I woke up as usual to the song of the birds and wonderful, fragrant smells flowing down the long corridor from the kitchen. It was six o’clock on the nose and time to start day 3 at the nursing home. I was looking forward to it as I truly felt like we’d made a lot of progress in the last two days. Doors were open to friendships and smiles were freely exchanged. I realized that it was a humbling experience working with the elderly. In our country, there really is no respect for them. Nothing like there should be at least, in my humble opinion. In Costa Rica, the grandparents were sacred and highly respected. That is why the reason behind Jesus de los Manos was so tragic; the most scared part of Tico life is family and here these grandmothers and grandfathers were discarded and forgotten, like a child’s old toy. Yet the resilience and desire to live (pura vida mentality) kept these abandoned abuelas and abuelos alive and well, even happy. It was a beautiful thing.
When we arrived, there they were, as expected, lined up outside on the terraces to greet us. It was another perfect day with highs in the low seventies and a crisp, fresh breeze descending off the mountain into the Central Valley. Today we were going to work on more beautification of the grounds and of course entertain the residents. We started by gathering the old, rusty paint cans out of the shed. On our short walk to the shed, Eduardo pointed out the gorgeous mural that was painted the week before by a group of High School students volunteering for the week with CCS. It was extremely impressive and the residents loved it. Here is a picture of the completed in a week, piece of art:
We grabbed the scarlet red paint cans, a couple brushes and some plastic tarp to lay down on the pavement and began painting. We were painting the old, worn out garbage cans (YES garbage cans) from a dirty green to a brilliant red as Eduardo had asked. Why? For two reasons: First, so they would stand out and the residents could easily locate the garbage cans. Second, and most important, to make them look prettier. Eduardo was big into spicing up the nursing home and landscape in order to make it a nicer place to live. These people enjoyed the Pura Vida so anything to make their final years better was done.
After the cans were painted, we headed on inside to the large, rectangular recreation room where long tables and chairs were set up and our friends were awaiting. We were going to do coloring, card games and more handicrafts for the rest of the morning. It was ironic doing some of the same games and activities with the elderly as I do at home with my children. It reminded me of the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in a sense. The circle of life and how we all end up reverting to our infant years when we age and are no longer able to dress ourselves, feed ourselves or even color unassisted. I was expecting this realization to be sad but for some reason it was not. It was hopeful in a way to see how peaceful and happy you could be in your final years. Not the depressing, worrisome slow death that most people fear.
Each volunteer was quickly developing their unique friendships and attachments with certain residents. It was funny how that happened. There were preferences given to what volunteer would entertain them or which one would wheel them into the dining room. Each resident was so incredibly unique and had their quirks and their stories.
I had grown attached to a couple. Javier, the crazy, spit and fire Costa Rican man who claimed he had traveled the world and was half American, became one of my favorites. I also enjoyed spending time talking with a man named Juan Pablo whose English was excellent. Then their was the “best boxer in the world”, or “primero el mundo” as he would like to say. There was also Lilly who was a real sweetheart and actually recently married another resident the past month. The couple always sat side by side and they were the only residents to have a communal bed. Finally there was la Princessa who was simply lovely and Carmen who loved having her nails done. There were not just nameless souls. They were amazing, loving people with an entire history and life to share with those who listened and those for cared.
Here are a few pictures:
This picture shows the work involved in getting all the residents to the dining room and fed for meals. Since over half of them are in wheelchairs, it required at least ten to fifteen minutes getting everyone out of their rooms and moved into the dining room. When the volunteers aren’t there to help, it takes up to a half an hour to bring them to the dining room and back after the meal. Each resident also has their preferred seating (kind of like an assigned place that they assigned themselves). We quickly learned where each person went and who they sat next to. There were also about seven residents who needed to be fed and could not eat on their own. Thus, we hand fed these people just like I had fed my children as infants. It was a touching experience. You could see the appreciation in their eyes. It was very humbling.