Case VI: War and Remembrance
Chapter 1: A Twist of Fate
To the casual observer, no two women could be more unlike than Maria Varela Jaramillo Montoya and Paloma Angostura. La Doña Jaramillo was matriarch of one of the founding families of Albuquerque and it was her vision and her generous endowment that created La Vida Aureo. Señora Angostura was the daughter of Mexican immigrants and her mother had been the cook for the Jaramillo family and Paloma was now the cook at La Vida Aureo. It was most likely only a twist of fate that had caused their respective life’s journeys to be so different. Nevertheless, these two women had similar values and shared a common outlook on life which was soon to have a significant effect on the future of La Vida Aureo.
Father Michael was having lunch with Señora Jaramillo to report on the progress within the Diocese to raise awareness and money for the parishioners at Our Lady of the Valley. “Things are going well, La Doña, but we are struggling to keep up. People are living longer and their health declines over a much longer period of time. It was not too many years ago, perhaps just the previous generation, that people simply got old and died. Now, people live longer and they endure many years of declining physical and mental health. In many cases, there is not much that can be done to improve things, but it troubles me to see once vibrant and alive people suffer through so many years of pain.”
“Well, Father, you’ll recall that these are the very reasons that La Vida Aureo was started.”
“Yes, I remember our original conversation. It seems like so long ago that you came to me with your idea.”
“But, the problem grows and there are limits to what we can do. La Vida Aureo is successful and provides a valuable service, but only to a limited few.”
“Even if there were many more La Vida Aureos, the need is growing more quickly. And, with all my respect, La Doña, most of my parishioners could never afford a place like that.”
“I share your concern, Father, and am deeply touched by your compassion. Perhaps it would be wise for us to talk with Isabella and see if she can offer any suggestions. She is a resourceful woman and has a keen business sense. She may be able to help us see a path forward.”
“That is a wonderful idea. Would you like for me to call and invite her to lunch with us?”
“That is kind of you to offer, Father, but she and I had planned to meet early next week for a regular luncheon. Why don’t you join us?”
There was a smaller room adjacent to the main dining room where the La Vida Aureo staff could meet for training and similar activities. It was also a convenient gathering place for the staff to meet at the end of the day while waiting for their ride home. Most days, the conversation among the staff dealt with their recent experiences throughout the facility. Because Isabella Duncan had devoted so much time and effort to the selection and training of the staff, these discussions could not be considered “bitch sessions”. To the contrary, the staff frequently made constructive suggestions to improve the overall functioning of the facility and the well-being of the residents. Today, however, the main topic of discussion was Martina Trujillo and her recent activities to steal diapers and other products for her family. They all knew that what Martina had done was wrong, but readily acknowledged that it was totally consistent with Señora Isabella’s character to find some way to deal with the difficult situation in a constructive manner. But, there was also not a single person present that did not understand the nature of Martina’s dilemma; many were facing similar conditions in their own homes and with their own families.
Because this meeting room was near the kitchen, Paloma Angostura frequently dropped in on these after-work discussions, typically to bring a large tray of fresh sopapillas and honey. Paloma would typically sit quietly and simply observe and listen. She would later describe these gatherings to Matthew Dudley as her “sopapilla network”, her main source of information about what was really going on at La Vida Aureo.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said Carolina. “My parents are aging quickly and so are my husband’s. We are not poor and live a relatively simple life, but we cannot afford the kind of care that they’re going to need and very soon. When I asked my Mama how they handled things with her parents, she said that she stayed home and cared for them as they aged. But, her parents died when they were in their 50s and my Mama never worked outside the home. My parents are already in their late 60s and I think they will live a long time yet.”
“The real problem, said Frida,” is the mental one. “People just used to suffer from “old age” and die before things got too bad. Now, they live a long time and they seem to lose their minds while they are not so bad physically. And, once they can no longer think clearly, caring for them becomes so much more difficult. I have heard about this Alzheimer’s, but don’t understand how it is different from old age. When I was in High School, my abuela was alive and my Mama used to say that old people are just that way. My abuela would not remember me, or she would call me by my mother’s name. But, as I got older, I started hearing about Alzheimer’s and decided that it was very different from old age.”
“I think it is some kind of brain disease, suggested Sofia. I work some shifts in the Memory Care Unit and there are younger people there with it. I guess you don’t have to be old.”
“Many evenings, when I get home from work, said Ana, we have to look all over the neighborhood for my Papa. He used to watch TV, but now he goes for a walk and gets lost, even just a few blocks away. When we find him, he doesn’t know where he is and he doesn’t remember leaving the house. And, he often leaves the front door open and then we have to go find the dogs.”
“Don’t forget about the nasty behavior,” added Luna. “Both my Papa and Mama can get really difficult at times. They were so happy together for so many years and now they bark at almost everyone, even the children.”
“I can tell you about being nasty,” giggled Elena. “My abuelo says things, mostly to women.”
“What kind of things?”
“Really nasty things,” continued Elena. “He does not seem to care where he is or who he is talking to, he just says things or tries to touch women. We had to stop taking him to church after one lady slapped him for something he must have said or done.”
“Don’t forget about the accidents”, added Marissa.
“You mean like Martina’s father’s accidents?”
“No. My Papa keeps tripping and falling; I don’t know what it is. He doesn’t drink … anymore, but he keeps banging into things. We’ve rearranged the furniture many times to keep things out of his way, but it doesn’t seem to help. I’m just glad we live in a small house on one floor, with no steps or stairs.”
“I’ll tell you what really scares me,” added Sofia in a desperate voice. “I see the residents in the Memory Care Unit and how difficult daily life is for them. Most of them are in much worse condition than we are describing. But, I fear that my parents will soon be like that. I can’t afford to put them here at La Vida Aureo and, even if I could, I really don’t want to. They are my parents. I love them. They raised me and taught me respect. I will care for them for the rest of their lives. It is just overwhelming some days. I just don’t know what to do.”
After Sofia’s impassioned comments, the room fell silent. Paloma had been sitting quietly in a corner of the room, listening to all these comments. She was deeply troubled by everything she had heard. She finally spoke. “I have listened to your stories and your worries. There are many reasons to be concerned about our loved ones as they age. Each person is different and each family is different. It is obvious that there are many different kinds of problems and, like many of you, I know little about this Alzheimer’s except that it a terrible disease that robs people of their mind. I don’t have any answers for you, but will continue to make this room available so that you can meet and talk. Maybe talking about things and sharing your experiences will help. I certainly hope so.”
“It looks like my husband is here, called Carolina. I’ll see all of you mañana. Maybe things will look better in the morning. At least we can hope.”