Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Friday, July 5, 2024

Bad News and Comfort Food

Another story based on the experiences of my son Forrest and me during our three months in Chile and Peru. As before when I posted daily for the A to Z Challenge, my intent is to make each one complete in itself. If you'd like to read from the beginning of our adventure, Letter A is where it begins.

Forrest and I had made ourselves cozily at home at Estancia 107. We were sorry to leave it. Our spacious room held a couch, three big closets, two queen-sized beds, a makeshift kitchen counter, and the satisfactory routine that comes with staying three weeks in one place. 

The Hotel Royale wasn't as nice. Not as quiet a street, not as solid a building. Noise carried. Our cramped room was up a couple flights of narrow stairs. 

The window looked out on the scenic volcano Misti. Because it also opened to the balcony where other residents passed to and from their rooms, we kept the curtains shut on the lovely Misti. Still, the place was clean and affordable with a professional staff. Tolerable until we left Arequipa next week for Cusco and Machu Picchu. 

                                              The view of Misti outside our room

The hotel offered a free breakfast that we tried the first morning. It was below the ground floor near a small kitchen and so chilly I drank cup after cup of hot manzanilla tea. They provided toast, milk, and a small serving of scrambled eggs for each person. 

After breakfast, I showered and went out to drop off the laundry and pick up a few things at the store. When I returned to the room, Forrest sat cross-legged on his bed with a stricken look, staring at his cell phone. He looked up at me and said, “My friend’s dad just died.” 

“Which friend?” I emptied a sack of bananas and a few sodas from my backpack.

“James,” said Forrest. He shook his head at my offer of a banana.

“James who?” There was James Dickson, but certainly it couldn't be his dad. Casey Dickson was barely fifty. I had worked with him back in South Jordan when he was bishop of our ward and I was Relief Society president. 

“James Dickson is my only friend named James. His dad just died.” 

What? Casey Dickson died?” 

“Yeah. From a heart attack. Our friend Brandon just texted me. Bishop Dickson was in Idaho when it happened, and Brandon lives there now. I guess someone called him to the hospital to give a Priesthood blessing, but Bishop Dickson died right before he arrived." 

Casey Dickson was too young, this was too sudden. Bishop Dickson had been such a good friend to our family. I cried for his wife Cathy and their kids, several of them still young and in school. 

Forrest and I sat frozen on our beds barely able to comprehend it. We couldn't help but think of our own family a year ago. I was in Salt Lake City then, worrying over my husband, watching for every little sign of recovery or improvement.

“At least Dad didn’t die suddenly,” Forrest said. 

Bruce had suffered an aortic rupture, normally fatal, but he had made it into surgery. We waited through those long hours and rejoiced when he survived the operation. Not yet awake, but alive. It was impossible to sleep, not knowing if he would last the night. 

My daughter Allie, a nurse, said, “Mom, no matter how long or short of a time Dad has, we can be glad it was not a sudden death. Because sudden death is the worst.” 

Bruce fought to survive and improve, although never able to leave hospital care. He died four months later surrounded by his family. 

I couldn’t imagine how awful it must have been for Cathy back home in South Jordan, learning that her husband had succumbed to a fatal heart attack in another state. I felt terrible for her. It was sad and tragic. 

“Are you going to the funeral, Forrest?”  Mentally, I was at the hospital with Bruce, where of course I couldn't attend a funeral. My husband was on the verge of life and death. But perhaps Forrest could go and represent our family.

Forrest stared at me. “Mom, I am here with you in Peru.” 

How strange to have reality shift like that“Oh, right. For a minute there I forgot where we were.” 

That evening, Forrest and I wanted comfort food. We checked first for chorizo burgers, but our favorite street vendor wasn't there. 

We decided to get salchipapas instead, a favorite of kids and teens in Arequipa. The best place for salchipapas was a little place over by Estancia 104. They nearly always had a line out the door and down the street. Most people ordered to go, although they did have a few tables inside. The line wasn’t too long, thankfully, and we took our plates to sit at one of their tables. 

The cook was man in his fifties or sixties, helped by a plump woman of the same age, probably his wife. She bustled about passing out the orders and bringing her husband whatever he needed so he wouldn’t have to leave his grill. They seemed so happy, like they were living their dream.

The menu was salchipapas, fried chicken, and rice or noodles. Salchipapas are French fries topped with cut-up hot dogs, topped with watered-down catsup, mayonnaise and hot sauce. They don’t sound like much but they're delicious and comforting. 

So the night our friend died, we went for salchipapas and fried chicken.


  1. Such a sad thing to happen. How strange was the time shift, but understandable. Sudden death makes us feel so helpless.

  2. Very sad and tragic. I'm sure it felt very surreal, especially considering your location at the time.

  3. I can well understand your shift in reality. Sudden death is a beast. Hooray for comfort food.

    1. There is definitely a time and a place for comfort food

  4. All sudden deaths are tragic, but to die young suddenly gives the loss another dimension. When you are far from home, and you get such news, it becomes even more surreal. I hope the comfort food helped some.

  5. Sudden death is very shocking. You just never know when it might happen to someone.

  6. Comfort food certainly helps! Digesting need
    Digesting food
    Being together in your grief and astonishment

  7. Sudden untimely deaths are hardest on family and friends, but perhaps (?) not on the departed.
    Recently, a writing colleague died "suddenly, unexpectedly, from natural causes," per the published death announcement. She was in her forties and had small children. The actual cause not given, of course I wonder.
    Still so sorry about Bruce.

    1. Mirka, there's a trend now to not give reason for death in obituaries. I'm sorry about that trend because I think knowing what it is helps with closure.

  8. Hi Karen - how very difficult ... but so sad for Cathy and her family ... and as you say - you and the family had time with Bruce. Death is just not easy for family, friends and particularly loved ones. I hope Forrest has come to terms with things ... not easy. Makes one remember ... with thoughts - Hilary

  9. Hi Karen. Thanks for visiting my blog. I am wondering if you are based in Utah? We live in the SLC area right now, but we are buying a home in St. George and plan to move there when I retire in 1-2 years. Untimely death is always tough. So sorry to hear that your husband passed. Sounds like you have been through a lot. Your books sound interesting. I am so glad that you visited my blog and reached out. I will be back to visit again soon!

    1. Hi Deb, thank you for visiting and commenting. I am indeed based in Utah, Cedar City to be exact. Cedar and Moab are my favorite towns in Utah, and I have kids living in both of them.

  10. I'm sorry for your loss. Yeah, sudden death is the hardest for survivors - the shock and all, no time for a final conversation...Take good care.


Comments are welcome!