Unless you are a big fan of the author John le Carre, or you happen to find yourself in Panama, you can probably skip the book we recently read for our book club, The Tailor of Panama.  And even though all of us were physically in Panama (and most of us were mentally there as well), and the book club meeting place was literally at the mouth of the Panama Canal, only four of us showed up for book club.

I didn’t take any offense by the poor showing, because alas, someone else had selected the book.  And that someone else, ahem, did not show up at book club either.  In any case, besides the book being rather difficult to like, it was a busy time- we were preparing to leave on an overnight passage in two days (or so we thought), and the book club ladies, who are the admirals and captains of their own ships, were busy dealing with all sorts of boat issues.

In addition, and most importantly, the person who was supposed to lead the discussion of the book was also not able to attend, as she was helping out a woman in our rally whose husband—get ready for this– had suffered a fatal heart on board while anchored in the remote San Blas islands.

A fatal heart attack? Yes, you read correctly. Inconceivable? Not any more.

Hang on- more about that to come, but obviously, helping out this recently widowed woman was about a million more times important than leading book club.

None of us were in the best of moods.

“I just hated that book,” one of my friends said.

“I couldn’t finish the book, it was so bad I just had to put it away,” said another.

“I have to admit, I never even started the book,” said the third.

“I finished the book but didn’t like it. Then I watched the movie,” I said, “and the movie was even worse than the book.”

And that, in a nutshell, was the extent of our book club book discussion. 

But book clubs, as anyone in a book club knows, are not just to discuss books.  Book clubs are also (and sometimes exclusively) to discuss whatever is foremost on the minds of the participants.  And what was on our minds, and in the deepest recesses of our hearts, was that one of our husbands- one of our own– had suffered a fatal heart attack in a very remote area of Panama on what was supposed to be the golden years of his life. This was all of our worst nightmares. 

And so, we discussed the tragic death of a 59 year old who had retired in September, and was living his dream when the unspeakable happened.  And yet it was this of which we spoke.

We discussed how amazingly strong and brave our friend is, having gone through this tragedy in a foreign country, without her family.

We discussed the grieving process, and how all of us have grieved in our own ways when other loved ones have passed.

We discussed how we will no longer blindly take a back seat and let our husband-Captains run our boats- how important it is to know not only the basics of navigation, but the basics of the boat systems- communication, electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems.

We discussed whether it makes sense to have a defibrillator on board, and whether it would do any good in the case of a massive heart attack (probably not, as you would need to get access to a hospital within a short period of time) but in the case of an electrical block, perhaps it would be life saving (we have one aboard.)

We discussed how our sailing community came together to help (and continues to help) in every possible way, by offering her a family away from home, with legal help, with rides, with services done at no charge, with boating advice, and with friendship on her loneliest of days.

We discussed our own fears and shortcomings.

And yes, we discussed whether all of us should have a body bag on board, to be prepared in case the worst should happen. What would happen if someone (captain or crew) died while on a multi-day passage?  Would you want to be aboard for multiple days with a dead body in this heat?  The thought of us made us all cringe.

“Where do you even get a body bag?” I asked. 

Which lead to a Google search, which lead to Amazon.com, where you can, indeed, get a SmartChoice cadaver bag and stretcher combo, size 36” x 90” (fits most) for around twenty bucks. Prime one-day delivery available, of course.

We all cracked up about that one, because sometimes you just got to laugh.  I imagined ordering a body bag, having it delivered to my son and daughter in law’s condo so that my daughter can take it to us when she visits us in Roatan.  Their neighbors already think they are weird because of the stuff we order and have delivered to them, and of course my daughter would just love bringing this item to us, no questions asked.

And finally, we discussed that while we are alive, we are going to continue really living.  Should this tragedy strike again, we would know that all of our husbands would die doing exactly what they loved to do, and there is some peace in that.

So living while you are still alive is the theme of our next book club meeting.  I chose the book, not really opening up the discussion for other suggestions.  We are going to read The Unwinding of the Miracle, by Julie Yip Williams, which I purchased after I read this New York Times book review.  You might want to pick this one up too. In any case, I suspect a few more women will show up for the discussion. 

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