They come to this hospice to have a peaceful death

FINDING SOLACE: Rev. Fr. R. V. Thomas having a word with an inmate at the St. Joseph’s Hospice at Mettur Gate near Kodaikanal Road.

FINDING SOLACE: Rev. Fr. R. V. Thomas having a word with an inmate at the St. Joseph’s Hospice at Mettur Gate near Kodaikanal Road.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: G. Karthikeyan

S. Annamalai

MADURAI: Residents of this place are half in love with easeful death. If they had not come here, they would have spent their last days uncared for near bus stands, railway stations and pavements.

St. Joseph’s Hospice, a home for dying destitutes, located off Mettur Gate near Kodai Road on the Madurai-Dindigul highway, is an idealistic conception. Housed inside are 232 persons of all age groups reclaimed from the streets where they had been cast away by their close relatives. Disease and despair have accompanied them to the home where they are fed, clothed, nursed and loved. The hospice is the concrete dream of Rev. Fr. R. V. Thomas, who has come to settle down here after serving in churches in Yorkshire, England.

Started in November 2006, with the first patient from Bihar and funds generated from philanthropists in England by the Light for the Blind, a service organisation headed by Rev. Fr. Thomas, the hospice is a haven for destitutes of all religions. They come from all States. Volunteers in Madurai, Dindigul, Tiruchi and Coimbatore bring the abandoned to the home where they have a new life before death. People are segregated on the nature of their illness and gender and made to stay in dormitories with western toilet facility.

A life they yearn for

Employees of the hospice provide them with medicine, food and clothing. Here they begin a life they have been yearning for. There is a recreation room and a garden in which they can take a stroll amid flowers, fruits and bees. Those with communicable diseases and HIV infection are sent to other hospitals for treatment. “Now we have about 80 persons with mental illness. Almost all of them have regained 70 to 80 per cent of normality as they have been allowed to mix with others,” says Fr. Thomas.

Thirty five per cent of people have no bowel or bladder control and hence it is a tough task for the workers to keep them clean and disinfected.

The destitutes, who regain their strength, help in running the hospice. Sivakumar, whose leg had to be amputated, provides a hair cut and shave for the inmates. Some others engage themselves in construction activity. There are gardeners and those who mind the piggery. Almost 100 per cent of water used is recycled and the waste used to generate methane gas for use in the kitchen. On an average, four deaths take place in a week. So far, 312 persons have breathed their last at the hospice. About 600 have turned better and left the home to be with people they know. The arrivals account for six to eight in a normal week. During rainy season, 15 to 20 people are brought to the hospice and deaths also go up. After death, the body is taken in a hearse without others noticing it and prayers of all religions are recited before it is placed inside a 35-foot-deep vault. The clothes of the deceased are burnt in an ante-chamber.

Workers of the home are from neighbouring villages. “It is satisfying as we take care of these grandparents in their last days. Nothing can compensate the love they shower on us. It is something we do not get outside,” says Krishnaveni, an employee. The numbers are going up and the hospice is ever expanding. The economic meltdown has made the fund flow a trickle. For Fr. Thomas, it is a “service beyond religion. I see god in them. If it is not true, then there is no god.”

St. Joseph’s Hospice is located at Mettur Gate, Kodai Road, Dindigul district. Ph: 93603 76678 and 99762 11721. e-mail: >fatherthomas@rediffmail.com

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