Posted by: Alicia Phillips | November 10, 2011

A Death in the Family

Well it happened, the thing I have been dreading since starting work at the Golden Age Home – one of our residents died.  I went in to this knowing that some of my residents will pass away during my two years;  that’s just the reality of working in an old folks home, I just didn’t expect the first one to pass away to of been my first friend there.

The lady that passed away was a wonderful lady who was the heart and soul of the home. We got along right away; she taught me how to cook dhal soup (a staple in my diet) and helped teach me things about Fijian and Indian customs that would have been hard to figure out on my own. I feel like it was easier for me to integrate in to the home because of her. She died of complications due to diabetes.

Very few residents at the home ever have family members come and visit them, so they have adopted each other as their brothers and sisters, everyone is family there. So hearing the news about her death hit everyone really hard. At one point I had a female resident come to me, sobbing, speaking to me in Hindustani. I could tell she was asking me something important but I could not understand her. I have never felt so frustrated with myself or as useless as I did in that moment when this lady came to me in pain, looking for comfort, and I couldn’t give it to her.  All I could do was sit with her, hold her hand and tell her achchaa hae (it’s okay).  Eventually someone came along and told her what she wanted to know, something I couldn’t do because of the language barrier. Just when I am starting to feel like I am accepted and starting to fit in, something like this happens and I am reminded that I am an outsider here.

The next day we had the funeral at the home and everyone got to say their goodbyes. The casket was open and everyone placed a flower and poured a teaspoon of water on her face. I asked what the water represented and I was told it is a type of apology for any wrongdoing done to her while she was living. She was then taken to the cemetery for burial.  Her belongings were put away and her bed was prepared for another incoming resident. And that was that.

This got me thinking about death here in Fiji. It seems like every time I talk to one of my friends in the villages they have been to a funeral recently or are going to attend one soon. One of the major causes of death here is complications due to Non-Communicable Diseases’s. Here, it takes someone being on their deathbed to go to the hospital.  Here, a hospital is a place you go to die, not somewhere you go to get better. Plus, Fijians have an incredibly high tolerance for pain; it would take a life threatening cut or sickness to bring them to the hospital and by then it is almost too late. Also, the cause of death is not always known, or it’s not really important to the family members. I remember talking to one of my co-workers and she was telling me about her sister who died at the age of 29. I asked her how she died and she simply said “I don’t know, she just never woke up. Maybe it was witchcraft”. And that was all she had to say about it. I don’t know if it makes it any easier for the family not to know, or if it doesn’t make any difference to them after their loved one is gone, they mourn the same either way.

My first experience with death here in Fiji was a hard one. I am not an incredibly emotional person, but I have a soft spot for the elderly, and I am already quite attached to my residents. Next time will be harder to handle.


  1. Beautifully put Alicia! They are so lucky to have someone like you that has such a caring and compassionate heart. I love you darlin!

  2. You are an amazing young woman, You are a beautiful person inside and out, Your Daddy and I are celebrating our anniversary today. It has been the best times of my life.. love you and wish you could be here for Thanksgiving and heopefully your package will arrive soon. I love you Angie

  3. Isa Alicia, I hear your pain. Funerals are the hardest thing to handle here. Keep your head up friend.

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