Bujana has died. A little girl from one of the organizations we have helped through Bellevue Rotary and through my own non-profit has passed away at the age of 13….her suffering has ended, but her memory is embedded within the many who knew her and loved her. Bujana suffered from a severely twisted spine which kept her from growing straight and tall. Instead she was bent and short. Her spirit, however was straight, strong and indomitable…. just yesterday she had talked with Shanti (DNC’s house-mother) about her studies and returning to DNC (Disabled Newlife Center) where she has lived for the past two years, awaiting an operation on her spine.

I visited Bujana in the hospital ICU the day before yesterday. She held my hand and even smiled when I told her I intended to keep the blue ICU hospital gown as it matched my eye color. She had appeared to be improving but the doctor told us after our visit that her prognosis wasn’t good. Blood was pooling in one side of her heart and not pumping properly to the other side so it wasn’t being properly oxygenated. She had been on a ventilator, improved a bit, then took a turn for the worse today and passed away this afternoon.

Her brother had arrived about a week earlier when Bujana was originally admitted to the hospital and her father, a poor farmer from a distant Nepali village arrived shortly after she passed away. His body was bent as well, not as severely as Bujana but you could tell that this condition must have been an inherited trait. The Nepali Board members of DNC were present as were our donor friends, Fran and Michael from the UK and my Nepali Rotary partner and close friend, RR Pandey. I paid one last visit after she had passed away and she looked at peace after 13 years of struggling with this debilitating condition. Monumental struggles, questions unanswered, a life unfulfilled. In my humble opinion, ours is not to question… but to live our lives with purpose, direction and passion.

What happened after Bujana’s death was an extraordinary experience. Within about an hour after her father had arrived, an ambulance was summoned and her body was taken to Pashupatinath Temple where bodies of the departed are prepared for cremation and purification of the ashes in the holy Bagmati river. Shanti (house-mother) and I went to the nearby stalls to purchase the ritual flowers and incense that are laid on and around the body as it set on a bed of wood in preparation for cremation. After we returned to the place where the body was laid at the edge of the river, Bujana’s father took lighted incense and walked his aged, bent body around Bujana three times. Then the wood was set ablaze and the fire engulfed the body. It was visceral, surreal event. Some might find this ritual difficult or offensive. I found it spiritual and entrancing….I was there in the moment, experiencing the after effects of death, the inevitable result of life. I had been to Pashupatinath many times over the years, always observing from across the river, present but apart from the actual event. I never imagined that one day I would be on the other side, taking in the pungent smell of the marigold malla (lei) that I had laid on the body, hearing the crackling fire raging in front of me, consuming the remains of my friend and hearing the soft mooing of the cow standing on the other side of the river- calling, calling, calling… Bujana gave much to many people. Inspiration, courage and wisdom are her gifts. Like all children with critical illness who have left us too soon, they teach us lessons to live our lives by. Bujana has died and I am sorry to send this news but as you are all my friends I wanted to share this experience with you.