Bonnie Lewallen/DEAN Foundation


Editor's Note: Bonnie Lewallen was invited to India by the DEAN Foundation to present inservice training for nursing staff, emotional support staff, front line care staff, family bereavement groups, and volunteer staff on how to combine and use essential oils and flower essences to augment their more traditional medical and hospice care. FES made a donation of flower essences which Bonnie took with her for the DEAN Foundation. Following is a report written by Bonnie to those who helped support her travels to India.

Hello my friends,

I have been home from India for over a month now. I apologize for taking so long to write you about my trip. I ask for your grace and understanding in this. This trip to India was one of the greatest adventures I have had in my 50 years. Thank you from the depths of my heart for your support in this soul expanding experience. Frankly, it has taken me this long to digest and begin assimilating all the amazing experiences I had. Up until recently, if I opened my mouth to begin to share, I would fall silent not knowing where to begin or which experience to share. I told a dear friend that I ended up taking four trips at once—a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual trip. Everyday, of what ended up being 22 days in India, I was having profound experiences on every level. I asked my friend, about which trip would she like to hear?

I feel you were a part of this trip too, so I want to share some of my experiences. First, because of your support, I was able to purchase not one, but two tickets which enabled my nurse/counselor colleague, Pam Jenkins, to go and teach her part of the workshop on bereavement support. I also was able to take with me all the essential oils, flower essences, books, journals, bottles and other supplies needed to set up and start their aromatherapy program, to add to the other integrative therapies they have begun using.

After 22 hours of travel, I arrived at 1 AM in Chennai India. I was greeted at the airport by several of the DEAN Foundation staff. I was impressed right away, that in the middle of the night so many would be there to greet us and help us with our baggage and make us feel welcome. They all continued to be as gracious, loving and generous throughout the whole trip. They quickly came to feel like my family and cared for me like I was one of their family, too.

DEAN Foundation facility, Chennai India

I soon learned that the name DEAN was an acronym for “Dignity and Empowerment for the Ailing and Needy.” The Dean Foundation was founded by Deepa Muthaiya after reading the book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. The foundation provides palliative, hospice and bereavement support to those who can't afford to pay for this support. The foundation is currently staffed by the chairman, one M.D., one R.N., one L.V.N., one C.N.A., two administrative staff, two facility staff and two drivers.

The need for compassionate caring for the dying and the need for bereavement support in this community is great. I had the opportunity to meet a clinic patient and hear his story, make a home visit with the team and hear and see the many case studies of the patients and families that DEAN foundation is supporting. The love, compassion and dedication of this staff impressed me so. I always felt blessed to be in their presence.  The severity of the patients’ conditions is something we rarely see in the US and the DEAN Foundation staff assist as they can with the limited means available to them. I hope to be able to somehow bring them more of the medical supplies and financial support they need to sustain their great work.

Bonnie lighting the lamp at the workshop inauguration

As you know, I was invited to India to teach at a workshop on Aromatherapy and Bereavement Support. The two day workshop went very well and was attended by doctors, nurses, nursing students, social workers, and other ancillary medical staff. The feedback from attendees was great and they found the information interesting and helpful. Many of them had not heard of the DEAN foundation before this workshop and wanted to be able to help the foundation in any way they could. This in itself was a beneficial result of the workshop. I was also able to do some public relations visits during my stay to hospitals, medical facilities and other potential supporters with Deepa, the chairman of the foundation. After the workshop, I gave another couple of days of training to the foundation staff about how we have been implementing the aromatherapy in our hospices here. I recently received an email from Deepa reporting that they have begun using the aromatherapy and are keeping data on the results.  She said they are happy with the results so far.

Bonnie teaching at the workshop

Some of the highlights of surprise and unexpected experiences of this trip were: I got to visit a leprosy hospital. I had never seen leprosy before. Seeing the patients and their gratitude to the staff and hearing the stories of the patients' progress into greater self reliance and group support was inspiring. Group support when grieving or dealing with difficulty is very rare in India as it goes against the pervading culture, but in this Leprosy Clinic and Hospital, patients found empowerment in sharing with each other their experiences and tips on self care. As a result, they have set up for themselves a means of putting together their small resources and are using them to help and empower each other to care for themselves and their families even more successfully.

Bonnie visiting patients at Gremaltes Leprosy Hospital

I got to visit an orphanage south of Chennai located right on the coast and visit with the lovely girls who live there. They shared their story and showed us a video of how they were playing on the beach just one hour before the tsunami hit on Dec 26th. The girls were wearing their new Christmas dresses and playing on the shore. They arrived home to the orphanage just as the waters suddenly flooded up to the walls of their compound. All were safe but that was not the case for so many who live just a little south of them in the fishermen village.

I was blessed to visit an Ayurvedic Clinic. I met with the Ayurvedic doctor, who suggested a massage with oils and herbs selected specifically for me. The massage was a beautiful experience with two practitioners massaging at the same time, synergistically. Then, the most beautiful part was when they slowly poured warmed oil onto my forehead and worked it into my hair. The phrase from Psalm 23, “Thou anointeth my head with oil,” has new meaning for me.  It was such a spiritual blessing to me that tears of joy flowed from me as they continued to “anoint my head” for 20 minutes. After the massage, shower and shampoo, they brought me a small cup of herbal tea blended, again, specifically for me. It actually tasted great and I wished that the cup had been bigger. I will never forget that experience and intend to explore and learn more about Ayurvedic Medicine.

Another surprise was that Deepa took us on an overnight train ride to southwest India to experience a safari in the National Forest. I was thrilled to see wild elephants, monkeys, birds and many other animals but alas, I didn't get to see a tiger, only the tiger’s print in the mud. The jeep before us did get to see the tiger, oh well. I got to ride on an elephant and a camel. The camel was surprisingly comfortable to ride on.

Bonnie and Pam riding a camel

I also visited with alternative healers while I was in Chennai, visited a large Hindu Temple, visited a beautiful Yoga Ashram, another Ashram in Pondicherry, and visited the international township of Auroville.

These were all inspiring and expanding experiences for me yet the most important experience and message I personally received happened on the second day of my time in India. As the Foundation staff were making final arrangements for the workshop, Deepa's husband, Suresh took Pam and I down the coast to a cultural center. On the way we could see the ocean, the Bay of Bengal, better than we could see it when we were in the city. Both of us wanted to step into the ocean. Suresh could see our desire and attempted to find and road to get us close enough to walk to the beach. We found one after several unsuccessful attempts. The ocean was only a few blocks from the main road so we drove until we came to the sand.

When we opened the car door the heat hit us like a blazing furnace. It was over 100 degrees and 90 % humidity.  Along with the heat I heard a piercing sound that I couldn't figure out. I immediately put on my sandals after Pam burnt her feet being the first one out of the car. As we walked toward the ocean I kept hearing that unrecognizable sound. I wondered if it were birds screeching in the trees. I asked, “What is that sound?” We were all trying to figure it out. Then Suresh said, “A dog has littered.” I didn't understand that either. What did he mean?  Then I looked over and saw. It was a litter of pups, lying in the scorching sand and baking sun screaming for their lives. I was shocked at the sight. I looked around wondering and saying out loud, “Where is your mother?” There was no mother dog to be seen. I stood there immobilized not knowing what I could do.  Just the day before I had become aware that though cows are sacred in India, dogs are considered unclean and foul, and these pups were obviously street dogs, the most foul of all. But not to me, if I were at home I would scoop them up take them home, bottle feed them, wash them, care for them, grow them up and make sure they are given to good homes, but here I am in India. I can’t take them home, I’m not even sure if I did touch them, would I insult my host? But they were screaming for their lives lying there in the same sand that burnt Pam's foot moments ago, in the blistering sun that is high in the sky and where they are laying will be bearing down on them for hours more, surely to their death. “God, what can I do?” I asked silently, shocked and helpless in that moment wondering what is acceptable behavior for me. I wanted to help, I didn’t want to offend and didn’t know what I could do. Just then Suresh said, “Let's move them to the shade.”

I was thrilled. We each took a puppy or two and moved them over to the shade created by a wall which would stay shaded for the rest of the day. I kept looking for a mother dog but none was to be found.

After we moved the puppies to the shade Suresh led us to the ocean. Though my body was moving my mind was still on the puppies. Were they just going to die there? Where is their mother!? After taking pictures of the ocean and seeing the fishermen and their nets all laid out to dry on the sand we turned back to return to the car. The puppies had stopped crying they were now all snuggled up together sleeping. We tried to give them water but they wouldn’t take it. We left some in a dirty broken dish that we found close by. We got back into the car and my heart was so heavy for these puppies. Then I heard, not audibly but in my heart/mind, “Sometimes, all you can do is “move them to the shade.’” In that moment I began to think on it. Yes, these were puppies in great need, there are hundreds of thousands of human children in need as well, without parents to care for them. Through the days and weeks that followed, that phrase would repeat in my heart/mind as I would be faced with and witness greater and greater need and feel inside that I didn't know how nor could I “fix” any of these situations, “sometimes, all you can do is move them to the shade.”

Then on my last day in India, as I looked over the case study pictures of people with horrible cancers eating away at their bodies that my friends at the DEAN foundation were caring for, as I reflected on the wonderful people I had met and the experiences I had, I wondered what difference could I make in this ocean of need. “Sometimes, all you can do is move them to the shade.”

Through these weeks of digesting and integrating all of the experiences in India, I have come to see the grace and compassion of Spirit to have brought to me that experience with the puppies on the second day. I understand it to have been a preparation experience for me as I was going to see and face greater need, one that helped me gain perspective on why I was there in India. It was not to “fix” or “save.”  I was there to offer my part, to give what I have to give, to meet and be in the moment with whomever or whatever is brought to me and give what I have to give. Then trust the rest in God’s hands, leave it in the hands of God and the rest of God’s family.

I still wonder if I really made a difference while I was there.  Often I feel like there are many, much more qualified and skilled people who should have been there instead of me, who could have done more or better than I did.  I choose to believe that since I was asked, it was my choice to choose to respond “yes” or “no.”  I chose yes. I gave all that I have and know to give in each moment and to each person I met. Because of my preparation experience on that second day, I believe I have made the difference only I could make and I have brought my part to the whole.  I now chose to trust God with the rest. “Sometimes, all you can do is move them to the shade.”

Pam Jenkins, Bonnie Lewallen and Deepa Muthaiya

Thank you again for your support of this amazing experience. If you are interested in how you might help the DEAN Foundation more, please let me know. I have a wish list from them.

Blessings to you and all the ways you “move into the shade” those people and situations you meet each day.

Bonnie Lewallen

Bonnie Lewallen is a registered nurse, registered aromatherapist, healing touch practitioner, reiki master who has been working as a complimentary therapies consultant and educator for Porter Hospice and Hospice of Peace in Denver, Colorado. She also has her own business, “Healthy Vibrations,” in which she provides consultations for other patient care facilities in the Denver Metro area. For the above hospices, she sets up and maintains their aromatherapy programs, which combine touch techniques with blends of carrier oil, essential oils and flower essences to provide comfort and emotional support for patients and the family members who care for them.


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