(First of two parts)
While leaning back against the pillow, Timoteo* slowly lifted his wounded knees onto his bed.
“Hapit matag adlaw naman lang ko ani nga mosukarap (I stumble almost everyday),” he said in a deep voice.
Timoteo’s vision has dimmed, and he could barely stand on his own.
At 73 years old, he would have wanted to spend the remaining days of his life with his family, hoping to be surrounded with warmth and affection in his twilight years.
But his dream seems bleak.
Last year, Timoteo’s wife died due to diabetes-related complications, and his only daughter, now 35, hasn’t been of much help.
He was treated rudely, humiliated in public, and abandoned by his daughter who left home in 2014.
Without his loved ones, agony and self-pity became his closest companions.
Not even his cane helped him walk steadily.
Timoteo often tumbled to the ground, sustaining wounds and scrapes on his knees while struggling to perform the daily routine by himself.
None of his relatives came to help him.
Perhaps, the wounds on his legs aren’t as painful as the feeling of being unwanted.
“Mora ko’g iro nga walay tag-iya. Liman ka’g biyaan sa imong kaugalingong anak. Sakit kaayo na. Duna man unta koy daghang paryenti apan walay andam mo-atiman nako (I am like a dog without an owner. Imagine being abandoned by your own daughter. That’s very painful. I have a lot of relatives but no one is willing to take care of me),” Timoteo told Cebu Daily News.
The former auto repair worker from Talisay City is in a quandary on why his daughter abandoned him.
“Niadtong gamay pa siya, dili man gani na nako patugdunan ug langaw unya karon patiran lang ko. Ambot nganong naingon niana siya (When she was a child, I made sure not one fly could touch her. I don’t know why she has become this way now),” he said.
After spending almost half of his life raising his daughter, Timoteo has ended up alone.
At home, he treated his injuries by himself using pounded malunggay leaves and a common antibacterial solution used to protect wounds from infections.
After three months of pain and desolation, Timoteo gave up on trying to survive by himself.
One day, he went to a nearby convent to take refuge. The nuns took care of him for some time, but he was later entrusted to an old age home run by the Missionaries of the Poor (MOP).
TALES OF NEGLECT
The foster home in Talisay City narrates a tale of neglect by families and the drought of affection experienced by dejected elders.
Abandoned by their families, many senior citizens face the possibility of a lonely death at hospices.
From one old person to another, the stories are similar. There’s no one left to take care of them or they were driven out of the house by their own children or relatives who do not want to nurture them.
Some families find it a burden to care for the elderly, says Fr. Rowell Gumalay, head of MOP’s House of the Lord.
“They become impatient. And there seems to be a culture that if you no longer get anything from people, you just don’t care about them. They thought of these elderly as garbage,” the priest laments.
Worst, Gumalay says, some family members visit the hospice only after their elderly parents die to claim the death certificate — a prerequisite for acquiring pension benefits and properties bequeathed to them.
“That is just a sad reality. They were treated like animals. And yet these elderly patients are human beings — created in the very image and likeness of God,” he tells CDN.
Fr. Gumalay says that the number of abandoned elderly is increasing year after year.
When MOP opened the House of the Lord in 2014, it had 27 patients. Now, it takes care of 43 persons aged 48 to 93, 15 of whom are confined in bed due to illnesses.
The hospice has eight social workers, a nurse, a resident doctor, and three therapists who work hand in hand to address the needs of the elderly and to make them feel loved.
The congregation has been providing care, food, water, medicine, and accommodation free of charge.
“People should know that these (elderly) persons are gifts. That’s why we provide them with the dignity they deserve as children of God. We want to lift them out of their own poverty that they may be recognized and loved as people. They are not garbage. They are God’s people,” says Gumalay whose congregation was established in Jamaica to serve the poorest of the poor.
An elderly who gets seriously ill is brought to the hospital for treatment; and in case of death, the congregation pays for all the funeral and burial costs.
Those who die under the care of MOP are buried at the Calamba Public Cemetery in Cebu City. Gumalay says the congregation is planning to have a cemetery of its own for its deceased elderly.
“We want to bring about the goodness of Christ, and make people see Christ in these elderly because every person reflects the image our Lord,” he says.
LABOR OF LOVE
Gumalay, a native of Bicol, is not worried about where to get enough funds to support the needs of the elderly.
“Our mission is more of a blessing than a burden. It’s more of a consolation than worries. It’s more of relaxing than panicking. The Lord is providential. There’s much more to give than to ask,” says the priest.
While their elderly patients need tangible items like clothing and grocery items, Gumalay believes that the best gifts visitors can give to the elderly are time and attention.
“Their greatest happiness is to belong. They are very happy if people visit them. Material things never satisfy. What they need is relationship. For these people, spending time with them is priceless,” he says.
Angelito Arañez, a lay member and caregiver of the MOP, wakes up early every morning to feed, bathe, and change the diapers of the elderly male residents at the hospice.
The task at hand is tough and messy.
“It’s not easy to clean the poop of elderly people. To be honest, I found it disgusting at first,” he says.
But his close encounter with the elderly changed his perspective.
“I was moved by their condition. When I look at their eyes, it’s as if they want to convey something and yet they couldn’t speak. They are like telling me ‘Please help me. I want to go to the comfort room. I want to take a bath,’ ” Arañez says.
The 29-year-old caregiver knows what they mean at every painful glance.
“If I were in their place, I too would want to feel clean, fresh, and comfortable. If I don’t carry out the task, who else will?,” he asks.
Taking care of people in old age requires extra patience and commitment, says Arañez who has been in the mission for two years.
He believes that God must have given him the grace to withstand the stench of human waste as well as the strength and motivation to serve the elderly.
“In my own capacity alone, I know I couldn’t do it. I’m a vain person so to speak. But I think this is what the Lord wants me to do. In the elderly I take care of, I feel God’s presence—a God who suffers with them,” says Arañez.
Fr. Gumalay encourages people to honor the elderly and to be considerate of them even if their minds fail.
“It’s always good to put ourselves in their shoes. What will happen to us in the next 40 to 50 years? What if I myself will be abandoned when I get old? Where do I go? Who will take care of me?,” he says.
“Like any other person, these abandoned elderly are God’s masterpiece. No matter what their conditions are, they are important. And we are called to be missionaries of mercy to them,” he adds. (Conclusion: Extending a helping hand)
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