After the excitement of my vacation to the United States, I returned to my site in Guatemala in time for our spectacular annual fair in mid-August and a couple of other choice celebrations that followed soon after. As someone who has spent years documenting the Chicano community through video and photography, I was thrilled to now photograph the beautiful cultural expressions of the Mayan community where I lived in Guatemala.
I was nearly finished coordinating a series of trainings for educators and was anticipating my Peace Corps Close of Service (COS) conference in September. While my younger Peace Corps Volunteer cohorts spoke of either extending their service in Guatemala or returning to the states to work or continue graduate or medical school, I looked forward to returning to my healing practice in New York and to being with my grandchildren.
As I mentioned previously in a post, I felt an uneasiness that I could not shake. I mentioned to my site mate that I felt a strong call to pack up so that I could quickly leave. I felt that something was coming soon to shake up my world so I paid attention to my intuition and packed up my belongings in case I needed to evacuate quickly. I also sorted out what would be left for the next Peace Corps Volunteer.
Two days after these uneasy feelings, on August 22nd, I woke up, turned on my phone to check if the Peace Corps’ Safety and Security office had sent out any texts about road blockades. Instead, I found a message from my brother who had written to tell me that my mother was in the hospital and not expected to live much longer. I felt the shock hit my entire being. She had not been ill, so even though she was elderly, I fully expected to go home to see her after my service ended.
Despite the early hour of the morning, I text the Peace Corps Training Manager, Carolyn. She responded immediately and told me to pack my bags and head for the Peace Corps office which was about 5 hours away. She told me to call the off-duty officer with my news, which would set into motion everyone and everything to get me to my mother in California as soon as possible. I packed my essentials and ran to the bank to get cash for the day. By 7:30am I was at the bus stop. As I stood waiting anxiously as a few more people gathered to wait for the same bus.
After waiting for a half hour, I began to hear music. I looked down the long road towards the hospital and in the distance I could see a procession walking towards me. I got nervous, wondering if it would delay or detour the bus. If so, the following bus wouldn’t leave for a couple of hours which would mean that I might miss getting to the office before the close of day.
Looking towards the procession I saw a woman who swayed a tin can filled with burning incense as she walked. The procession got closer and closer until they spread out along the street where I stood and then stopped! Four men carried a large statue of the Virgin Mary encased in a tall wooden structure decorated with peacock feathers, textiles, and shiny materials. They set the Virgin Mary down to kneel and say their prayers. Afterwards, everyone began to relax and they were served snacks and drinks. They were obviously going to stay a while.
It was unbelievable to me to be faced with this obstruction at such an urgent time. But after two years of living in Guatemala and seeing unexpected processions frequently stop traffic, it was also completely believable. I surrendered. Considering that I had no control in the situation except to manage my nerves, I chose to take photographs to calm myself down. I sent texts to my mom hoping that someone would read them to her in the hospital. I waited for updates. Every few minutes I would think, why this? why now? And then I would remember to let go and allow life to flow. I repeated the mantra, ‘Yes’ and ‘Thank you’ over and over again as I wandered around, taking photographs.
Finally a couple of hours later, the procession disappeared. The bus arrived and I was able to leave town. I arrived at the Peace Corps office just before they closed! The staff was exceedingly compassionate and they had all the paperwork for me to sign, my plane ticket, and travel funds for me to fly out the first thing in the morning. I was finally able to breathe again as I checked into the local hotel. I showered and released the dust and nervous energy accumulated from the day. I received the good news that my mother was doing better. She was awake and seeing visitors.
When I arrived at my mother’s hospital room in San Diego, she seemed a little overwhelmed to see all of us who had traveled to see her. She would go in and out of recognizing me. But she was in good spirits. Our mother was a very kind, gentle, loving woman. We did what we could to stay calm and to support her during her transition over the following days. She was 95 years old and unafraid of death. She looked forward to seeing her parents and siblings in the spirit world. Although I knew that she could not live forever, her death was still a shock.
Below: my mother with my daughter and two grandchildren in 2015.
Once I returned to Guatemala, I felt my body unwinding and releasing those parts of my mother that I had thought were mine. I also felt her close to me in a new way–in spirit. My mother made friends and family and especially her children, feel loved and special. When my dad died, she single-handedly raised my four younger siblings who were still at home. The three things she loved most in life were God, her family, and Mexican music (I like to imagine her attending Juan Gabriel concerts on the other side of the veil)! This song was one of her favorites.
I was able to stay in California for three weeks before returning to Guatemala. I was near the end of my time in the Peace Corps so I focused on my work and saying my goodbyes.