Panama 2018 Day 11: Reflections from Minga

Sooner or later, we often get around to a really profound conversation with Minga. That conversation happened yesterday at lunch, when she was talking about whether or not she’ll be able to continue making the trip between the village and Panama City three times a week for her dialysis. Not being able to do so, and not wanting to live in the city, might hasten her death. She is very aware of that.

She said that she was unlucky early in life, losing her mother when she was five, and then losing the grandmother with whom she was sent to live. She then went to an aunt, who was unkind to her.

At the end of her life, my aunt was afraid. She asked me to stay with her. She said she knew she was unkind to me, that she had too much in her own life to care for and hadn’t wanted me. She asked if I loved her. I said I did. She asked me to stay next to her and hold her hand, and I did. Then she took her last breath, but she was not alone. She was afraid to be alone.

Minga’s kind heart was called upon another time, when Roberto Delgado, the father of five of her children was dying. She went to see him. She said that because he had no one else, when he died she would wash and dress his body for burial, and she did that. “He wasn’t a good husband to me, Pamela, but he was the father of five of my children. I was grateful to him for that, and so I could be there for him when he died with an honest heart.”

Now, Minga said, her life is much better — even with the misfortune of failed kidneys. She has her home. She has her large extended family. She has me, and all of the American friends who care about her and pray for her. She has enough food. She has money to color her hair jet black. She has real clothing to wear, not rags as she did during the Peace Corps years. She has shoes.

Her life has been good. She lives, she told me, by the will of God. And when that will changes, it will be all right.

I reminded her that she once told me she expects her mother and the Virgin Mary to be waiting for her upon her death, to take her to Jesus.

Minga smiled. “Yes, Pamela. My mother is waiting for me.”

Those of us who have more might look at Minga’s life, and find it impoverished. But it isn’t, both in what she gives and in what she has received.

And, as she says, the mother whose face she dimly remembers, is waiting to see her.

I wish you could have seen her smile.

6 thoughts on “Panama 2018 Day 11: Reflections from Minga

  1. for Phyllis: And real wisdom to offer all of us coping with aging and end of life issues, yes? And I am always struck by Minga’s capacity for kindness, even with those who have been less than kind to her.

  2. I know in my heart that Minga appreciates being able to have those frank, honest talks with you as her health wanes and she has to deal with her kids’ comflicting emotions and opinions around it. How wonderful to have her feelings valued and respected. We should all have that in our final days.

  3. for Nedra: I’m sure it’s easier for me to be present to her for that hard conversation, more so than for her adult kids. I do think it’s immensely important for her to be able to put her feelings into words and have them accepted. She really does believe her mother and the Virgin Mary will be there at her death, which sounds like a pretty comforting notion to me.

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