Adventures of the Heart
Mary Zalmanek
Costa Rica - Reflections

Friday, November 23, 2001

Hola Amigos y Familia, 

While we were in Costa Rica, I thought a lot about my niece, Rhonda (age 26), and her husband, Eric (also 26), and her son, Sebastian (age 6).  Eric has been battling cancer for nearly four years.  He fought hard, as he desperately wanted to live.  The last time I saw him was in May when I went to visit them in California.  When I arrived he was feeling better than he had in a while, and even talked about the possibility of moving to Colorado when he got well.  That night his lung collapsed. 

For the next several months, Eric was in and out of the hospital, slowly getting worse, but with enough good days to still give him hope.  I talked to him once in October and he was cheerful and optimistic.  In early November, however, Rhonda and Eric agreed that it would be best to put him in a hospice in Albuquerque, where both of their families lived.   

I called my family to check on Rhonda and Eric just before we left Villa Decary.  Rhonda was with Eric at the hospice round the clock.  He was in agony and hallucinating, not even recognizing his wife.

On November 15, the morning we left Monteverde, I dreamed that Eric had died.  I dreamt of his pain, his reluctance to let go, and his final breath; of Rhonda's intense grief, her unbearable loneliness, mixed in with a sense of relief; and of a celebration of Eric's life.  In my dream, we wrapped silver balloons in a red covering and let them go along with a story or a prayer.  I felt an urgency to call Rhonda. 

Eric had died in Rhonda's arms on November 14.

During Eric's illness, he talked to Sebastian about death.  He said that while he could no longer run in his body here on Earth, in heaven he would be able to run as much as he wanted.  When Rhonda told Sebastian that Eric had died, Sebastian replied, "That means my daddy is in heaven and he's running and running and running." 

While our time in Costa Rica was an adventure of a lifetime, we are very happy to be home.  Part of the fun is looking at Colorado through Costa Rican eyes.  The landscape seems even browner and grayer in contrast to the memory of lush, green rainforest.  The brilliant blue Colorado sky seems unnaturally clear compared to the moisture-filled skies in the rainforest.  News from multiple sources and the commercialism of Christmas intrudes upon that peaceful, easy feeling we carried home with us.  Overhearing a few words spoken in English is no longer reason enough to strike up a conversation with a stranger. 

The drive from the airport to our house seemed much longer than either Jim or I remembered.  Jim noticed how big the blocks are in downtown Colorado Springs.  Everything seems so far apart compared to how it was in Arenal.   

Picture the coffee and produce sections in an average US supermarket.  In Arenal the coffee section was larger than some coffee sections in the US, and the produce section could fit in half of the US coffee section.  Jim noticed how spread out things are in US stores to accommodate the shopping carts and masses of people.  Arenal stores could pack the same inventory in half the space. 

After preparing tropical fruit plates with pineapple, papaya, watermelon and banana for breakfast almost everyday for the last two months, Jim and I weren't ready to break the fruit habit just yet. The $5 pineapple Jim bought at King Soopers was almost as tasty as the $1 pineapples we bought in Costa Rica.  I arranged some pineapple on a plate with a sliced banana, thinking about how nice it would be that the ripe bananas could sit in the fruit bowl until they turned brown without attracting fruit flies.  The first day I found some parsley that had survived in my garden that I could use for a garnish.  Today there were several inches of snow on the deck so I served the fruit plate ungarnished -- such a contrast to being able to walk out the door and chose from a variety of colorful flowers that bloom year round. 

In this Thanksgiving week, we are thankful for so many things, great and small.  I am thankful for my health, for my husband, family and friends, for our beautiful Colorado home and for the great nation in which we live.

I am also thankful we drove all the way home from the airport without hitting a single pothole.  I am thankful I can get into my bed without first checking between the sheets for scorpions.  I am thankful that the granola I opened before we left home is still crisp and ant-free.   

I've enjoyed writing these notes to you.  Thanks for being such a kind and responsive audience.  Having an easy connection with family and friends shrunk the distance between us.  We appreciated hearing from you more than we can express.

Un abrazo y un beso (A hug and a kiss),
Mary

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