Death, Ritual and the Funeral

It has been two months and ten days since my husband died. In five more days it will be two months since his funeral. When he died unexpectedly in Lima, Peru I was asked over and over again why I didn’t have him cremated and take his remains home in an urn. I never considered that idea. I had eight grown children at home who, in my mind at least, needed to see their father in his coffin and have an opportunity to say their goodbyes. And I am glad that I brought him home and that we had a funeral. As hard as it was it would have been unimaginably harder without a funeral.
Why?
As someone once said, “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” What are rituals? Rituals are prescribed or established ceremonies, proceedings or services. But they are more than that; rituals are important and symbolic acts that give meaning to the incomprehensible and bring closure and healing. Rituals are symbolic events that help us express our deepest thoughts and feelings about life’s most important events. It is because of their symbolic nature that rituals endure.
So what is it that a funeral offers to the bereaved? Let me tell you what it meant to me. First, I cannot imagine having arrived home where I was met at the airport by six of my children plus spouses and grandchildren with nothing more to offer than, “Yep, dad died in Peru.”
The funeral provided a public, traditional and symbolic way to express our beliefs, thoughts and feelings about the death of our husband/father/friend. The funeral ceremony helped us *acknowledge the reality of his death and *share memories of his life. It encouraged the expression of *grief in a way consistent within our culture, *provided support to mourners inside and outside the family, *reinforced our beliefs about faith, life, and death, and *offered continuity and hope for the living. If this is what a funeral is supposed to do I believe my husband’s funeral was a real success.
*Acknowledge the reality of the death: Because we were so far away from family and friends when my husband died it was hard for those back home to mentally or emotionally accept the fact that Mike was dead. It was hard for me to acknowledge death’s reality, and I was right there. Up until the funeral we could in many ways deny this new reality to ourselves. My daughter who flew to Peru and was tasked with speaking with the coroner and identifying her father’s body in the morgue had a much more abrupt introduction to the reality of death. So did my son who worked with the mortuary in Arizona and accompanied the body from the airport to Nogales.
Those who had not seen their father needed an opportunity to say goodbye. Those of us who had dealt directly with his death needed a more supportive opportunity to say goodbye.
*Embrace the pain of the loss: As the understanding of what we’d lost moved from mental to emotional understanding the pain became very real. The funeral allowed those who loved Mike to grieve publicly without reproof. The funeral forced us to concentrate on our feelings of love and loss—painful feelings—and we could express those feelings without being asked to intellectualize or distance ourselves from the pain of our grief. The funeral may be for many people the only time and place where an open expression of sadness is not frowned on to some degree. But grieving is a good and natural part of loss, an acknowledgement of how much we love and will miss the one who is gone. Let us grieve.
*Remember the one who died: Part of acceptance is shifting our relationship from one of physical presence to one of memory. My oldest daughter delivered the eulogy for her father. She had to think about his life and distill those important pieces she would share. I asked all my children to speak at the funeral, to plan on three to five minutes and share memories specific to them and their father. I suggested that they not say, “My dad was the greatest, smartest, strongest, whatever,” but to think of specific events, moments, and actions that would illustrate what they wanted to say. It was not easy, but it helped each of us as we shifted our thoughts from the present loss to wonderful memories we all shared.
We also went through the tens of thousands of photos I have on the computer searching for just the right images to express who our husband/father was. We printed more than a dozen photos as 16 x 20 inch posters and put them up on easles in the front of the church, on the tables with the flowers and next to the pulpit. Looking at hundreds of pictures brought back many more memories than those contained in the photos we printed and displayed. And the posters added another dimension to the service.
Of course there were many more people with us than just immediate family. All seven of my brothers and sisters were there along with nieces and nephews. Neighbors, friends and members of our church were in attendance. They too had memories to share. The night before the funeral we held a dinner for the family with about sixty people in attendance. Part way through dinner my brother-in-law suggested we all share something we remembered about Mike. We shared, we laughed, and we embedded those happy memories into our own memories.
*Acknowledge our changed relationships: In Peru our taxi driver helped us in countless ways. I remember clearly a phone call he made for me to the detective assigned to investigate my husband’s cause of death. The detective asked Luis who he was and why he was calling. He replied, “I am a friend of the widow.” I physically pulled back from that title. It was not a part of my identity. I recognized my roles as daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend. There was no room for ‘widow’ in my understanding of who I am.
But the funeral allowed not only me but my family and friends to accept a new reality, to accept a new identity, a new role. Those attending the funeral affirm and acknowledge the changed identity and let us know they still love and care about us.
*Search for meaning: Death brings many questions. Why? Why now? Why here? Why did you leave me? How will I go on by myself? Will we be together again? Why didn’t I do more? How could I have prevented this? I think there is a lot of irrational guilt immediately following a death, but that too is a part of the search for understanding. And we have to figure out why we should go on living before we can address how we’ll go on. The funeral does not answer all our questions but it does give expression to some of them, giving us the opportunity to mentally and emotionally reconcile some of those questions and to leave others behind. The funeral gives meaning to life and death making our own future death a reality. At the funeral we are able to express our beliefs and values about life and death. The funeral affirms that death is an important part of life for us and this is as it should be. This was brought home forcefully to me when my aunt died and my cousins had no funeral, no burial, no announcement. When her younger sister called to tell me Tui had died I asked for the funeral details. Meryl sadly told me that Tui had died weeks earlier but she had just learned of her death. What a stark and cold message.
*Receive support from others: Funerals are designed so that family and friends can offer and receive support. At the funeral we hugged, we touched, we offered comfort. Walking on the arm of the Army Sergeant who presented me with my husband’s folded flag at the cemetery, I felt a sense of strength and continuity. Holding hands, embracing and being embraced by good friends said “Life goes on. We are here to support you.”
Finally for those of you who have not suffered a personal loss, your physical presence at the funeral is an important show of support to the living. Several friends told me it was too difficult emotionally for them to attend the funeral. Don’t say that to the widow. If I could be there to fill my assigned role and show my love for my husband I had little patience with those who told me it was too difficult for them to attend. Attend the funeral. Cry, be emotional. Let those you love know they are not alone in their grief. Hold on to your memories and go on with life.

(Thank you toAlan D Wolfelt for his excellent article on the funeral ritual in GriefWords. His six points served as the outline for much of what I wanted to express.)

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I Hope They Have Butterflies in Heaven

My husband was a man of endless curiosity. He wanted to know about everything, he was interested in everything. When our kids were young we started collecting butterflies and then beetles. We didn’t just collect bugs though. Mike read about habitat, location, food sources and we went looking for the rare and beautiful insects that weren’t easily collected. Everybody learned taxonomy on the fly and we referred to our insects by their scientific names. I learned to pin and spread butterflies and beetles and the kids learned to label each specimen. Our collection grew and grew.
In the last few years before he died Mike didn’t so much as swing a net, but he always pointed out the beautiful butterflies we saw in our backyard or along the road as we drove here and there. Now, on the other side I am sure he is as curious as ever, wanting to see and know and do everything. And I am sure there is work for him. But I don’t know if there are butterflies! I hope they have butterflies in heaven and he is still marveling at their beauty.
And strawberry ice cream. He loved strawberry ice cream! Maybe they have something equally good. I’m sure he’s in a beautiful place and even without strawberry ice cream there is still plenty to see and wonder at. Maybe it is so grand he doesn’t even think about a bowl of strawberry ice cream now and then! But butterflies? They must be there too!

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Two Months

Two months ago today my husband died. It seems like forever, it seems like yesterday.
My son and I went to visit a woman last week who I have been friends with for more than ten years. She was already widowed when I first met her. She raised her nephew after her brother died. She has known a significant amount of loss in her life. My son and the nephew are good friends and so he is friends with my friend as well. After a short visit we left and my son and I talked in the car. “I was never sympathetic enough,” I said. “No,” he agreed. “But how could you know how hard it was? It’s something you have to experience to understand.” He knew what I felt, what he felt, what our friend must have felt, and still feels living alone now in an empty house.
When we got home my Visiting Teachers were at the door. I welcomed them in, we chatted, and they gave a lesson on Christ as our Comforter. One of the sisters said, “Christ experienced all our pains, all our sorrows, so that he could understand what we went through.”
I thought of my son’s words, “It’s something you have to experience to understand.” Suddenly the Atonement took on a new, deeper meaning. It was no longer just words. He experienced what we feel. He knows. He is sympathetic, because he has felt the pain and the loss, the loneliness and the if onlys. He has experienced it. He understands perfectly.
And He has a plan for us. It wasn’t the plan I had. But I trust in his plan. I trust his judgement for me.
Two months. I wonder if my husband misses me as much as I miss him? Is his perspective different than mine? I guess I’ll understand that too someday. But I trust that he loves me and that we will be together again. It may be a long time, it may be tomorrow but one thing is sure, that day will come.

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Try Not to Die in Peru

To be fair, try not to die in a foreign country. I don’t think Peru has cornered the market on red tape. Every country has its own policies and bureaucracy when it comes to dealing with death, and the US has additional regulations when it comes to bringing a body back into the country.
My husband died at 2:30 in the morning. By 3:30 our hotel room was full of cops, a doctor, hotel staff, and the detective in charge. I watched from a across the room as they bagged my husband’s body in a body bag that was too short for him. The top of his head protruded and the bag could not be zipped up. The cops like Laurel and Hardy tried pushing him into a bag that could not contain him, zipping and unzipping the bag. Then one of the men had a brilliant idea—he took a pillowcase off the bed and used it to cover my husband’s head so that he would not be exposed as they carried him away. I try to believe it is an effort to show respect for the dead, but it was so ludicrous that in different circumstances in some other universe I must have been laughing hysterically through the tears.
Before he left Detective Pino stopped and talked to me. He told me I would be seeing him during the days ahead and he gave me a direct number to call if I needed him for any reason. I wrote the number in my little notebook, but I had no idea that I would in fact need his number many times. He asked me to verify my husband’s first, middle, and last names and he entered them correctly in the boxes labeled nombre/apellidos.
Then I was alone. I used the hotel phone to call my daughter. I packed my bags. I stood at the window and watched Miraflores come to life. My daughter asked me if she should call her bishop in Mesa, Arizona. I told her I thought it was a good idea. But really, what could they do from Mesa? Probably nothing, still maybe they could offer some kind of help and comfort to my daughter.
I hadn’t been using my cell phone. Every call in or out cost $3.99/minute. I had a calling plan in Chile, but in Peru we had been been relying of emails and facetime. Now, given the circumstances I answered my phone when it rang. (Thank you Sprint for eventually reversing nearly 100 minutes of calls) All eight of our kids called. They all wanted to know what happened. How had the incomprehensible happened?
My youngest daughter and her boyfriend booked a hotel room at the Radisson hotel in Miraflores. They would be arriving in Lima before midnight. I called the Radisson and they said I could check in at 11:00 AM. That was my first ray of sunshine. I was ready to leave Hotel Stefano’s. I hadn’t decided where to go, but I could not spend a second night in that room.
I called the US Embassy and was connected to Citizen’s Services. On my first call I was connected with the right person, the one who would facilitate paperwork and interaction between the US and Peru. I never went to the embassy, I never met the person I talked to multiple times. But when all was said and done he did his job and saw to it that I had what I needed.
At 10:00 in the morning, just as I was making arrangements for a taxi to take me to the Radisson my phone rang again. A woman introduced herself as Sister Acosta from the Area Offices of the Church. She had received a call from my daughter’s bishop. She understood that my husband had just passed away and that I was alone. We chatted for a few minutes. I have to say her statement of the facts made me feel pretty bleak, but she told me the church was there to help me and asked if it would be alright if a couple who lived nearby contacted me. I said that would be fine.
When Julie called and asked if she could come meet me I told her I was on my way to the Radisson hotel and that from there I had to go to the morgue. She offered to meet me at the Radisson. I agreed. They arrived almost immediately. I immediately liked Julie and her husband–he looks just like my brother-in-law and I felt like family had arrived. They insisted on buying me lunch. I hadn’t eaten really since lunchtime the day before but food was the last thing on my mind. We ate in the hotel restaurant. All I remember is that I had soup and it was warm and easy to eat. I finished maybe half the bowl. Julie had a driver she used to get around Peru. She offered her driver to me if that would be helpful. Her husband went back to work, and Julie and I went with Luis to the morgue.
Going to the morgue in the best of circumstances is not a pleasant experience. In fact I can’t really think what the best of circumstances might be. The morgue is in a bad part of town. Luis cautioned us to leave our purses locked in the trunk. He would stay with the car. I carried my passport and my husband’s passport, a credit card and cash zipped into my pocket.
At the morgue I waited in line, then sat in a metal chair beside a metal desk to speak to a man with mountains of paper piled around him.
He looked at me and asked if I had brought clothing to dress the body. No, I hadn’t. He told me to go and come back with clothing.
We drove across town to the Radisson and back with a bag filled with clothing. I waited in line again. A second man sat at the desk. He wasn’t interested in clothing—I could give the clothes to the mortician. This official pulled a sheet of paper out of a pile and read off my husband’s name. It is important to understand that the naming system in Spanish is different than the naming system in English. In Spanish everyone has two last names–the paternal last name, followed by the maternal last name. In English we generally use only the paternal last name. Also, legally a woman does not take her husband’s last name in Spanish. When I showed the passports with only one last name, and with my last name and my husband’s being the same, the official asked for my marriage certificate. I explained that I had not brought my marriage certificate with me to Peru, but that he could see on my passport both the last name I was born with and my married name. Nope. To him the passport showed that I was a Hopkins on my mother’s side and my husband was a Hopkins on his father’s side. Worse, he had entered my husband’s name into the computer using the middle name Kent as a last name followed by Hopkins as the second last name. That might have made us brother and sister. Even though he had the correct names his record did not match my husband’s and I would have to go back to the Criminal Investigations Office and ask them to correct the error on the name.
WE went through the naming conventions over and over again. Despite numerous explanations officials wanted to know what my second last name was, what my husband’s second last name was, etc. One official shook his head in exasperation and said that at least the hispanics in the US used two last names, didn’t they? When I told him they did not he found it hard to believe.
So that was Day One, Welcome to the Bureaucracy. I can’t remember everything I did that first day, but I do remember that Luis spent eight hours with us and that he charged me less than I had paid for the taxi ride from Stefano’s to the Radisson earlier that day. I must have talked to the embassy several more times. I had the names of two mortuaries the embassy said American’s tended to use, although the could not actually recommend a mortuary. I called the first funeral home and was given a price. Luis heard the price and shook his head. The price was outrageous. He called the second funeral home and got a price that was half that of the first. We met with Percy at Funeraria de la Paz. Percy told me the price for Americans was double what he had quoted Luis because of the additional requirements and paperwork, but being an honorable man he would honor the quote. Percy was a big guy–very big compared to the average Peruvian and he had lived in New Jersey for five years. We talked about the United States, about being in a foreign country. He was very sympathetic, very personable. He introduced me to Miguel, who would actually be doing the legwork. I don’t think I ever saw Miguel smile. Oh well.
I got back to the hotel room about 8:00 Friday night after making arrangements for Luis to pick up my daughter and her boyfriend from the airport. Without Luis I might still be in Peru! Having a driver saved not only hundreds of dollars in taxi fees, it saved my sanity!
The junior suite at the Radisson was large, comfortable and had only one bed–a giant king sized bed, but still only one bed. I called downstairs to see if I could change rooms for something with two beds. “I’m sorry,” they told me, “When your daughter made the reservation this is what she requested.” So, I showered and washed my hair and climbed into bed. When M and J arrived at midnight M walked into the room and stopped. “There’s only one bed,” she sputtered. For the next twelve days we shared a bed and it was another ray of sunshine. I never slept alone. We lay in the dark with M in the middle, and we talked and cried and planned our next steps, and J said soothing things so that we all fell asleep. We never would have planned it, but it turned out to be a wonderful arrangement.
Saturday morning bright and early Luis came to take us once more through the maze known as Lima. First to Criminal Investigations. Even though it was a Saturday Detective Pino came in and filled out a paper with all the appropriate stamps and signatures attesting to my husband’s correct name. He told me he was doing it as a favor to me since he had it filled out correctly on his paperwork and that in fact the error was the fault of the morgue. I knew this was true. He had checked the name with me at the time of my husband’s death. I had watched him fill in the boxes. Luis told me to tip him 20 soles—Pino had come in at our request and filled out paperwork he didn’t need to bother with.
Julie called to invite us to stay at her apartment. She assured me they had plenty of space and would love to have us there. M and J had reserved the hotel room for 2 more nights. They hadn’t met Julie or her husband. I told her I would think about it, but we were okay for now.
Back to the morgue. We waited for an hour and a half. Finally Luis came to the gate outside the morgue. It’s a Saturday he explained. We’ll have to pay a tip here or it could take a week to ten days to get anything done–and to expect service on a Saturday? Impossible. He talked to someone, slipped them 50 soles and within ten minutes I was called over to the metal desk where I presented the paper from the detective. The new man sitting at the desk waved the papers away. Why would he need those? He could fix the name on his computer. He asked for the name of the funeral home. Is your representative here? Yes, Luis had called and arranged for Miguel to meet us. There was still the problem of marital status, but when the official saw M’s passport with the last name Hopkins he smiled. She was obviously the daughter; she could speak to the coroner, identify the body, and sign the paperwork. Thank heavens we are both bilingual. How would we have gotten anything done if we didn’t speak Spanish??
By mid-afternoon on Saturday we left the morgue with the requisite papers in hand. Miguel came with the wagon and picked up my husband’s remains–still without clothes. He had left the clothes I’d given him at the mortuary.
A murder victim was released at the same time we were leaving. Journalists and photographers ran after the hearse with my husband’s body in it snapping pictures. It was soon on the front page, misidentified as the hearse with the other unfortunate’s body. Reporters stuck microphones in M’s face. She turned away, angry.
Luis took us to eat lunch every day at little hole in the wall places that charged us about 30 soles for four meals. We always ate well, hot meals with large portions from a set menu.
Sunday morning Luis picked us up for church. Julie sent skirts for us and off we went. We met the Acosta’s and many many other members of the church that morning. After the services we took a tour of the missionary training center and then went home with Julie and her husband for lunch. M and J were comfortable with these good people and we agreed and accept their hospitality. It was a good decision. Being in a home with a family was much better than being in a hotel room. Julie gave me–a virtual stranger–a key to the house and told us to come and go as we needed.
Monday was my birthday but I wasn’t feeling very festive. We ate our last free breakfast at the hotel and just as we finished a waitress came up and asked me if I was Señora Hopkins. When I replied in the affirmative she brought me a chocolate flan covered with whipped cream and strawberries and a chocolate happy birthday card. I looked at M and J. They shook their heads, they knew nothing. When we checked out M asked the receptionist about the birthday treat. “Oh we noticed on your passport that today is your birthday!” she told me with a smile. Another small ray.
We dropped our things off at Julie’s and went on our way. We had to go to the bank and convert our dollars into soles to pay the funeral home before they could actually begin to do anything. Peru is a cash only country in almost everything but the hotels. J said he could pay the whole amount into the funeral homes’s bank account with his credit card and we could sort out the money later. We went to the funeral home and got the unsigned contract and the banking info. We went to the right bank, arranged everything, charged the card, but the computers could not connect to confirm the transaction. No go.
On to plan B. I had several thousand dollars and Julie lent me the equivalent of a couple of thousand, I got another thousand with my Citibank card, M and J pitched in. We were good, except the bank would not accept wrinkled or torn bills. And they gave me an exchange rate well below the Exchange Houses rates. We left the bank and took our wads of money to the exchange house. Nope, they would not accept wrinkled or torn bills. I went back to the bank. The teller didn’t know what to do. The manager came over and said they would give us a better rate of exchange. I got another 700 soles on a credit card. So did J. Finally we had enough. And I still had $650 in wrinkled bills in my wallet. (I never could spend them in Peru, I put them in the bank when I got home.) It was closing time before we left the bank.
M, J and Luis said they needed to make a stop. They came back to the car with an enormous birthday cake! Then we went to a restaurant that specialized in fried chicken, games and fun. The food was great, the waiters sang happy birthday, sliced the cake and served it up. Finally we arrived “home” and settled in.
The next day we had to meet with the funeral home again, drop off the receipt and pick up the signed contract marked paid. Then on to CSI where I had to make a statement to the police and sign it. I answered questions and everything was typed up so that the criminal investigation into my husband’s death could be closed. Pheew. Six pages of questions and answers. And so the days passed. We thought we would be finished in time to fly home by Friday. No. The papers from CSI had to go to the equivalent of the Peruvian Social Security office and a Peruvian death certificate had to be issued. Then the paperwork from Social Security had to go to the Embassy so that a US death certificate could be issued. Miguel said he would take care of the paperwork for the Peruvian death certificate. I called the embassy, they agreed that was standard practice. The embassy received the paperwork on Friday from the SS office. They called and assured me they would make the death certificate while Miguel waited so that he would have it in hand. By late Friday afternoon we had twenty official copies of the US certificate of death. Thank you US Embassy.
I was ready to go home, but shipping regulations stood in our way. The personnel who supervise shipment of remains evidently don’t work weekends in either the US or Peru. We had no choice but to wait. Luis took us on a tour of Lima. We went to the Plaza de las Armas, and the Inca Markets. We saw adobe ruins built with hundreds of thousands of adobe bricks. The ruins are impressive and don’t get the press they deserve.
Sunday we attended church with Luis and his girlfriend and went out to eat a typical Peruvian meal, including guinea pig. Sunday night Luis drove M and J to the airport. Monday I went to a farewell luncheon for Julie (she and her husband were leaving for a new job in a new area) and met her friends. Then we did some shopping at the Inca Market with another friend. Incredibly Julie’s friend from Arequipa had grown up in Playas, New Mexico, a town so small it is not on the map, and coincidentally the place J lived for the first 6 or 7 years of his life. Small world.
Despite seeming to not have a care in the world, Julie and her husband were leaving Peru on Thursday. I crossed my fingers that I would be on my way prior to Thursday!
Yes! Luis’s phone rang. I had a confirmed flight for my husband’s body leaving Lima at 1:00 AM TUESDAY morning. I got online and bought a ticket on the same flight. I said good bye to Julie and her husband. Luis and Carmen drove me to the airport. We said our goodbyes in the terminal. I waited until I knew my husband was on board. I was the last one to board the plane. Finally on August 12, I waved good bye to Peru.
When I stepped off the plane in Tucson seven of my kids, plus spouses and grandkids were waiting to greet me. What a happy sad moment. There is no place like home.

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The Long Way Home

August 1.  After spending a week in Cusco, Peru walking up and down the streets, shopping in the markets, taking photos of stone walls and immersing ourselves in Inca history and culture we flew back to Lima, Peru with a connecting flight on to Santiago.  Except when I went to check in to our flight on Lan Chile, they said our flight was not for July 31 but for the next afternoon, August 1st.  I was looking forward to getting back to Santiago.  A nephew was planning to pick us up, but the flight on the 31st was full and we weren’t on it.  So we got a taxi and headed to Miraflores.  I asked the taxi driver to take us to the Doubletree Hotel.  He countered that without a reservation there would be nothing available.  He suggested an alternative hotel–Stefano’s.  I went in and looked at a room.  It was definitely not the Doubletree but it reminded me of many hotels we had stayed in with the kids during our travels in Mexico.  It was only for one night; the room would be adequate.

They overcharged me at the front desk.  I knew it but we were on our way out of Peru.  I argued a little, they came down a little.  My husband was tired; I paid for the room.  Mike laid down and napped.  I walked up the street and bought bottled water and some slices of cake in a tiny shop.  I walked through a charming area filled with antique shops.  I peered in the windows and admired the sparkling crystal and silver, the old carved wooden furniture, the odd and interesting items in each shop.  Then I walked back to Stefano’s.  We ate our cake and drank water.  I read my Kindle, we talked.  About 10:30 Mike asked me to see if the restaurant was open.  He was a little hungry.  I wasn’t even sure there was a restaurant.  We turned off the lights and went to sleep.

Sometime in the night Mike got up to go to the bathroom.  I heard him, I talked to him, and I fell back asleep.  About 2:30 in the morning I woke up with a start.  Mike was laying on the floor between the bathroom and the bed.  I tried to lift him, I tried to turn his head, I shouted at him to wake up, but within a minute I knew I needed help.

I called down to the front desk–my husband had fallen and I needed someone to help me get him up and back into bed. Hotel security arrived almost immediately.  The man took one look at my husband and told me he would have to call the paramedics.  Two paramedics arrived very quickly and declared my husband dead.  I would not believe it.  I insisted that he was still warm, that they only needed to get him up off the tile and he would soon be alright.

Soon a detective arrived along with the coroner to make a report.  I became well acquainted with Detective Jose Pino, and I will always think of him as the head of CSI, Lima.  I was told to stay away from my husband’s body, to not touch anything, to wait.  I called my oldest daughter and told her dad had passed away in.  She was shocked and sad, but agreed to call her seven brothers and sisters.  And so the night passed.  Police came and bagged my husband’s body and carried him away.  All hotel room deaths are investigated as homicides in Peru.

Little did I know that I had just taken my first steps into what would become a two week nightmare, a nightmare punctuated by unexpected rays of bright sunshine.

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Chile, Chile Lindo

July 25. More than forty-seven years ago I came to Chile. I was seventeen years old, young and foolish with two semesters of Spanish behind me. Despite all the things I did not know the trip to Chile changed my life in ways I could never foresee. I lived in Talcahuano, a seaport about six hours south of the capital, Santiago. I lived with a family, who are my family still today. I realize in retrospect that I arrived at a difficult time–the father of the family was very ill and died two months after I arrived. The oldest son’s wife gave birth to their first child, the oldest daughter was a newlywed living at home with her husband. Somehow, they fit me in as a member of the family, finding a space for me. I learned to speak Spanish, Chilean Castillano to be more exact, an ability that still brings me opportunities and friendships. I saw new people and places at an age when I was able to incorporate another family and culture and make them my own.
At twenty-two I applied for a job with Pan American Airlines; I was hired partially because I was bilingual, partially because I had lived outside the United States and because I had lived and traveled in another culture. I had just graduated from college and was ready to see the world. I was based in London. I traveled as far east as New Delhi, India and as far west as Detroit, Michigan. I traveled to Beirut, Tehran, and Karachi as well as Copenhagen, Paris, Munich, New York, and Spain. I swam in the Mediterranean and in the Adriatic, and in the North Sea. I visited Anne Frank’s attic in Amsterdam and the Tower of London. I visited the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort in New Delhi. I was named runner-up to Stewardess of the Year for the London base just before most of my class was laid off because of the oil embargo that followed the murders of Israel’s Olympic team in Munich, Germany.
While I still had flight benefits I returned to Chile, flying to Santiago and then down to Concepcion. I stayed in a hotel that looked down on La Moneda, the presidential palace where Allende killed himself rather than surrender to the military. I arrived not in the aftermath, but in the middle of a military take-over, but I had come to see family. Despite the precarious times, despite the 1000% inflation that was just being reined in, despite confusion and fears, despite arriving at a difficult time my family took me in and we had a wonderful visit.
I returned to the US and went back to school. I met my husband. He had traveled to parts of the world I hadn’t seen–Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam. He knew things I didn’t know. We had eight children. I taught Spanish (thank you Chile!); life was busy.
We traveled to interesting places. Eventually we moved to Arizona and began spending our summers driving through Mexico. Four of our children traveled to Chile, staying with extended family. Another son spent two years in the Dominican Republic and the youngest attended a boarding school in Mexico School for part of his time in high school. Es bueno ser bilingue! But during all those years I never went back to Chile.
A niece came to stay with us, and a nephew. My oldest brother and his wife came to Arizona. The oldest sister came to California for medical treatment and we spent a crazy day on the boardwalk in Santa Cruz. She came back with her husband and visited us in Arizona. The youngest sister–other than me–married a gringo and moved to San Jose, California. We were in touch, but for forty years I never went back to Chile.
The kids grew up, my husband’s body turned on him–the injuries he’d sustained to his neck and shoulder, the damage done to his ankle and knee in Vietnam–to name only a few, began to catch up with him and he was asked to take a medical retirement. We moved into a one level house on the Mexican border. We might still be there now, but my sister in San Jose called to say that our sister in Santiago was doing poorly. An autoimmune disease was taking its toll. If we were going to visit we needed to go. So I bought tickets and we flew to Santiago. I almost canceled the flight. There was a lot going on with our kids and grandkids, life was happening all around us. But we got on the plane. We spent a week in Santiago. Selma is doing better. She had cataract surgery while we were here. We took the bus to Talcahuano. My brother and his wife in Talcahuano have both had serious health problems, But they didn’t bat an eye. They gave us the grand tour and I knew I was home. We stood on the hill above San Vicente and I looked down at the fisherman’s bay below us and across the hills to the port cities and it all looked familiar. There is a new road across the hills. I remember walking over the hills from downtown Talcahuano to San Vicente to visit with cousins. I am amazed at how far I must have walked. I remember running up and down the hills from the house to the centro, taking the bus into Concepcion to the University. The hills are as steep as I remembered but the house is much further from the middle of town. I see the Mormon church that was under construction when I lived in Talcahuano. It is a nice building, a busy building, more than forty years old. Maria Elena’s 103 year old mother is in declining health. A son and his wife and two kids are staying at the house during the mid-year school vacation. A contractor is working on an addition to the house.

When is there ever a perfect time to visit? Now. It’s the only time we have.
I am sitting in a hotel in Lima, Peru, planning to fly to Cuzco this afternoon. My husband is still asleep. I am wearing him out. If I had planned ahead we would have come to Peru on our way home. But I didn’t buy the tickets that way. So we will be able to go back to Chile for another week before we return home. The taxi driver on the way to the airport in Santiago asked me where I was from, he couldn’t quite place my accent–maybe Mexico. The taxi driver in Lima asked me if I was from Spain. I am inordinately happy when my Spanish doesn’t blare gringa. But pride goes before the fall, and I become self conscious and suddenly can’t put two sentences together. Bueno. It’s time to start the day. This gringa chilena has places to see. Chao, chao. Until next time.

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Shaman Priest: A story of Guatemala

Guatemala, our small neighbor just to the south of Mexico has a long and violent history, yet many people are unaware of Guatemala except as a tourist destination, a place with colorful native peoples, active volcanos, incredible pre-Columbian ruins, and beautiful textiles and handicrafts.

Right now many of the refugees crossing our border are Guatemalan. Why do they come? Why have they crossed through Mexico illegally and at great personal risk for a chance to enter the United States? Why have they come here hoping to stay?

Many come hoping for a new and better life for themselves or their children, and they bring their culture and its problems with them.

Did you know that from 1960 through 1996 colorful Guatemala was torn apart by a violent civil war? Did you know that more than 200,000 people were killed over the course of the 36-year-long civil war? More people were killed in Guatemala that were killed in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, and Argentina combined. Unfortunately most people are unaware of the extent of the violence that took place in Guatemala.

And the violence continues there today in the form of gang violence, drug violence, and common criminality.

Did you know that 83 percent of those killed in the civil war were Mayan Indians (according to a 1999 report written by the U.N.-backed Commission for Historical Clarification titled “Guatemala: Memory of Silence”), and yet the Mayans for the most part tried to avoid violence and maintain their way of life?

Did you know that the U.S. was involved in the Guatemala in 1954 when the CIA backed, trained, and funded the overthrow of an elected president?

Shaman Priest, a novel set during Guatemala’s brutal civil war gives a human face to the violence and suffering that occurred during that time. In the story a young Mayan shaman’s family is murdered and he leaves his beloved mountains making his way to Guatemala City where he becomes a Catholic priest. There he meets Maria, daughter of wealthy landowners, and Earl Smith, an American working for the United States Aid in International Development (USAID) program. This powerful story of Guatemala is told through three fictional characters as they struggle with love and loss, violence, death, and a desire for justice and revenge.

Shaman Priest, by Karen Hopkins will be available in paperback on Amazon beginning July 7, 2014.

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Summertime

I’ve lived in Arizona for twenty-three years.  I’ve lived on the border for eleven years.  I fixed my granddaughter a snack this  morning–carrot sticks with chili-limon sprinkled all over them.  They’re pretty good.  She’s three.  It was her idea.

I went out and weed whacked the yard this afternoon.  You have to be wacky to even think of  doing that.  I raked over a couple of snake holes in the ground.  I would rather have snakes than rats in the yard if I have to choose.

I came inside dripping wet and jumped straight into the shower.  The more I turned the hot water down the hotter it got.  Our water l is pumped up to the top of the hill into a tank that sits in the sun.  The line from the meter to the house runs across the south facing slope of the property line.  In the summer the cold water can be scalding.  Luckily the hot water heater sits in the garage where it cools off a little.  With the water system I have do you think I can take a solar energy credit?

Oh well.  I am clean and dry.  I would have showered under the refrigerator water if I didn’t mind walking out into the kitchen in my all togethers, but now he fan is turning and the air conditioner is running.  I think I’ll sit down and watch the World Cup.  The USA is still in.  Gooooooooooool.  Gotta love futbol.

And July is right around the corner.  I think I’ll grill carne asado for the Fourth of July.  Can’t wait for the fireworks!!

 

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Iraq Now

Will Iraq fall to jihadists? Did US forces die in vain? Will ISIS create an Islamic caliphate? Then what? Here are the latest developments.

June 13, 2014 at 1:16 pm

 

Sources: CIA World Factbook, Long War Journal. Laris Karklis/The Washington Post.

(Washington, D.C.) — The President and his top advisors have told us over and over again in recent years that “al Qaeda is on the run,” and “we decimated al Qaeda.”

Now we know it’s not true.

In recent days, an ultra-radical faction of the Sunni terrorist network — ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq & Al Sham — has captured huge swaths of Iraqi territory, hundreds of millions of dollars from Iraqi banks, and even U.S. military equipment.

At the moment, ISIS forces are rapidly moving toward Baghdad, imposing Sharia law, killing thousands, terrorizing millions, creating an exodus of Iraqis trying to flee for safety, and raising serious new questions:

I’m not going to try to answer these questions today. Just the fact that they need to be asked shows how badly U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has failed, and how high the stakes are for the American people, for Israel, and for our Arab allies.

At the moment, I need to go back to finishing the manuscript for my new novel on a future ISIS plot to conquer the Middle East and build and Islamic caliphate.

But first, please keep praying for the Lord to intervene and stop the rise of the jihadists, pray for safety for all Iraqis (and Syrians), and please keep praying for courage for the Christians. Pray, too, for regional and world leaders to have wisdom to know how best to stabilize and pacify the situation.

Then, please keep on top of the latest developments.  Here is some of the latest news coverage from the epicenter worth paying attention to:

“The Obama administration is facing its worst-case scenario in Iraq, which seems on the verge of crumbling as Islamic militants march on Baghdad,” reports The Hill newspaper. “Just more than three years after U.S. soldiers left the country, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken over hundreds of square miles ranging from Syria’s coast to the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit. The terrorist group is in control of a wide swath of land from which it could launch attacks on the West, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte warned Thursday.”

“If these people succeed in multiple countries, that is going to represent some kind of permanent terrorist threat to the West, to our interests around the world and to ourselves,” he said on MSNBC.

“The sudden developments have left the White House with few good options and opened President Obama to severe criticism from Republican critics in an election year,” The Hill noted. “They argue the failure to reach a security agreement that would have left some troops in Iraq has hastened the government’s downfall. What’s more, the group is now taking access of U.S. arms and equipment that were left behind when troops left after nearly a decade in Iraq. Militants posted pictures on Twitter that showed they had acquired U.S. Humvees and armored vehicles….U.S. officials are worried that more weapons could fall into ISIS’s hands if the militants reach Baghdad. The U.S. has already sold the Iraqi military armed helicopters, drones, Hellfire missiles and a number of small arms….”

“This is pretty bad…These guys are our mortal enemies. These are the people, or one strain of the group of people, we’ve been fighting at least since 9/11,” said Michael Eisenstadt, senior fellow and director of The Washington Institute’s Military and Security Studies Program….“It feeds the perception that the United States is being pushed out of the region and the few accomplishments that we’ve had seem be unraveling,” he said.

THE LATEST HEADLINES WORTH TRACKING (via Drudge):

Exodus from Iraq as chaos spreads…
UN: 800k refugees…
Terrorists ‘full-blown army’…
Medieval Sharia Law Imposed…
‘Roads lined with decapitated police and soldiers’…
Iraqi government ‘paralyzed’…
Army Collapses…
VIDEO: Thousands of soldiers captured by ISIS…
Iran Deploys Forces…
Americans evacuated…
USA Secretly Flying Drones…
Pentagon: Rebels may have captured military equipment…
PAPER: ‘Worst case scenario’…
FLASHBACK: Biden: Iraq One of Obama’s ‘Great Achievements’…
Vets in Congress: ‘What was point of all that?’…
Oil Soars…
OBAMA HINTS AT ACTION…

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Would You Kill a Mouse?

On May 10, 2014 the Wall Street Journal ran an article on market economics  and its negative effect on morals.  To actually test this commonly accepted idea two German economists, Falk and Szech conducted an experiment in which they gave participants ten euros (about $14.00).  Once participants had the money in hand they were told that as part of lab protocol a healthy, young mouse would be killed unless the participant bought the mouse with the money they’d just received.  If they paid for the mouse it would live out its life in health and comfort.

Forty-six percent of participants chose to keep the money and let the mouse die.  The other 54% of participants chose to save the mouse.  There was more to the study, but it always included the option to allow the mouse to live or die.  And somehow the entire study demonstrates that yes, the market is immoral.

Wait a minute!  I live in a rural area.  We have mice here; I kill mice every week in my garage.  I trap them in a not very nice way and then I scoop up their little bodies and toss them over the wall.  (I don’t like to poison the mice because I am afraid the poison may affect the birds that eat the dead mice.)  So I have a hierarchy of values.

Would I let a mouse die for $14.00?  Of course.  I kill them for free.  Mice are pests, not pets.  They spread disease, sometimes horrible diseases like the plague and hantavirus.  But they also chew things up like the wiring on the underside of my car which was not cheap to repair.  They gnaw on the valuable stuff in my garage, and if I wasn’t busy trapping them they would soon be inside the house.  If they would stay outside I would leave them alone.  But mice and humans don’t share space well.  Mice are vermin–vectors for disease and death.  And you’re offering me $14.00 to let you kill one?

I don’t think I am a heartless person.  My point is that the study is flawed at the most basic level and to draw any conclusions on man’s morality or lack thereof based on mice is not going to give valid results.

You want to know whether market economics dilute our moral values?  Offer your subjects $14.00 to kill a puppy.  The results will be way different.  Given that choice I’d take the puppy home with me.  And so would 99% of the people in the study.

Falk and Szech may be brilliant economists, but this study missed the boat  when it comes to human nature, economics, and moral choice.

 

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