He did not have degrees on the wall, a couch or charge $100 per hour, but was a great psychologist and counselor. What he did have was a perennial cigar in his mouth, thinning hair and a constant penchant for a strong cup of coffee. He was a successful cigar maker, community leader and an occasional liar… to me! He “stretched the truth” around me, and I am the better for it. He was a “game changer”; the majority of my few good qualities are rooted in his teachings.
“Let’s go touch the moon,” he said, as he grabbed my hand and took me away from the little boys playing in the park. A full moon sat atop the hill near the baseball park, waiting to be grabbed and explored, and to a child’s mind this was a prize to be had. We walked side by side for almost two kilometers, and the closer we got, the further it got. Abuelo encouraged me to walk faster before it slipped away but to no avail. He did not allow me to taste disappointment; “our problem was that we were too obvious; we need to hide among the buildings and streets as we go up, and maybe we can sneak up on it next time.” Needless to say, I never touched the moon, but that memory still burns in my heart; I loved the “old man!”
He instilled in me the love of baseball. He would take me to the stadium to watch the games and read me the paper’s sport section daily. One day he gave me a brown plastic glove and a red rubber ball and told me that if I threw it against the wall and caught it as many times as possible daily that I would play for the Yankees. I did as told, but the prediction never came through. However, the love and practice of the game allowed me to get a college scholarship, obtain my degrees and enjoy a rewarding career. The “old man” kept “me in the game” long enough for me to achieve my secondary dream. He came through for me.
He insisted on taking me to school as I started first grade; he wanted to introduce me to some of his friends. As we approached the Catholic school, a policeman stood in the corner helping children cross the street. He introduced us and then we proceeded inside the school to the sight of a nun dressed in black, with what looked like a parabolic antenna hat on her head and a huge cross on her chest; he introduced us, and she turned out to be my teacher. And lastly, he introduced me to Padre Benito, the town’s priest, who was also the school’s principal.
“These, he said, are three of the most important people in our town; they protect, teach and bring the Word.” This may be lost in today’s world, but they became entrenched in me. I was a federal agent for 32 years, have been a college adjunct professor for 21 and have been privileged to teach Bible studies for the past ten years. The “old man” did know best.
Making a home
Soon he began to deteriorate physically and began to suffer dementia, which led us to put him in a home. He loved the place, surrounded by family and friends, his dog, his old desk and all his “stuff.” For you see, we did not take him to a nursing home, but kept him in HIS home as sons, grandchildren, in-laws and sisters took turns taking care of him. He sat at the head of the table at supper every day and enjoyed his family. He may have lost his mind, but he never lost his loved ones. And, guess what. This was not an unusual practice; most families in our “third world” country dealt with end of life issues in the same manner…personally!
Boy, did I need him when I moved to the United States! I was at a loss as to why sandwiches contained ice cream instead of meat, why beans were sweet, why dogs got their own food instead of leftovers and why butter was made from peanuts. What he would not be able to explain to me is why so many senior citizens in this country are shunned, shut in, and shushed. What would my life be today if Abuelo had been interned in a nursing home? I shudder to think.
Hundreds of “abuelos”
During the past four years, I have been privileged to serve at Heart2Heart, a non-profit faith-based organization that brings “family and friends” to those in care facilities. By recruiting volunteers from local churches to interact with our seniors, we are trying to replicate what Abuelo had… hope, human interaction, respect, care and love. However, the need is staggering and the workers are few. In Broward County alone, more than 60 percent of residents do not receive ONE visitor in a given year!
One of those was Marilyn, a sweet lady who has been in a local nursing home for the past 15 years and who had not left her room for the past 12. She is a double amputee due to diabetes. One day we were visiting her facility and I began a long conversation with her; I promised her that I would return at the exact time the following week, and when I did, she was overwhelmed that I actually followed through on my promise. Subsequently, she allowed me to take her throughout the facility in a wheelchair. The staff cried as they saw Marilyn out and about for the first time in so many years. Abuelo would have been proud.
What about you? Whether 14 or 84, or somewhere in between, there are hundreds of “Abuelos” locally waiting for you; and if it’s true that your visit will make an impact on them. It is just as true that your life will change for the better. Mine did; rolling Marilyn around the facility took care of that.
Leviticus 19:32 gives us the charge, “You shall rise up before the gray headed and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.”
For more on how you can be a friend to seniors, visit heart2heartoutreach.org.