Katie’s gift has prompted ongoing reflection about the difficult line I had to walk on my recent and last visits with Minga. Despite my long and deep relationship with Minga, I am not blood family — and in Panamanian culture, that matters. There is no concept, as we have here, of “chosen” family. Blood is blood. When Minga was first diagnosed, several of her daughters had strong feelings about what she had to do — and what they had to insist she do — to maximize her chances of staying alive. Their feelings came out of love. None of them, they told me in torrents of tears, was ready for Minga to die.
Clearly I identified with Minga, who although not ever a terribly introspective person was quite clear in saying what she did and didn’t want. I played the role that her sister might play if she’d had one, an aunt to the struggling daughters. I always acknowledged that I was not their blood aunt although I’d known them since they were little girls, and that I knew they were acting out of love. That said, I insisted they could not add the burden of their own grief to the heavy burden already weighing down their recently diagnosed mother. I said they couldn’t overwhelm her with their chorus of concerns, but that they had to let her speak. And they had to listen.
To their credit, almost all of Minga’s daughters ultimately supported Minga going to live with Ana, and trying things — like going home after each dialysis treatment — that the daughters knew, correctly as it turns out, would be too hard.
I came full circle with Minga during this most recent and last visit. I am sure she felt loved, and held, and secure that I would be there for her in the darkest moments. For her, that equated to being mothered — something elusive for her since her mother died when she was a little girl. She told me over and over that I had become her mother — something secure and comforting to her and a role I was happy to play.
I look forward to closing the circle with her daughters in January — all of them. I think it will be a more complicated task.