The widows and the fatherless

How often are the widows and the fatherless mentioned in scripture? Look out for those poor widows and judge the fatherless righteously. It’s there, over and over again.
Now I know who we are and why we need looking after. It isn’t just physical. It isn’t help with the bills at this house. It is spiritual and emotional and words I can’t even conjure up right now. It is hard.
I don’t want to pray right now. I don’t want to read my scriptures. Mike asked me to read the scriptures to him every night. And I did. He said we should set a time when we shut everything else down so we could read and talk. And we did. I don’t want to read without him. It’s an admission that he’s not here. I want him back.
I feel this wavering inside. And I know it’s false. I know what’s true and real for me, but it all shimmers without him to share it with. That’s crazy. It’s not what he would want, it’s not what I want. But I’m like a kid throwing a tantrum. I don’t care about rational. I want my husband back. Now. Not later. I don’t want my life to change. I liked it the way it was.
I was saying my prayers at bedtime. Thinking of the things of the day and I started talking to Mike. Then I started praying again, and I said I know I pray to you God, not to my husband, but I miss him so much. I want to talk to him tonight. And I realized I was a little upset with God. I don’t like his plan right now. I don’t like being alone in my house, not sleeping. I don’t like lonely and I don’t like worrying about the kids and why didn’t they see that life is serious and turn their lives around when their dad died? Why do I still have to worry about them too?
See what I mean? An emotional wreck. Look out for the poor widows. It’s not easy. And we put on our public face, we smile, but there is a big emptiness. The fatherless too. No wonder God tells us to judge these kids, big and small, with a righteous judgement. Maybe they do crazy things. They just lost their anchor. Give ‘em some slack. Please. Just for awhile.
I don’t know how long that is. But fatherless doesn’t end very soon. Be patient with us. I’ll try to be patient with me too. And I’ll keep saying my prayers. It’s who I am.

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Daylight Savings? Isn’t there a better way??

Hooray, thank goodness for Arizona!  Daylight savings has come and nothing changes.  What are we saving with daylight savings?  Whatever it is we give it back in the fall.  But meanwhile the sun goes merrily on its way ignoring the clocks and their various settings.  The sun defiantly rises to the middle of the sky in the middle of the day no matter what hour we declare it noon.

And aren’t time zones political in nature?  Years ago when I flew regularly from Delhi to Karachi we all adjusted our watches by fifteen minutes, not marking our changed position on the earth’s surface, but marking the importance of political borders. There is still a fifteen minute time difference between India and Nepal.  Newfoundland is a half hour off from the Canadian mainland, but the French islands of St Pierre and Miquelon in exactly the same longitude are in the same time zone as France. Solidarity!

China and India have only one time zone.  Hmmm.  I wonder what the sun has to say about that.  Russia stays on Daylight time year round, trying to keep ahead of the sun.  Chile while lying directly under New York shares a time zone with western Greenland.  Argentina shares a time zone with easternmost Brazil even though Brazil juts far into the Atlantic.  And of course Hugo Chavez gave Venezuela its own time zone so that he would not have to share the sunshine with the United States!

Even in Arizona time zones can get hinky.  We share the same time with the Pacific zone for part of the year and with the Mountain States for the remainder of the year.  But the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona does change its clocks for daylight savings.  If you live on the edge of the reservation you may be constantly juggling your watch.

Why daylight savings at all I ask myself?  Why four time zones?  Arizona is able to live well in two time zones year round without touching the clock.  Why not combine Pacific and Mountain time by allowing Utah to stay on Standard Time year round and California to stay on Daylight  time?  (With their adjoining states of course!)  And if it works well in the west, why not combine Central and Eastern time in the same way?  That might mean there would be a two hour time difference between the two zones but it should beat the three hour difference we have now with four zones.

I think this is a perfectly reasonable and logical suggestion.  And it would make it easier to call my grandkids in California and New York at any time of the year.  Don’t worry.  The sun will figure it out and go on its rounds as if nothing had changed at all!


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Six word sentences

Oh my, I just came across this, written last year.  My husband and I were having fun.  How time flies!

Hi Janelle, this is your sis.

We cleaned the book room yesterday.

Mike found his sixtieth birthday book.

He read it again, every word.

All our converstions have six words.

It’s so great to be sixty!

You should only use five . . .

That’s what 50 is like.

But, you’ll never see 50 again.

Life keeps getting better and better.

Does your body ache all over?

Oh, it will–I promise you.

Soon you’ll need large print documents.

Bifocals may soon follow; so sorry.

Hair color fades, facia hair sprouts.

And your hearing? What about that?

Well, we’ve had lots of fun.

Now I will give you a message:

In just 25 words or less:

“These things are important: marriage,
mission, college. Press on, set goals,
write history, take pictures twice a year.”

Hope you all enjoyed General Conference!!

Enough already. Have a great night.

Mike and Karen

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Let Them Eat Bulgar

When God told Joseph, “Wheat is for man,” He wasn’t talking about Wonder Bread or pasta or boxed cake mixes  or even chocolate chip cookies. Sorry, it’s true, I’m pretty sure about this. He said wheat, not white flour. Not that white powder without even the germ in it. And there is a difference.  Whole wheat is one of the healthiest foods available, but when you sand of the outer coating,remove the bran, and take out the germ with its essential oil you don’t have much left–60% of the kernel has been removed, including half or more of the original amounts of B1, B2, B3, vitamin E,  folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron and fiber. No wonder people are looking for gluten free–white flour is almost wheat free!
So what’s so good about whole wheat?  Let’s start with the important stats.  Women who eat whole grains, including whole wheat weigh less statistically than their more refined sisters. Remember, it’s not carbohydrates we want to avoid, it’s refined carbs. But how to add whole wheat to your daily diet? Eating whole wheat flour can be a hard adjustment, requires some modification of the recipes you’ve been using, tastes different than what you’re used to. So I suggest you begin your adventure in whole wheat by adding bulgar to your mornings.
I began eating bulgar for breakfast when we lived on the Navajo reservation more than thirty-five years ago. I would put a cup of whole wheat in the crock pot, add 3 cups of water and leave it overnight. In the morning the wheat had swollen up into round ball bearings. I served it with milk and honey. And I discovered that I really liked it. I didn’t start cooking wheat as a health food. I started because it was convenient. I lived a long way for a supermarket. Corn flakes were expensive at the trading post, and I had a can of wheat someone had given me. Voila. The benefits? I used to say I could eat whatever I wanted all day long. I never gained weight. My body regulated itself.                                And yes, I was never constipated. But there were even better side effects. Through eleven pregnancies I never suffered from morning sickness. I had easy pregnancies and easy deliveries. I was full of energy and I didn’t suffer from PMS or monthly migraines—until I abandoned bulgar for the all American diet many years later.

Why attribute my good fortune to whole wheat and not just excellent genes? Well, for one thing, when I did abandon bulgar I turned my life around. I gained weight and at one point was even diagnosed as pre-diabetic. And yes, the symptoms of PMS and depression raised their ugly head (or is it heads?).
What is it that makes whole wheat a wonder food, you wonder? Whole wheat is  one of the world’s healthiest foods containing all the necessary nutrients for weight and mood control. But no, it should not make up your entire diet and it should not be considered a panacea. It should just be an important component.
-For the potential pre-diabetic whole grains are high in cereal fiber and have a low glycemic index. They are absorbed slowly through the intestine allowing the body to respond without spiking insulin levels. But that is just the beginning.
-Whole wheat is a great source of magnesium. Low magnesium is one of the villains in PMS, the villain in leg cramps. Magnesium should be your best friend. It interacts with more than 300 enzymes in the body including enzymes involved in the use of glucose and insulin secretion. (diabetes anyone?)  And yes, there is a correlation  between low magnesium levels and type 2 diabetes.
-What about energy? Whole wheat is a source of betaine (a metabolite of choline) which helps control internal inflammation. Think arthritis, stiff painful joints, etc. Lower inflammation levels mean higher energy levels and perhaps lower tumor ratios. Certainly worth a try.
-Thel fiber in whole wheat speeds intestinal transit time, reduces bile acid secretions, increases insulin sensitivity, and lowers triglycerides (fatty acids). I was going to say, See, no constipation, but it is so much more than that!
-And what about cancer? Wheat bran accelerates the metabolism of estrogen. This means decreased blood estrogen levels, better regulated hormones, and lower risk of breast cancer. Wheat bran (but not corn or oat bran) has also been linked to a lower risk of colon cancers by reducing the concentration of bile acids and bacterial enzymes that promote colon cancer.
-The wheat germ that’s removed from refined flour is also a great source of phytochemicals–the antioxidants we hear so much about in chocolate for example. And wheat germ is rich in vitamin E which is important for immune system function, cancer prevention and blood glucose control. There it is again!
Whole wheat is low in fat, has no cholesterol and very little sodium. One cup of whole wheat flour has about 130 mg of potassium and 13 grams of protein. It contains calcium, magnesium and iron, and is a good source of vitamin B6.
There’s more. Much more, but for now, why not give it a try. Eat good, feel good, and best of all, bulgar tastes good!

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Six months

Six months. Where did they go? It has been the longest and the shortest six months in my life. Six months since my husband died. Forty years together, you don’t adjust to losing that overnight. But it literally happened overnight.
So how to adjust? Can I adjust? He’s here everyday–I pass everything by him. In my mind. Oh, he would like the new bathroom. He would be very pleased with the refi on the house. 3.12%, what’s not to like! The new car? He would never have traded in the Yukon, but I can’t drive the Yukon. I had to get something else. He’s okay with that.
He’d tell me it’s time. Make plans, get out of the house. Travel if you want to. Visit the kids. I will one of these days. Clean out the closets, give the clothes to people who need them, he tells me. He wasn’t sentimental about stuff, not most stuff. Me, I have trouble throwing away his school papers from his days as a principal. I do it a little at a time. One of these days I want to fit a car in the garage again.
I make to-do lists. I think of things in the middle of the night and write them down. But when I look at the list I put off getting started on this or that.
I sleep on my side of the bed. I read until two in the morning. I finally fall asleep and I wake up when the sunlight hits the window.
Things are not the same.
Big things,
little things.

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Family History and Veteran’s Day

My late husband was a Vietnam Vet who always honored Veteran’s Day. So I thought I’d remember today with a post.
World War I ended officially on November 11, 1918 at 11:00 AM. Armistice Day was established on November 11 to honor those who died in the War to End All Wars. When I was little my parent’s still referred to Armistice Day. Unfortunately more wars followed and the day was renamed Veteran’s Day in the US. Fortunately Veteran’s Day is still celebrated on November 11th rather than the closest Monday. Some things are more important than three day weekends.

My sister-in-law from Canada sent me a packet of red poppies to wear and share today. (I noticed Will and Kate are wearing the identical poppies this week per on-line photos). Wearing poppies on Remembrance Day is still a tradition in Great Britain and Canada; it is an old tradition, dating back to well before the First World War.

My great-great grandmother, Sarah Bardell Hunt was born in 1804 in Derbyshire, England. She emigrated to America in 1864 as a sixty year old widow, traveled up through Canada and down to Missouri where she crossed the plains by covered wagon. She spent the last third of her life in south central Utah.
From Sarah Bardell Hunt’s biography written by her children and grandchildren I found the following”

“. . .in England Grandmother Hunt had seen peonies and had loved them as her favorite flower. (In England the peony is regarded highly as a medicinal herb.) There were none of them in this country in those days, but we all knew she loved ‘pinies’ as she called them, and she always wore a small red peony at both sides of her bonnet. Sarah Bardell Hunt made many hooked rugs in her later years. She used rags cut about one inch wide, and these were pulled into loops through a burlap sack with the use of a large wooden hook. Whenever she made a hooked rug she always fashioned a big red flower which she called in her quaint English a ‘piny’. So even though she died long ago, some of her descendants have always made sure that each Decoration Day there is al least one red peony placed on her grave.” She died August 1, 1894 at ninety one years old. Most of her descendants no longer remember her love of peonies or place the red flowers on her grave. But it was a beautiful tradition.

Today I am wearing a red poppy in remembrance of our veteran’s and my husband and all those who have gone before us. Perhaps this lovely, visual tradition can be reborn here in the United States!

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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.
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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