I never forget I am a daughter or privilege. I slept in my parents’ house in Boquete last night. Though Pastora, my dad’s housekeeper, had already left for the day when I arrived, the bed in the guest room was made up with the lace-trimmed linen sheets my mom only used when I visited; there were fresh-cut roses and a small pitcher of water in case I got thirsty in the night, all set out on the table next to my bed. There are any number of small details that go with privilege.
There’s another kind of privilege. Though my dad is weak, he is as lucid and clear as ever. Especially since my mom died, we have learned how to talk to each other with a level of honesty and clarity that isn’t easy but a rare and extraordinary gift. Everything seems to indicate he will pull through, though more fragile than before. With my two brothers in Europe, and after the hell of the last 5 days with limited ability to stay in touch (I don’t have an international call plan on my cell phone and the place I was staying in Tahoe had no long distance either), the biggest part of my time here will be spent putting some new pieces in place for my dad’s safety net. I am working with three nurses, expats who were part of my mom’s hospice team, who will take turns being Dad’s healthcare surrogates, going with him to Dr appointments, assessing how he is doing regularly, staying in touch with my brothers and me, letting us know when it is critical for one of us to come to Panama.
My dad and I also talked about his financial realities. He is not on any insurance and his medical expenses have just increased dramatically. At what point does an 86-year old widower living far from his children start refusing medical treatments that are so expensive they would jeopardize his ability to live out his life with dignity and independence? With far less fear of death or squeamishness than I could have imagined, we talked through that enough to have a better understanding of how we can honor his integrity and who my dad is. Then, a really hard moment. Since my mom died, the crematorium that received her body in David has closed. We talked about what needed to be done in the event that he simply dropped dead unexpectedly. Tomorrow in Panama, I will work with the funeral home that took care of both my grandparents’ cremations, and the bodies of cousins, great uncles and aunts and other relatives who have died here in this country. We hope they will be willing to pick up my dad’s remains in Boquete if he dies unexpectedly and alone, cremate him, and keep his ashes till one of his children arrives. As are Dad’s wishes, when that time comes, his ashes will follow behind my mother’s down the Rio Caldera to find their rest with her in the Pacific Ocean.
My dad is so brave, so honest. There were moments of piercing sadness for both of us in the conversation. We agree he needs to sell the house he and Mom built, their last major life project together, and move into something smaller and more manageable–and also improve his financial liquidity. Every morning, he walks out to where my mom’s orchids still hang and bloom so he can say good morning to her and feel her close by for a few moments. The strength it takes to let go of that. The goodness of getting to be real about life and death with him–something that has brought us closer together than I knew one could be with a parent. Pure privilege…
The focus of the Fourth Week of the Exercises, which I would be wrapping up tomorrow, is resurrection. I am not interested in dissecting the events in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. But I know this: over and over again in these past few years, I’ve had to face the worst kinds of situations; the scariest, awfulest things imaginable have happened. Like Mary Magdalene on that Sunday of resurrection, I have flown towards that which I feared most, wondering who would roll the stone away, how I would be capable of doing what needed to be done. This time, like the others, the pain, even the horror, have not had the last word. That is what helps me understand resurrection. The Gospel of Mark tells that when Mary Magdalene and Mary got to the tomb, they were told that their beloved friend and son was not there. But they had to go to the tomb–they had to be real about the death that had occurred to discover that. The empty tomb pointed beyond itself to a new horizon. I think maybe our lives do that for us as well, more often than we are able to recognize.