We are not good at saying good-bye to our Finding Freedom mothers in Guatemala, perhaps because we don’t say “hello” easily. Our selection process for inclusion into Finding Freedom through Friendship limits the numbers of widows we can take to only twenty-five; bringing a destitute mother and her children into self-sufficiency is expensive. When a Mayan widow is welcomed into our program, it is with keen assessment and after careful consideration of our budget constraints. FFF volunteers know that walking alongside these families will be expensive, time-consuming and will involve opening our hearts to unexpected emotional adventures.
Catarina was assigned the number six slot on our initial list of founding widows when she joined FFF in 2010. The referral on this petite fragile mama came from a village leader who knew that Catarina would soon lose her struggle with chronically poor health and malnutrition without intervention. We worked on doing what we do best…educated her children, fed the family, purchased land and later built them a house, and paid for medication that Catarina couldn’t afford. All of that took several years of fundraising, oversight from our dedicated facilitators and a growing realization that this particular family was going to be “ours” for quite some time.
As her daughters grew into strong and capable young ladies, their mother slid in the opposite direction, requiring more intensive medical care and frequent hospitalizations each year. There is a significant learning curve when working in a developing country and assisting Catarina with her health taught us more than we wished to learn. We now know how to find an ambulance in rural Guatemala that is equipped with oxygen (most are not). FFF facilitators learned how to import home based oxygen equipment into Central America, where to get the best prices on antibiotics and what Guatemalan doctor could be visited in the middle of the night. In our hardest moments we wondered if spending so much of our funding on one family was the fiscally responsible thing to do. It wasn’t. But we did it anyway. There should be no price on keeping a good mother alive.
Our list of items this particular family needed over the last six years was added to in saddest of ways on December 28th at 3 AM when we received a request to help pay for Catarina’s funeral.
It has taken two weeks for me to write this post; placing these words into print makes them achingly and positively final. We take no comfort in knowing that Catarina passed away in a home we gifted to her, on a real bed with a mattress that replaced her former one of wooden planks. There was no time to relay our promise to Catarina that FFF would continue to care for the needs of her girls as best we are able. We would like to think she knew.
Catarina had a heart full of hope for a bright future for her three girls. She had talented hands that produced brilliant weavings inspired by the natural surroundings of her remote village. This mother was smart in ways that educated women could never hope to be. But her lungs were the weak link that no amount of Finding Freedom donations could replace.
There is a misty village in the highlands of Guatemala that is missing a determined, courageous and loving woman whose memory will forever remind us that every day we draw an easy breath is a good day.
When we visit Juana, Manuela and Maria in the future, I have no doubt that we will see the best of Catarina reflected in her girls. Juana is already a talented weaver at the early age of twelve. Maria, an excellent student, reflects her mother’s intelligence. Manuela has her mother’s quiet demeanor and observant nature. We gave this fragile family many gifts over the years, each item purchased after long days of fundraising by our board members. Our most valuable donation was six years of extra time, parenting, and nurturing from a mother who had an abundance of it to offer.