they were ill. What are some of your happiest memories with them?
I am so grateful that I had the privilege of helping to care for them when they were dying and was left with so many beautiful memories. Tender little moments come to mind. Sitting at my dying father's feet giving him a foot massage twice a day. Dad and his grandson playing with the dog we'd just brought home from the pound. The night Dad died, watching Mom peacefully holding him in her arms in the bed they had slept in together for 35 years and feeling that love had made their journey together worthwhile. My mother's death fills me with smiles and even joy. She chose where, when and how she would die and went out smiling and saying "bye".
4. Despite the hardship of caring for a terminally ill loved one, what can caregivers do to treasure the time spent with sick family or friends?
Take time to really be present for their loved one. Let go of busyness. There is nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to impress. Probably the most important thing we can do for ill or dying loved ones is simply to be present for them with an open heart. Listen not only with our ears, but also with our hearts. Share family stories and memories, old photos, games, touch, music and silence.
Rumi, the 13th century Sufi poet and philosopher wrote "Step out of the circle of time into the circle of love." In the midst of a home dying, if we step into the circle of love, we are uplifted by giving love and feeling loved. Perhaps we can help the dying find meaning in their experience by suggesting that the most important thing a person can do is love. No matter what abilities or faculties they may have lost, they can still love.
5. How can people learn about joy while caring for a dying loved one?
Joy is part of our essential identity. We cover it up with fear, busyness, clinging to security, limiting beliefs about ourselves, and all our material and social concerns. When we're caring for someone we love, all our pretenses tend to drop away. Dying and death may strip us down to the core and at the core is joy. Dying loved ones remind us that love is the most important thing in the world, to live in the moment because we don't know how many moments we have and to be grateful for being alive. Lives lived with those understandings tend to be joyful lives.
6. For those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, what are some good ways to honor their memories?
We honor them best, I think, by living the positive things they have taught us in their lives and deaths, including the importance of loving, living in the moment and gratitude. You might ask yourself, "What can I give to others to honor that life?" A poem? Garden? Tree? Story? Sculpture? Donation? Endowment? It's important that we don't forget to honor them when they are still with us.
7. What do you hope readers will take away from Coming Home?
I want them to feel empowered, to know that they can handle a home dying. I want them to know that they are far more competent and loving than they perhaps imagined. I want them to know that the ultimate human freedom is freedom of attitude. That no matter what the circumstances of their lives, they can always choose their attitude and their attitude will determine the nature of their experience.
About the author
Deborah Duda was raised in a small town in England and traveled around the U.S. and the world in a military family. After graduating from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, she worked in the National Gallery of Art, in Washington D.C. and studied art in Europe. For many years, she lived on a boat sailing in the Mediterranean Sea.
Concerned about the war in Vietnam and U.S. foreign policy in general, she returned to the US and was accepted into the U.S. Foreign Service. Her first assignment was to a White House Task Force, answering President Lyndon Baines Johnson's mail from parents who had lost children in the Vietnam War. After serving as an ambassador's aid at the World's Fair in San Antonio, Texas she was assigned as vice consul and cultural attaché to the US Embassy in Santiago, Chile.
Dismayed with U.S. policy in that country at the time of the election of President Salvador Allende, she resigned and moved to Paris. There she helped a Brazilian exile leader write an exposé of the use of torture in Brazil, the first presented to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations.
Discouraged by the inability of politicians and intellectuals to create peace in the world, she began an inner, spiritual journey . . . including living in a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery , and studying Hinduism, the Tao, and alternative healing. After meeting Mother Teresa in Calcutta, she returned to the U.S., earned an MA in psychology from Goddard College. She, became a counselor with the terminally ill and their families and wrote the first edition of Coming Home.
Deborah has been a Kaua'i resident for 29 years. She helped found Kauai Hospice. When Hurricane Iniki devastated the island, she served as a regional coordinator for a FEMA mental health recovery program. After the program ended, she spent four years in Mexico working in a holistic health retreat center.
When Deborah returned to Kaua'i, she was concerned about a sense of lack of meaning and joy among young people. She decided to commit five years to them and become a teacher. After completing an education program at University of Hawaii at Manoa, she used teaching Spanish in a middle school as a vehicle to help young people expand their vision of possibilities for their lives.
Now finishing that commitment, Deborah is delighted to once again be reinventing her life and continuing the adventure. Her new manuscript entitled Lighten Up, Seven Ways to Kick the Suffering Habit will soon be published.
Today, in increasing numbers, terminally ill people are choosing to spend their last days at home in the warmth of familiar surroundings, rather than in an impersonal hospital or nursing home. Coming Home will provide you with information, inspiration, and sensitive yet straightforward answers to questions such as:
Can I handle a home death?
How do I deal with my grief?
Can we afford to stay at home?
Can I give an injection?
Can pain be controlled at home?
How do I prevent bedsores?
How can I find meaning in the dying process?
What do I need to know about legal issues?
First published in 1981, this groundbreaking step-by-step guide has been used to train hospice staff and volunteers for over two decades. Like a supportive friend sitting with you at the kitchen table, Deborah Duda helps you to create an experience that makes your loved one's final weeks as comfortable and meaningful as possible.
“Thank you for the joy you shared with our poor through your gift.” – Mother Teresa
Thanks to Lindsay at Phenix Publicity, I will be giving away one (1) copies of this book!
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