Letter from Honduras: Blessings needed, blessings received
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 9, 2013: At this point, I hesitate to say anything definitive about Guillermo. Cancer is a monster, no matter how you engage it. But chemo is a WMD, too.
Guillermo’s back home, now, in Las Vegas, emaciated, shriveled and weak as a pillow case after 35 days of radiation and about six rounds of chemo.
His next appointment is Sept. 16, with another one scheduled for Sept. 30 and yet another Oct. 15. Erlinda and Guillermo are so discouraged they don’t want any more. “Miguel, we’re done.” Maybe in the States you have more confidence in the ultra-modern “health center” for your monthly dose, but it’s a whole other experience to trundle six or seven hours in a bus Indiana Jones wouldn’t ride to a place that could serve as a set for “The Conjuring.” You get discouraged sometimes.
I have seen dear friends on Caring Bridge struggle with and master the cancer anaconda and write about it with almost celestial eloquence. But it gives me the chills. Facing death, how do you let a raft of strangers - -doctors, nurses, technicians, not to mention machines -- get involved with the most pressing intimacies of your life? I guess that’s absurd, huh? My own son is named Chemo! Of course, it’s short for Anselmo, but every time I say it or see it now, I want to scream.
No doubt, Guillermo will resume the fight.
Manuel keeps improving, after his grievous brush with death following epileptic seizures. He’s actually resumed visiting my house. I had the makings for -- can I say this without laughing? -- spaghetti Bolognese on hand. Oh, it’s just pasta doused with a little tomato paste/sauce and a good handful of “carne molida” (ground beef). And a two-liter soda. I had to take a picture quick before he devoured it. But he did not eat it all, so he took the rest back to Terrero Blanco and ate that as soon as he got home. When he didn’t come back down to Las Vegas for about a week, I went up again to visit, this time with spaghetti and chicken. He looked really good, and he sang and joked more than ever.
Back to Chemo: He’s on life-support, academically. His latest grades seemed hopeless, though I was not going to shame him or humiliate him, until Profe Flor told me he does not even go to class anymore! He sort of hides out in the far corner of the campus, virtually invisible under shady trees. Nevertheless, Profe Horacio, co-principal with Flor, made Chemo a proposal: “Chemo, if you pass the next two quarters, we’ll pass you for the year.” So he’s applying himself a little more! It’s his last chance.
Don Ramiro, who celebrated his 100th birthday a couple months ago died peacefully last week. This was one funeral, including another home Mass with Padre Manuel, that satisfied the soul, celebrating such a full life. The novenario was nine days of conversations, everyone eager to participate with stories and memories, rather than a lengthy mourning.
Right on cue came the 100th birthday of Paola, Ramiro’s neighbor. She is weak but still attentive and alert. To celebrate we got another Mass with Padre Manuel! He and Padre Jaime have been doing a good job of being everywhere! But Manuel will be stretched a little thin the next six months while Jaime is in Cuba for final formation as a Jesuit. Paola’s family is a church in itself; her children and grandchildren and even great-grandchildren are everywhere, too, as teachers, delegados, catechists, Youth Group, you name it, preaching the faith “in season and out of season,” as St. Paul prescribed.
Padre Jaime’s send-off was Aug. 24 at the annual all-parish gathering that concludes the “Month of the Family.” Las Vegas’ population tripled, at least for a few hours, as we celebrated with a Mass, performances, and of course lots of tasty food. Mindful of his departure, no doubt, Jaime preached from the heart and performed a couple songs himself. “IMPACTO,” the theater wing of the Youth Group, did a mime piece they had tracked down on YouTube, and Doricell led an all-girl band in a catchy song her father Elvis composed for the occasion.
A much smaller group but just as enthusiastic gathered for Elio’s 63rd birthday Aug. 28. I made a special trip to Tegucigalpa to attend. Years ago, before Elio had so many grandchildren, these parties were a little more formal. Now they are free-for-alls, and the kids take the lead. Of course, the festivities end a little earlier now too, bedtime on a school night, you know!
As I have noted before, one of my proudest accomplishments here was to break the habit folks had of derogatory nicknames, such as “Mudo” for Juan Carlos or “Mongolito” for Ery. Now I’m starting a new trend, let’s see how it goes.
Children customarily ask a “Bendicion” (‘blessing’) from their godparents, uncles and aunts, and parents, any adult relative, really. The response is “Bendiga” (short for ‘God bless you’). Well, my variation is to ask the KIDS for a blessing. I got the idea from Pope Francis, who surprised the adoring crowds in Vatican Square, eager for the blessing of the new pope, by asking first for THEIR blessing, and you may remember how deeply he bowed his head to receive it. In its full form, the blessing includes placing your hand (preferably both hands) on the child’s head. It’s catching on a little, at least among Chemo’s family, and Maricela’s, too.