The following is a letter Meheru wrote to a Baba lover on her return to Meherazad from Katie’s interment. She has lovingly agreed to share it with the readers of Tavern Talk.
Today, the 21st of June 2009, the summer solstice, we went to Meherabad around 9:30 am for Katie’s interment. Somehow Katie was very present and we felt her conducting the show as she would have liked. And there were crowds of people whom we had not expected to come to honour this day. We were happy that Katie’s sister and niece, Shera and Dinaz, were among them.
After visiting the East Room where we arranged the flowers, we went to Beloved Baba’s Samadhi and were surprised to see the crowd and feel how much Katie’s love for Baba had reached out to so many.
In Beloved Baba’s Samadhi we sang the Bujawe Naar Arti and said the Parvardigar Prayer, and took Baba’s darshan as we would do in Mehera’s time. Then we went out to garland Mehera and bow to her love for Beloved Baba, and in turn, greet Naja, Rano, Soonamasi (Khorshed’s mother) and Kitty, in the order that Baba had prescribed, showering them with flowers. And then we came to the east side of the Samadhi to garland Mani…and somehow passed Goher…but we started the program as we felt it was Katie’s day to hold the stage. Meanwhile Ted was playing “The Ocean of Love”, a song all of us love and enjoyed hearing him sing.
The crypt was ready to receive Katie’s urn which we had, on Friday evening, placed in Mandali Hall near Baba’s Chair. Falu later conveyed it to the Blus Bus which I felt was very appropriate as she was one of the inmates of the Blue Bus during its tours. I remember when my sister and I would come for our holidays from school to Baba, so many times traveling with them in the Bus. All the young ones like us in those days would be sitting in the aisle, balancing ourselves on moveable folding stools (as the seats which were double on one side and single on the other were occupied by the older women), and there was a strip of iron that would swing across the aisle and connect to the opposite seat against which we could rest our backs. No matter how long the journey or hot and tired and uncomfortable it was, we enjoyed it. I would certainly have liked to sit near at a window seat to be able to see out, but the ones who were not good travelers and got car-sick had to be near the windows and so whenever we looked out we would see one or two of them with their heads out getting sick. Katie would be OK on the straight roads, but once the roads began to wind their way uphill she would start feeling sickish, but like a trooper, controlled herself and tried to forget what was happening inside by singing away as much as she could. One of the songs I well remember was “John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in his grave but his soul goes marching on”. And that is exactly what we felt when Katie dropped her body to be reunited with her Beloved, that her soul goes marching on. It was a time we really felt she deserved, to be freed from all the pain and suffering she was going through at the end of her life.
It had become a practice every morning in Meherazad to put on the CD player some of the Baba songs that have been sent to us. In Katie’s last week or so, we often played her latest CD of Baba’s songs and felt that she was definitely listening and imbibing them and remembering the early times with Baba. For us, we couldn’t tell whether she was with us or in her world with Baba because she often saw Him, and Mehera, Mani, Goher, Arnavaz, and even Eruch, and we felt these experiences are what upheld her, for the Parkinson’s disease that she had was progressing rapidly and everyone had to help her to sit up, eat, wash, etc. It was something that Katie never thought would happen to her in her lifetime, for she was such an independent person. That is why I felt that for her to be reunited with Baba was the freedom she deserved.
So during the program after Sarah Schall had said a few words, and I said a few words, Katie’s ashes were interred in the crypt prepared by Ted with the interior decorated by Sarah. Then everybody offered flowers and garlands. It was at this time I remembered that we had not offered flowers to Goher so I turned around desperately to see someone asking me to help her offer flowers to Katie. I felt Katie telling me to offer them to Goher. So I told the lady it would make Katie very happy and so we offered them to Goher and felt happy about it.
What was so great was that we’d had, after a long period of drought in early June, two to three good rains which had cooled down the atmosphere and we did not feel the uncomfortable heat that we had expected.
Back here in Meherazad I still have the feeling of how Katie was so present and had conducted the whole program. It is a joyous feeling to feel that she has gone to her well-earned rest.
Ever in Baba’s Love,
21 June 2009
KATIE’S FAREWELL (Posted on 19 June 2009)
Three weeks have passed since the 29th of May when Baba’s darling Katie returned to His embrace. Now, as we approach Sunday, the 21st of June, the day on which her ashes will be interred near the Samadhi according to Baba’s wish and we will say our final good-bye, we find ourselves missing her more and more. We miss her in the mornings when the bazaar is being ordered as we bumble around trying to do the job she performed flawlessly in Baba’s kitchen for so many years. And her absence is especially poignant at mealtimes for it was so like Katie to keep on attending her daily kitchen duties–cooking for the entire household–despite her pain and failing health, until the 11th of April when she could no longer manage.
Baba has talked about why His Mandali suffer. Certainly it is for His Work and the greater good of humanity, and Katie’s final days reminded us of that. Feeling humbled and helpless in the face of her suffering one of her caregivers said to Katie how sorry we were that she was in such pain and Katie responded by gently saying, “Why? Why should you be sorry? Don’t be – it’s Baba Who wants me to suffer, this is from Him. Don’t be sorry.” So for seven weeks we watched in stunned silence as He took from her every sense, every function, everything that had comprised the Katie-ness we knew and loved so much. By the end Katie couldn’t move and could barely speak, and when she did attempt a word our understanding was hampered by the Parkinsons which had robbed her of her beautiful voice, so expressing her needs was trying at best. She had great difficulty swallowing, so eating and drinking, something in which she had always taken great pleasure, became a torture. Katie’s body was so riddled with pain because of arthritis and prolonged bedrest that even slowly cranking the bed into sitting position or carefully turning her from side to side sometimes took two hours of constant adjustment to find a position of comfort for her. At one point she turned to us and said, “I’m all locked up, I’m trapped.”
But through all of this her great heart and love for God prevailed. Katie thought only of Baba and often saw Him, Mehera and the other Mandali before her. One morning when she awoke Katie had a joyful expression on her face as she happily informed me that Goher had come back to see her. Another time she told me Eruch was lovingly stroking her head as she sat in the wheelchair, and often Mehera, Naja, Mani, Rano and even Pendu, Aloba and Bal were gathered around her. It was a great comfort knowing that her old companions had joined in her caregiving. Although Katie could no longer attend arti in Baba’s Room she always participated from her bed outside His Room and afterwards, when Baba’s foot cushion was presented to her for darshan, her penetrating focus on Him silenced all activity around her, reflecting the depth of her inner experience.
When Katie’s family or old friends would visit we watched in awe and astonishment as she surfaced from the depths of her suffering to be fully present – to ask for her earrings and lipstick and pearl necklace, to sit up in bed and graciously hold court despite her weakness and pain. Katie did this for love, in her unfailing duty to Beloved Baba. And despite her condition she continued to think of others. She worried about her caregivers, constantly saying to us, “I’m giving you all so much trouble.” Although the loss of independence distressed her she was often more concerned about how this affected those around her; she worried about our backs when we moved her and about how much work she was giving to others. And her quick mind remained sharp to the end. She noticed everything and
everyone. Weeks into Katie’s illness someone teasingly asked Katie to cook a very special mango dish which requires a great deal of preparation. We all took no notice but Katie remembered and just three days before she passed away she called Saguna, the kitchen
servant who had worked with Katie for many years, to her bedside and with great effort asked her to make this delicious dish, am rus and buttermilk puris, for the household. And this was not only the last meal she ordered in Baba’s kitchen, it was the last meal she ate in Baba’s Home.
The last weeks of Katie’s life were ones of continual change. Daily she was declining and we found ourselves scrambling to keep up with her deterioration. Disbelief haunted us; we just couldn’t fathom how rapidly she was moving towards her destination. March 21st is the Irani New Year called Jamshed-e-Nav Roz, a day which is celebrated with family, friends and of course lots of good food. At Meherazad Alan Wagner and his staff cooked a wonderful meal which we ate on the veranda of the old clinic. There were about twenty-five attendees and Katie in her full splendour presided. As she approached decked out in her beautiful turquoise dress, her earrings to match and her pearls, Meherwan commented that Katie always added glamour to any table. And it was so true. But just three weeks later Katie was wheelchair bound, unable to walk or even to feed herself because of the tremors that confounded her every attempt. And seven weeks after that Katie fell into her Beloved’s arms, no longer needing to say “Good-bye Baba” for she was safely Home at last.
On the 27th of May Katie’s pain escalated to a point unbearable both for her and her caregivers. We could not touch her without eliciting pain; she was unable to eat or drink and no longer could we find even a single position of comfort for our darling. It was time to step up the pain medication and relieve her suffering. At night I would set my alarm so Katie received pain medication around the clock, and finally we saw peace on her face for the first time in weeks. Katie remained in a deep sleep and comfortable till the end.
The 28th night I lay on my trundle bed, pushed right up against Katie’s so that she and I slept side by side, reading my book and fully intending to set my alarm for the midnight pain shot before I went to sleep. Suddenly at 4:10 in the morning I shot out of bed, practically whip-lashing my neck as I turned to look at Katie, and saw she was gone. I couldn’t believe it. We all felt that she would go soon, but not then, not now. I reached over to touch her, to make sure she was no longer there and her skin was warm and soft and she was almost still alive. I realized then that Katie had just departed, that she had quietly slipped away. And later I learned from another resident that she too suddenly awoke in the early morning to find Katie’s beautiful image hovering in her room. Upon seeing this she spontaneously said aloud, “Katie is gone” and when she looked at the clock it read 4:10 am.
Later when things settled down and the caregivers had a chance to talk together, I learned that Katie had told more than one person she didn’t want a lot of fuss and fanfare over her when she went to Baba. She wished to go quietly and without a lot of attention, and so Baba fulfilled Katie’s last wish. In the end it was just Katie and her Beloved alone in their final embrace.
The Meherazad household members gathered around Katie to sing the arti and recite Baba’s prayers. Manu sat vigil at her side singing and remembering her life in Baba with dearest Katie. She was joined by many Meherabad and Ahmednagar residents who began arriving early to pay their respects to our darling girl. Enwrapped in turquoise and pink scarves with her pearls and lipstick on, Katie looked stunning: so beautiful, so regal and poised in her Beloved. This was not Katie the cook, or Katie the mistress of comedy and drama; lying in state Katie looked every inch a queen in her Beloved’s heart.
At 3 p.m. everyone present at Meherazad gathered around Katie as she was transferred from her bed onto a stretcher for her last journey to Meherabad. First she was placed at Baba’s feet in His Room where we said the prayers and arti. Then to Baba’s “Jai”, Katie was carried into Mandali Hall and placed by her Beloved’s foot cushion at His chair. Once again we recited the prayers, sang the arti and also some of her favorite songs while the nearby villagers came to pay their final respects.
Katie, along with Meherazad family and caregivers, traveled in the ambulance to Meherabad where the first stop was Baba’s Samadhi. Katie’s head rested at Baba’s feet as the prayers and arti were performed; then she was taken down the Hill to Mandali Hall where she was greeted by hundreds of Baba’s lovers who came from as far away as Mumbai to meet her one last time. And then to the cremation ground. Because of the heat we could not linger with dearest Katie any longer so the pyre was built and we had one last glance at her serene beauty before a handkerchief of Goher’s was placed over her face. The completed pyre was lit and Baba’s Katie was surrendered unto Him.
At the beginning of Katie’s final illness she sent a message to Manu who also was feeling unwell. With her inimitable sense of humor Katie said to Meherwan, “Tell Manu that she will get absolutely 100% when she goes to Baba.” Katie further told Manu to take care of
herself, to eat well, be happy and that Baba is there to look after her. And then suddenly, with great seriousness Katie added, “Actually Baba is giving us an opportunity to suffer a little – an iota of a dot of the suffering of what He went through. Get well, be happy, Jai Baba dear.” It was as if while speaking she saw on the horizon the suffering that lay in wait for her.
And so began Katie’s conscious journey along the path of her God-given opportunity to suffer the “iota of a dot”. And she did so with great courage and forbearance. We witnessed the graciousness of her silent suffering; we watched as the Beloved broke her into the pieces that would soon be resurrected in His Love. Baba has returned His darling Katie into His fold and left behind the spectacular memories we have of His truly unique and peerless Katie Rustom Irani. We miss her terribly but take comfort in knowing that she is at Baba’s side, where she has always longed to be. So now, there is nothing left to say but “Get well, be happy, Jai Baba dear!” We know that Baba is looking after you!
In Baba’s sweet, sweet Love,
19 June 2009
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