Panama 2017: Saying Good-Bye to Minga

Saying good-bye is always poignant. Minga has slowed down a lot, although her mind still seems sharp. She has lost much of her hearing, and her vision is bad in one eye. Her kidney disease is fairly stable, but it’s what it likely to take her life, and within a number of years that I can count on one hand. She is peace with the imminence of death. She believes that the Virgin Mary and her mother will be there to embrace her and take her to Jesus.

But not yet. She seems to know that her death will be very hard for me, although we’ve never talked about it. Last June, when her disease had taken a bad turn and it looked as if the end was in sight, she looked me in the eye and promised to be here for my January visit. And she was. Now, she tells me it still isn’t time. She has faith that God will allow us more visits. I always take her at her word. She seems to me to have a direct line to God’s intentions.

Minga has a copy of my book, although she hasn’t read it. I showed her where her name appears over and over, and she smiled. She hasn’t read the memoir not because it’s in English, but because she can’t read. I don’t think she has to. She lived everything inside those pages that refers to her, right along with me. She knows what’s written without benefit of words, in the deepest way that we all know what’s most important.

I think often how extraordinary this friendship is. There are very few circumstances in life under which two women as disparate as Minga and I might have met, much less formed a relationship. She is completely undaunted by whatever else I might do during the 50 weeks of the year that I’m not with her. She was undaunted back in the Peace Corps days by the fact that I had a college degree, and that she was illiterate. In point of fact, I couldn’t kill a chicken, or cook over a fire, or hull rice. She thought I might die without her, and she may have been right.

She’s such a tiny person to be such a source of strength.

I love this picture of our most recent leave-taking, captured by my friend Sally. Look at it, and tell me what you see.


10 thoughts on “Panama 2017: Saying Good-Bye to Minga

  1. I see her holding you closely, with great love on her face as if she’s telling you with that embrace what you mean to her. Wow.

  2. Love and something else, but for the life of me, I can’t think of an English word that would describe it. Knowledge in the heart – a sadness that this may be the last hug…I see that in both your faces.

  3. for Ada: She keeps promising me that God will give us more time. That makes me think death is much on her mind, even though her doctor says the kidney failure is fairly stable. That does make each leave-taking sad.

  4. for Ada: You know I share your skepticism. But whatever motivates Minga’s assurances that we will have more time, I want to believe in her. I won’t be able to get there when she dies; because of the heat they bury people within 24 hours. Lily will let me know, but I won’t be able to get there.

  5. It is,but from what you have told me about the family, I know they will understand why you can’t get there and will know that you would be there if it were at all possible.

  6. for Ada: Yes, they will understand. They don’t really have a good idea of distance and travel time, but Lily and Gloria coming gave them some context. I think they all know it’s a long trip, and that getting to the village in less than 24 hours is highly unlikely.Depending on what time of day someone dies, the interment can take place in less than 24 hours — you simply can’t keep a body around in that heat.

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