Minga’s Death: The Fine Line of Intervening

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.

Conscious Aging: Wild Stock Market Swings

Those of us who live on the income from our assets — invested in the stock market — are rarely happy with wild swings such as we’ve seen in the last few days: 500 points up when investors thought Trump had a deal with China, 800 points down when the “deal” began to appear more like the usual Trump smoke and mirrors.

The point here is simple, was visible before Trump was elected, and should be evident to all by now: the man lies as easily and readily as water flows out of a faucet. When not outright lying he’s exaggerating, or making things up out of whole cloth. No one can rely on anything he says, unless corroborated by real time transcripts. Certainly the sycophants who attend meetings with him, people like Pompeo and Bolton, can’t be relied up for corroboration. They are too busy trying to backtrack to account for Trump’s wild stories.

Investors and money managers need to stop taking action based on what Trump says. The word of the President of the United States is useless as a barometer of anything.


Panama 2018: Gloria on Minga’s Funeral

I know it’s hard to keep the Panama people straight. As friend and Panama visitor Phyllis said, it’s like the Begats in the bible. And there are a lot of people who get mentioned. When we had Minga and Emily’s joint birthday party a couple of years ago, 57 of Minga’s extended family showed up.

But here’s a shot at clarifying: I visit two families in the village, although I certainly know others. The families are unrelated. One is Minga’s. The other is Gloria’s, the woman who cooks for us and is our general problem solver at the villa. Gloria’s late mother and Minga were age peers and knew each other from church, although the families lived on opposite sides of the Pan American highway and so were not immediate neighbors. Gloria is in her mid-40’s, a mother and grandmother. Minga was 77 when she died.

Gloria and Minga got to know each other well because both spent time together while they were with me. They developed deep bonds of affection.

With that as preamble, Gloria messaged me that she is going to the evening rosary led by the Prayer Lady at Minga’s house. Gloria said that the funeral mass was extremely well attended, as I suspected it would be. In a setting where basic medical care was sparse until a few years ago and hardship rife, Minga’s longevity conveyed something important. She was as close to village royalty as it gets.

Minga lived along one of the major roads to the market — a narrow dirt road until it was paved fairly recently.  Lots of people on Rio Hato’s south side walked by her home daily on their way to and from the market, or to the highway to catch a chiva into Panama City. She loved to be out front, receiving and responding to their called out greetings.

Minga was not only the linchpin of her family and my dear friend, she was a social pillar of the village. I imagine the silence from her front yard weighs heavily on people long about now.

Shutterfly Gift

Someone sent me an absolutely beautiful Shutterfly ornament with pics of me and Minga on front and back — and no hint of who might have been so thoughtful. If it was you, please let me know so I can thank you properly. The gift means a lot.

Welcome Ruby!

My friends Phyllis and Art are Old English sheepdog lovers, and after their last dog died, they thought maybe they were done with the care and effort of maintaining a large animal. They are serious about the breed. One of their former dogs won Best of Breed in Westminster, the gold standard of dog shows.

But, after a few months of a house without a dog, they decided to take the plunge. Ruby is about 7 weeks old, and in two weeks they’ll drive to Rochester to get her and bring her home to South Carolina.

Phyllis isn’t sure if the angle or close up makes Ruby look bigger than she is — or whether she’s on her way to being a really big dog. But Phyllis and Art are eager to welcome Ruby home, and promise pictures once she gets there. 🙂

Conscious Aging: Remembering Cousin Adrienne

My cousin Adrienne just died in the locked care facility which has been her home since a psychotic episode some years ago made it unsafe for her to live alone. Ade and Minga were about the same age, which invites comparison of their lives and deaths.

Ade was an only child; her mother Ann and my mother Margaret were sisters. Ade and my sister Linda are close in age, and she and Ade became more like sisters than cousins. Linda often spent the weekend with Ade at her home; we lived near each other in north Jersey. Ade and Linda talked about growing old together on the Avon beach, walking the boardwalk arm in arm. I’m sad for both of them that mental illness intervened.

Ade was a high school graduate, and a smart one. She went to work for Exxon Mobil in New York, commuting there on the bus from her adult home in Fairfield for 30 years — minimum 90 minutes each way through the Lincoln Tunnel. She worked in the legal department, doing a job that I imagine today would require a law degree, or at least a paralegal designation. She read huge legal briefs and summarized them for the lawyers on staff. All of those years, she got Exxon Mobil stock options. Her husband, Mario, was an asbestos worker. I’m not sure he even graduated from high school. When Ade died, her estate was north of 5M. Energy companies did very well over the course of her working years.

My mother’s Irish Catholic family has a dark side, and not just the mental illness that afflicted Adrienne late in life and some of my cousins. That darkness is as dense as the sod from which the rural Irish built their cottages, and as combustible as the peat bogs from which they dug organic matter to heat their homes. Adrienne was laid to rest and is at peace, but hold your hat for the turmoil that I predict will arise once her will is read. Five million dollars over two sides of a family and lots of cousins is a recipe for havoc.

Minga had nothing by way of money, but she was rich in family and richly loved. Her family and friends and neighbors and dialysis community came together at the end to give her a beautiful funeral. Ade was a wealthy woman, but she died mostly alone in a secure facility under heavy medication. She had few visitors, because seeing her like that was too stressful for most. The N.J. cousins did seem go to her spare and limited funeral, although not I. I loved Ade, but felt as if I’d lost her a long time ago. She was the fun cousin, and she should have had a lovely retirement taking cruises and buying frivolous clothes and extravagant presents for the next generation, whose names she always knew.

Hard to say the way life shakes out resembles anything remotely considered “fair”.

Conscious Aging: Taking Care of a House

In my former home town of Rochester, NY, we had a lovely longtime neighbor, Mrs. Cather. Her husband Howard had died before we moved to San Gabriel Drive, and they had no children. Mrs. Cather, with the help of aides, was able to stay in her home until she died there at age 99. She used to tell me that taking care of her home and yard kept her mentally sharp and kept her from feeling old.

I’m taking those words to heart as I’m now coping with two house problems: a leak in the master bathroom ceiling that is coming from either the roof or gutters, and raccoons tearing up my new lawn looking for grubs. Sara is involved in the the leak issue. Gonzalo, whose crew just put in the new lawn, is coming over to tack down the turf and spray some sort of raccoon repellant.  Good luck with the latter. We had raccoons in Rochester, and they are determined beasts. I’m not a fan.

Condo or apartment living is sold as “worry free”, but it isn’t.  A friend here in Seattle is facing a major assessment for external repairs to her building, and she has no control over the work, the cost, or who is going to do it. Even continuum of care retirement communities, sold as offering certainty for the future, are not immune from problems. A recent article revealed how the Carlyle Group, upon taking over the nursing home chain HCR ManorCare, stripped the company of billions of dollars to pay investors and left a trail of shockingly substandard care for vulnerable residents.

There’s no eluding the normal bumps and grinds of life, and probably that’s an OK thing.

Conscious Aging: Exercise Inside/Outside

Gloria really wants to exercise; she has far too many health problems for a woman in her mid-40’s and her doctor has told her that exercise will help most of them. But Gloria has no access to a gym in her rural Panamanian village, and as she reminds me, rainy season brings not only muddy roads and puddled dirt paths but clouds of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes in Panama carry nasty things like dengue, so I’m supportive of her decision to stay inside.

Amy’s Aunt Joyce lives in Iowa, and just wrote to say that she’s inside, safe and warm from a winter storm of near blizzard conditions. She’ll be back outside exercising when she and Ray head out for their winter sojourn in Florida. I get that too. We had lots of blizzard condition snow storms in Rochester for the 30+ years that I lived there, and I’ve never been a fan of winter sports or even outdoor walking in the snow and blowing wind. Give me a fireplace, a good book, a warm comforter, and a glass of wine.

Seattle is heading into rainy season, and it’s now dark here by 5pm. I do go to the gym, but any day that isn’t rainy I take the opportunity to go for a long walk outside. Sunday gave me that chance. I clocked six miles, 13, 360 steps, and 137 minutes.

Rain is forecast for the rest of the week, so it’s back inside I go.

Conscious Aging: Getting My Exercise Up to Speed

I didn’t do too badly with exercise while in Panama, a combination of walking outdoors in Panama City and using the hotel gym. The best day was Gloria’s and my walk to Casca Viejo, a distance of about three miles — and then when we couldn’t track down an available taxi, the same distance back. Six miles is a good exercise day under any circumstances, and more demanding when done in hot and humid weather. Fortunately it was overcast for much of the walk, so we didn’t fry ourselves in the scorching sun.

What I notice about the effects of aging on my exercise regimen is that my capacity declines more quickly with even a short hiatus. If I skip a couple of days, my exercise the next day is more arduous and I might have to shorten the duration or lighten the intensity of what I’m doing. If I skip a week, I need several days to work back up to my routine. If I skip more — and I don’t work out when I’m ill or sometimes not at all on my Panama beach vacation because of the punishing heat and sun — then I have a real job to get back in shape.

This January 2019 Panama vacation will be for three weeks, and there’s no way I can skip exercising for that long. I’ll have to get up earlier than I like to get out before the sun is fully up, and then come back for breakfast instead of having my preferred leisurely start to the day. And, I’ll have to do more rigorous swimming.

I can do this. I’m already making my plan.