Of Extended Family and Endings

10151194_10153250732136766_5871828394969407407_nIt could be that I am wrong putting these two things together, but my experience has taught me differently lately. My immediate family, husband and children, is the center of my life. My sisters and their families come a close second. I imagine it is the same for most of us, never mind our background. We also have extended families. They are important, they fulfill a role that is necessary in society, especially where I come from. That is what I always thought and how I always believed. Could it be that I was wrong? Let me tell you why.

When my sisters and I came to college in the States, our parents stayed behind. Of course, you would say. I am also sure you know that in those days traveling back and forth, calling home and keeping in touch, was very different from what it is today. Traveling, actually, was the easiest part. Now, calling home was another story. You needed hundreds of quarters, dimes etc, you needed to know the right operator for International Calls and you needed patience. Let’s not even mention keeping in touch. Letters would take more than a few days: write, then mail and deliver. Yes, I am that old!!!

Boston is not around the corner from Panama, but we managed. During those years, we visited our parents, our parents came to visit us and we spent many hours trying to conduct long distance conversations from a pay phone in our college dorms. It also happened that we all fell in love with boys we met there and going back home after college was not to be.

Of course, then, we didn’t stop to consider that our lives would be changed forever and going back and forth to Panama was not going to happened as we thought. That’s youth for you: we were happy, everything else took second place. We see that now, but our parents saw it then. Still, they never tried to change our minds or made us feel guilty about it. Their lives changed as well and in many ways not always for the better since their children were living far away and the grandchildren were not there for them to spoil and cuddle and love!!! .

We were busy with our lives, our families, but we visited them regularly……or they came to us. Life continued. Our children adored their grandparents, but had lives so different and so far removed from them. My parents grew older and my father passed away in 1984. He was younger than I am today!!! It was a wake up call and very difficult to accept.  In the years that followed, my mother grew more and more attached to her family in Panama.

They took our places in her everyday life, but we never minded. We kept in touch, visited, took her on our vacation trips, she visited us. Those were happy times in many ways, but hard times too. Saying good-bye was harder and harder. We could see she was getting older and all those family times would become difficult to arrange. Our children went away to college, another step in the never-ending march of Time.

My mother’s life made her happy. Every time we visited she had a new project or she was moving to the beach house for the Summer. She kept active and was with people she loved. Her peace of mind and her happiness had no price. She was happy and that was enough for us.

Yes, she was happy helping everyone. Her family, even today, say how wonderful she was and how she took care of everything, no matter what. Then she had a massive stroke. No point talking about that since I have before. As she got progressively worse, we discovered that extended families are not always what we thought they were. Ideally, everyone should be able to talk and express their opinions without arguments. Resentments never solved anything.

Slowly, our extended family shrunk and this is what I mean by endings. What was is no longer and that tells me it was not real. With this ending came another realization: we do have some wonderful people in our family. Finally, we are left with the ones we love, the ones that were there for us. We have the time and the openness to get to know them again, to enjoy their company. As someone who loved her family, my mother would have understood.

My mother’s illness made us stronger. Her passing made us free of whatever attachments we thought we had. The peace of mind and serenity we now enjoy is priceless. Endings are a beginning and for that, we are grateful.

Medical Tourism and Other Adventures

I have been in Panama visiting my mother. It’s a pattern I repeat several times a year. This time, I have been taking care of myself as well. Last few days, visits to the dentist have kept me occupied. As many other countries in the world, Panama has jumped into the medical tourism bandwagon. This is big business, so why not.

In Panama, most medical professionals at least have a post-graduate degree from an American university, or were educated in the States.  English is widely spoken and the facilities are first-class. Costs are about one third of those one would pay in the States. It was a matter of time, until I decided to try one of these services.

So far, I am very pleased. The clinic is state-of-the-art, equipped with the latest technology, the service is impeccable, the doctors are knowledgeable and competent. Everything is discussed with the patient and then the doctor will consult with other professionals before deciding on the best treatment.

This is something I would not have even considered a few years back. Living in Miami, I always thought I could get the best treatment there. Besides it is easier to just go home after a dentist appointment or a medical procedure, isn’t it? Well, even staying at a fine hotel and renting a car, here you can get more for less without sacrificing quality. Another advantage for me is the fact that I travel here so often. It was an easy decision.

After reading about this new global phenomenon, watching documentaries and movies such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, this idea sounded like an adventure. Of course, this is not exotic India or casual Cayman Islands, and is not as popular yet. Still I have found it has the potential of becoming a very popular destination for medical tourism.

Feeling better about my decision and pleased with the results, I am going back to my mother’s house for an extra week. Panama City is buzzing with the coming of the VII Summit of the Americas. Presidents from every country in the Americas, their entourages, press representatives and regular citizens with the intention of having their concerns heard have descended on this city. It is not the time to be here.

Traffic, always chaotic and slow, will be impossible. The government, in its infinite wisdom, has given four days off to everyone. People that can afford it are leaving in troves. The main bridge that spans the canal was closed at noon on Friday, making it almost impossible to travel to the rest of the country.

I have welcomed the peace and quiet of the small city where my mother lives. Here I can be absolutely sure of staying out of the way of an event that would yield little. It has never before come up with anything important to make a difference in the lives of the people of this continent. Sad but true,  this has only cost money, deepen differences and promote antagonism and hate. Very sad, reasons why I stay away from politics.

Now, my experiences with this medical tourism that is developing here would stay with me. I am sure to try something else if need be. Life has a way to bring you around…….I never expected to come back here to do anything but visit family and enjoy my friends. Glad I was wrong!!!