Those of you who’ve been to Panama with me in recent years know David Bustavino, who sometimes serves as our driver. He’s Lily’s cousin on her father’s side. David’s father, Tio David, is Lily’s uncle, her father’s brother.
Tio David has died, after many years receiving dialysis. He lives in Rio Hato, and as soon as she got word Lily asked for and received permission from her employer to go. Even at her level, chief pharmacist for a large Arrocha store, Lily’s employment schedule is tightly regulated. Time off is not granted easily. Even if she misses work because of illness, she has to present a doctor’s note in order to get paid for the time she is absent. But in this case, permission was readily given — although I’m not sure if she will be paid for the shifts that she misses.
Honoring family obligations is a fundamental part of Panamanian culture, even as life is changing in other ways.
Tiio David will be washed, dressed, and laid out in his home. Family will be by his side. Many from the village will come by to express condolences. No later than 24 hours from the moment of death, because bodies are not embalmed, there will be a funeral mass. In most cases, the coffin is then carried on the shoulders of pallbearers the four miles to the cemetery out on the highway, followed by the mourners. Occasionally, someone has small pickup with a bed larger enough for the simple wooden casket, and the casket is driven slowly, with mourners walking behind.
Lily’s father is ill with Parkinson’s, and I imagine the death of his brother will hit him very hard. David is a devoted son, and he will worry about his mother living alone in the village when he and his family live in the city. For Minga, who has made a new community of dialysis patients both in the village and in the hospital where she receives treatment, the loss of one of them must come as a harbinger of their own fate.
I conveyed to Lily that all of us who know David send our condolences and our prayers. She will pass those along to David, and it will matter to him that we note his father’s death and that we care.