The most important take-away from this first Panama trip following Minga’s death is that her family is really doing very well. I was a bit concerned that the normal tensions that had built up during the long and difficult year of her dialysis would explode after her death. But that hasn’t happened at all. They are pulling together. They are doing what she wanted: keeping her home open and cared for so that any of the family visiting the village will have a place to stay. The two eldest daughters, Ana and Rufina, and the eldest son Angel are moving into the center that was left empty by Minga’s death. All three are wise and capable and have good hearts.
Daira told me that now I am their mother, which is deeply touching. They do have at least one living aunt in the village, Roberto Delgado’s sister, but she is very elderly and they are taking care of her — Roberto was much older than Minga. I will continue to be their Tia Pamela, their aunt of the heart. But the ones who are there every day, and who have the wisdom of experience, are the real matriarchs and patriarch: Ana, Rufa, and Angel.
Two of Minga’s adult offspring are not doing as well as the others, but they weren’t doing well before Minga died — having to do with issues in their own lives. I’ll be interested to see over time how siblings deal with the difficulties, instead of their mother. That’s a more complicated dynamic, I suspect.
All of the villagers, Minga’s family included, are closer to the ebb and flow of real life, and with fewer buffers and distractions, than we are. The family knows that Minga lived a full and rich life — rich in family, rich in her place in the village, rich in the sense that she knew exactly who she was and was calm and confident in her place in the world. That doesn’t mean she had no regrets. She constantly talked about having to leave school at third grade, and never having the opportunity to study. That was why she constantly exhorted her large extended family to study, to take the opportunities available to them that she never had. But on the whole, she was at peace with the world and her place in it.
Minga valued loyalty, faithfulness, helping those in need even when she had little to share. She was a very feminine woman who took time with her appearance. She hated quitters, always saying you needed to sigue luchando, continue fighting. She was pretty bad at picking men. She knew every grandchild and great-grandchild, and never held back from insisting on the family standards they were expected to meet. She believed in luck — she bought lottery tickets even when she had no money to spare — and in the Virgen del Carmen.
She was, like all of us, a complicated and interesting person. Dialysis was hard, but she fought to live until the very end. Her family then carried her the last miles to her eternal rest.