In Barcelona there is a very special school. The school for caregivers, although it should be called the school for caregivers because they are the overwhelming majority. These are women who care for family members with terminal or chronic illnesses. They are wives, mothers, daughters… Although there are of all ages and conditions, many are older and in a delicate state of health. “And who will take care of me?” Dolores asks.
Dolores, whose first name we have changed to preserve her privacy, is 82 years old and is one of the students at the school for caregivers, as we will call her from now on. When she was leaving the house, her husband told her: “Wait, I’ll take the car and take you.” And Dolores, who is a prodigy of tenderness and patience, has responded: “No, honey. I have already bought the bus ticket. Do you see? Is this?”.
They have all applauded. And first of all, the teacher, Marta Argilés, psychologist and speech therapist, with more than 10 years of experience in palliative services, especially pediatric ones. Marta has seen it all in her career. The best and the worst. Parents who have faced the loss of a child with luminous pain, but also families who wanted to prolong the agony of their grandfather to continue collecting the pension…
This is not the case, far from it, of Dolores and the others, who care for or have cared for their fathers and husbands with self-sacrifice. The one in Dolores, by the way, has alzheimer and has not been able to drive for years. A classmate, Toñi, who cares for a mother with sarcoma and severe hearing impairment, praises that she so tactfully declined her husband’s offer, “although she can’t always be so patient.”
“What do I do when patience fails? Well, I go into the bathroom and count the moles and freckles on my face!” says Dolores. It is an interactive class. Marta Argilés has not only come to speak, but also to listen. “Each pain is unique: we cannot say that losing a child is worse than losing a parent.” It is the moment that Lídia seemed to be waiting for, married, without children, and that she has cared for her parents all her life.
“I’m tired of the expression ‘it’s the law of life’. Or even worse: ‘It was time for her’. My father passed away at the age of 94 and my mother at 102. But the loss of him has been and is very painful for me. When at the funeral they told me, with the best intentions, that they were already very old, I was torn inside. They were older, yes. And that. Since then, when I go to a funeral I don’t say anything. I give a hug and that’s it. Words hurts”.
The La Caixa Foundation promotes the measure, which has benefited more than 4,700 people
Lídia, Dolores, Pepeta, Toñi, Margarita and Gal•la are some of the 1,400 people (once again: the majority, women) who have participated this year in a workshop, virtual or face-to-face, such as the one attended by La Vanguardia. The face-to-face workshops are itinerant, explains Jonathan Levit, psychologist and director of the school, which depends on the La Caixa Foundation. More than 4,700 women have benefited from the initiative since 2018.
In addition to the district of Sant Gervasi, where the school is based, there have been sessions in l’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Mollet, Parets, Reus, Cabrils and Quart de Poblet, among other municipalities. The objective is to offer non-professional caregivers and volunteers knowledge, techniques and skills to provide quality support to patients. One of the school’s mottos says it all: “Take care to take care of yourself”.
The students learn, for example, that they should not feel bad for being upset or sad. “They are emotions and we cannot punish ourselves for being sad when we have to be”, the teacher emphasizes. Emotions, she adds, “have adaptive functions. They provide us with intimate and internal information that guides us”. Toñi agrees: her mother blames her for almost everything (“I’m not deaf: it’s you, you don’t speak to me loud enough”).
A sentence from the beginning has gained strength during the hour and a half of the class. It’s from Virginia Woolf: “Disease removes the earth where the tree is. It exposes the roots and shows how deep and strong they are.” Lídia has also discovered that the orphanhood she feels due to the departure of her parents is habitual and justified, regardless of how old they were when they died.
“Once, I had to accompany a daughter who had stayed with her mother all her life. They were both older. The daughter was over 70 years old and she attended the last moments of her mother, who was a centenarian. “I know that other people lose their loved ones much sooner and that it is unfair to cry, but it hurts me a lot that my mother dies.” Marta repeats what she answered: “Each pain is unique, different.”
The roots have been exposed, yes, as in Virginia Woolf’s phrase. But also the strengths. Dolores, who has been the great discovery of the session, asks permission to leave a little earlier because today she has a visit to the doctor for one of her multiple ailments: diabetes, thrombosis… She doesn’t know who will take care of her tomorrow, but she does know who will take care of her husband when he returns home. She.