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How a Friend Saw It

Each New Day
His face became serene and radiant. He said he was at peace, living each new day with wonder and contentment.

Sergio was from Rome, Italy. He and his wife were successful journalists. Sergio developed a terrible cough. A friend of Francesca, who was a doctor, heard the cough and advised that Sergio should have an x-ray immediately. The tumour, in the right lung, was already very large and pressing on the pulmonary vein. The doctors suggested a 6-month course of chemotherapy, which would give him a 20% chance that they could remove the affected lung. Unfortunately, they said, his left lung, was not in good condition so after the operation he would probably be confined to a wheel chair with a very short life expectancy. Sergio told Francesca to book their flight to India. He made his will and prepared for an early departure. He phoned the ashram in the Himalaya where they had sometimes stayed for spiritual retreats. He told the people in the ashram that he was coming to stay for'the rest of my life' adding that it might not be long!

A thrombosis in his leg forced them to cancel the flight. Doctors said that it was madness to try to fly. One doctor lovingly advised 'its now or never'. They booked the tickets again. The doctors doubted that he would survive the flight in his condition but Sergio said he would rather die on the way to India, on the way to Ganga Ma, than to die in Rome.

So, with Francesca's constant support, Sergio packed his bags, said goodbye to friends and relatives and locked the door to their apartment behind him for the last time. He walked on crutches, dragging one heavily bandaged leg behind him but jubilant to be on his way to the Himalaya and the holy river Ganga.

They did reach Delhi. Sergio was exhausted and so they rested there for 2 days and then continued to Haridwar. The first thing Sergio did on reaching the temple, where they were to stay, was to climb slowly down the stairs to the ghat and make a full length pranam (prostration) to Ganga Ma. Tears of love and gratitude streamed down his face. He and Francesca rested for 2 more days taking short walks in the Bazaar and sitting watching the Ganga. The next day they were in their way again to the little Himalayan ashram on the bank of the mountain Ganga. Reaching the Ashram Sergio headed straight over the rocks to Ganga Ma. Heedless of his crutches and weakness, he hobbled to the water and lay on the edge with his forehead touching the cool, blue water. Again his tears flowed and he was overcome with joy.

Exhaustion brought on a fever for a few days, after which Sergio recovered and began to live his life to the full. Wandering among the flowers in the garden he grew stronger. He enjoyed everything. Each new day was a gift, he said. Every morning he went slowly down the steps to the beach and washed in Gang Ma. He offered incense to Ganga Ma and sat for hours watching her waves and the surrounding mountains. He sat in the garden and read the scriptures. He joined in discussions about deep spiritual truths with the other ashram members. He played too, sometimes with a stray dog, which he adopted and sometimes by narrating amusing stories that had everyone in fits of laughter. He liked to cook and eat all sorts of interesting Italian dishes with Francesca. He planted some tomato plants and, carrying small amounts of water in a bucket, tended them and watched them grow, flower and eventually give fruits. It wasn't all easy.

There were physical, emotional and spiritual problems too but he faced them all with clarity and astounding bravery. From time to time the people in the ashram phoned Dr. Dewan and he advised simple homely ways of making Sergio physically more comfortable. For 2 months Sergio grew stronger, then there was a plateau, then slowly, slowly he grew thinner and weaker. Even so he carried on his activities as much as he was able. He never failed to go down to Ganga Ma each day, even when it meant he had to hold on to the wall and go very, very slowly.

Francesca kept her tears to moments on her own or with her friends. For Sergio she was always radiant, beautiful, loving and supportive.

Sergio gradually became quieter. He said the many issues of life about which he had always had such strong opinions 'are not really important any more'. He spent hours sitting quietly gazing at Ganga or into space. His face became serene and radiant. He said he was at peace, living each new day with wonder and contentment.

Three weeks before the end they decided to go to Benares where they had stayed in the past and where it is believed that all who die within the city's boundary's achieve liberation. Miraculously he did survive the journey and spent the last 2 weeks listening to the sound of arti and kirtan(worship and singing) coming from the many temples, going down to the ghat every day to make his pranam to Ganga Ma and to watch the colourful bustle of pilgrims. Day by day he leaned more heavily on Francesca until a friend was also needed to help to support him as he walked.

Soon one side of his body became paralyzed and he was no longer able to go down to Ganga Ma. After a moment of disappointment, he didn't seem to mind and was at peace. He said that now he had everything he wanted.

After three days he left his body in Francesca's arms. As he had requested her to do, she refused to have him taken to hospital and he died next to Ganga Ma, in a little house on Tulsi Ghat. He was 52 years old. Sergio was cremated in Harischandra Ghat where Francesca lit the pyre. She remained in Benares thirteen more days and then did all the traditional pujas (worship) for him including the Kashi puja of Liberation.

Cancer patients and their loved ones are invited to write to us about their views, thoughts and feelings. We will include as many letters, articles and stories as is possible in these web pages.

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