Sharing thoughts with those considering body donation: the importance of preparing

After my mother’s death and my blog entry on how I had donated her eyes, brain and body, I got several queries on body donation. I had planned to do a full-fledged well-researched entry with data on the topic but as I’ve not yet got time for the full entry, I am doing a quick post – talking about what I consider the most important factors in being able to donate one’s body after death.

This post is about the importance of being prepared.

You see, no one expects death to happen. Even when we see someone obviously declining, we are still unprepared for the actual stopping of breath. When that happens, there is a shocking finality to it. And in that shocked state most of us slip like automaton into the stuff that follows.

Luckily for the just-bereaved, there are people around who help. These people–relatives, friends, neighbors, and colleagues—they call the doctor for the certificate, they dress up the body, they spread the word and even handle the condolence calls. These people find out about the nearest crematoriums (or they already have the data), they clear space in the house to place the body so that people can pay their respects, they find out about morgues, and get the municipality forms for registering the death. They know which priests to contact. The bereaved may have to provide some preferences and criteria (I want to wait for so-and-so relative to arrive first type of things), but a lot of the organizational nitty-gritty depends upon the community expertise immediately made available. People even take over the cleaning of the house and the arranging of tea or food or whatever.

Most of what follows the death thus goes according to the typical script. The relatives arrive, things are done in ways that are acceptable to the community. Everyone needs to pay respects, everyone tries to get closure.

So what’s this got to do with body donation?

The point is, there is no large pool of knowledge or experience for potential body donating families to draw upon at the time of death. Relatives and friends (who know what to do under normal last-rituals situations) are clueless on how to help for the alternate form of disposal: body donation. They are unsure of what’s going on, and perhaps unprepared or outright uncomfortable with this deviation from the norm. Relatives who were unaware that the family may consider body donation may mutter a protest or withdraw because of their discomfort. That adds to the overall awkwardness and tension.

Read the full post here

dementia caregiving in India, some thoughts (part 2)

(As this blog entry received both online and offline feedback, and as its content is very relevant for anyone who wants to understand how to interpret available material on dementia in the Indian context, I have moved the content of the blog entry to a page that I can keep updating based on comments received. You can see the page here: Applying available dementia/ caregiving material to the Indian context.

There is a lot of material available on the web (free) on dementia and caregiving. There are also several books.  As a caregiver, I read these to educate myself and make caregiving smoother for my mother and myself.  I face one problem: most of the material assumes a social and cultural context different from what I find in India.

Briefly, books, pamphlets, write-ups available usually assume an American/ European/ Australian culture, where people are likely to live independently, openly (and without hesitation) make choices that allow them to “have a life”, discuss their desires and needs, and have their privacy respected. Specialized tools are available, and information on dementia is widespread. The role of support persons and caregivers is recognized and respected. The environment in India differs along these axes in varying degrees. We must therefore re-interpret some lessons/ suggestions, and explore alternate means to meet the intent. This is applicable to caregivers, counselors, support groups, and  NGOs.

Here are my initial observations and thoughts on differences and possible ways to re-apply the underlying ideas in our context. I would love feedback and suggestions on this material so I can develop it into a more usable note.

Privacy and independence In India, people openly comment on others, judging and criticizing them for the choices they make, for what they look like, for what they are doing and not doing. Caregiver actions are therefore, fair game for everyone. Many people who comment are well-meaning but ill-informed. They pass caustic comments, especially if the caregiver is a daughter or daughter-in-law and the visitor is elder (and elders are always experts 🙂 ). Worse, visitors egg on the patient by telling them to demonstrate more will power, or criticize/ scold  the caregiver in front of the patient. Unfortunately, methods of maintaining patient and caregiver sanity in face of such visitors are  not addressed in books on dementia care, because they assume a society where people (even if judgmental or critical) are unlikely to voice this directly (however, they may call up social workers and the police 😦 ).

(The above is just an excerpt. Read the full entry here: Applying available dementia/ caregiving material to the Indian context.

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