Thirdeyemom

Life and Death in a Costa Rican Nursing Home

We spent our last day at Hogar Jesus de los Manos preparing for a big celebration. It was one of the resident’s ninetieth birthdays and as with all birthdays at the nursing home, it was celebrated with a grand ole party for all. A large sheet cake was ordered, balloons and decorations were put up, and music was played. Every able resident (save the ones who were bedridden or on their final days) was to attend and excitement was in the air the morning we arrived for our last day of volunteer work.

As we were preparing for the party we heard the sirens approaching. My heart sank. I knew only too well what that could mean. One of the gravely ill residents, Franco, had passed away. I knew it could happen. We were at a nursing home. Yet for some reason it caught me off guard. We were having so much fun with the residents that death seemed miles away even though many of the residents didn’t have much time left on this earth.

The day before Eduardo had us visit Franco, hold his hand and say our farewells. He was dying of cancer and the nurses ensured us that he wasn’t in pain. Yet there was something lost and far away in his eyes that made me deeply sad. His skin was pale and he was extremely frail. I searched his eyes for something but they were staring blankly into space. I grasped his limp hand, held it tightly and said goodbye. I have not idea if he felt anything yet I hope it at least gave him a little peace before he left. A priest was called to give Franco his last rites and floral arrangements were ordered for the chapel. There would be a funeral the next day, in the afternoon, after the birthday party and after we left.

The death put a more serious tone to the day yet the party was still to go on. While we were decorating the main foyer workers were simultaneously decorating the chapel for the afternoon funeral. The irony between life and death was uncomfortably present yet quietly accepted.

Throughout the day I reflected on how amazing it was that we were able to so quickly make wonderful bounds with the residents. I had initially thought a nursing home placement would be very depressing but I was completely surprised. The residents were very peaceful and were cared for by a very loving, caring staff. Each resident was treated with utter respect and dignity and love.

On the last day, we were able to take some photos of our new friends and I took the opportunity to get some of my favorite residents.
Here I am with Javier, one of my favorites.  He would go on and on about how he had traveled the world and was half American, speaking fiercely in Spanish and English.  His stories were always the same and he obviously forgot half the time that he just told you the same thing two mintues ago.  He was full of fire and life and truly made me laugh.  He grew a fondness of me and preferred to have me wheel him into the dining hall or entertain him.  He always wore his cap and would fold up his artwork (colored pages from a children’s coloring book) and hide them under his hat.  He also loved to keep a small ball under his cap as well.  He was one of the funniest residents I’d met:

Here is a picture of Javier alone.  His expression truly portrays his sarcastic, full-of-life attitude:


Here is a picture of our only male volunteer, Cassiano with one of the ladies, Carmen. I did a red manicure on her nails and she loved it.  She was very sweet and extremely quiet.   She also enjoyed coloring and doing crafts.

Elena with Lillian, one of the sweetest, cutiest grannies there. She married one of the residents and they always walk hand and hand, and smile. Love can happen anytime!
Me with the “primero el mundo” , the best boxer in his days in costa rica. He always loved to do his punches and he smiled a ton:

Me with Miguel, or Mike, as he liked to be called. He loves to dance thus when we put on the Latin music he would hold our hands and we would rock to the beat. He also spoke a little English.

The birthday celebration began mid-morning and it was quite an effort getting all 32 residents moved into the hall. It was nice that we were there to help the small staff as over half the residents are in wheelchairs while the ones that could walk needed assistance. The cake was cut and served and gobbled up much faster than lunch. Then the music began. Thanks to our earlier Latin Dance classes, we were able to strike up a beat with the residents. Costa Ricans LOVE to dance, regardless of age, ability or disability. We danced with the able-bodied men and women and even danced with people in wheelchairs. If the men were not able to dance, they loved to watch us dance as they still embraced the machismo culture despite their age. Men are men, young or old.
The residents smiles of joy were contagious and we had a ball. Here are some photos:
The residents loved to dance or watch us dance (if they were in a wheelchair). Me dancing with “La Cubana”, the cuban woman who loves to dance and still has her groove.
Here is a picture of some of the residents who sat around in a big circle, listening to the music and watching the dancing.  Note La Princessa, in pink. She is in her 90s and always wears make-up and was once very beautiful in her days.
We also sang La Bamba in Spanish to them and they loved it. Overall, the party was a big success and brought a little bit of sunshine to Hogar Jesus de los Manos.  Leaving was the hardest part.  We had grown attached in such a short time and felt like we truly made a difference.   After we said our goodbyes, I could hear Javier’s voice in the distance calling my name to come back.  Slowly his voice faded away until you could not longer here a sound except the rapid beating of my heart.

4 comments

  1. Michelle

    Love the pictures, it’s awesome to see new pictures of all the redsidents I got to meet while I was there! Miguel (“Mike”) would always refer to me as “mi novia” (his girlfriend). Sounds like Lilliam and Antonio are still in love and doing well; I still think about them! Would you mind if I saved some of your pictures (for personal use only)?

  2. Pingback: International Volunteer Day: December 5 | Thirdeyemom

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: