Before I dial 112, I will call Caritas – for a healing dose of warmth

Photography: Boryana Katsarova

Every time Francesca sits and looks forward to the window when Veneta, Caritas’ Home Care nurse, should visit her. “Whoever invented this Caritas, he has done well”, she says in a wide, playful smile. Francesca is aged 77, she lives in Rakovski. Somebody comes to see her rarely and it’s not like she dislikes having a company. But now she is alone, away from friends and relatives, and on few occasions when she has guests, they make her chatter and ready to tell her whole life story.

Francesca gets up every morning at six o’clock, prepares coffee and sits on the table. She drinks it slowly and with delight. She is not in a hurry now, but she does not live in timelessness, because there are fixed hours she should take her medication for Parkinson’s disease, namely every four hours. Her regime is boring, however, she cannot help but follow it. Everything she does is completed until lunch and she goes out only in late afternoon. “It’s my day. I do not go visiting elderly peers,” she says with a sense of humor.

Friends do not come to see her, nor is she waiting for anyone, because she has left this town since the 60 and has lost touch with everyone here. “I came back here when my aunt died. I came to protect my dad’s property. If we had left it that way, it would have gone in vain – there are plenty of robbers around. But I found myself all alone. So this help from Caritas came to me as a gift of God. I’m looking forward to every Tuesday for Veni’s visit”.

“For me, the conversation is the most useful in this type of care, as well as the Caritas sister’s smile. This is the best medicine. Moreover, the relationship between me and Veni was love at first glance.” Francesca laughs. But she also remembers the misfortunes that accompany not only her life but also that of a large part of the elderly people living in small settlements across Bulgaria: “In the time before Veni started visiting me, I had a long and difficult way to visit the doctor’s office or to receive my medication. There is no transport here, nothing transits. You could die before you reach the doctor or the pharmacy.”

Francesca remembers different times when her grandfather’s yard was packed with people and chanting with the sound of gourd, when the aroma of freshly cooked favorite meals, homemade juice and wine could be smelled all around. “My grandfather used to be occupied with stockbreeding. He was an orphan and somebody gave him a cottage, a hut, at the end of the village. But for him this tiny home was a lot and he was thriving with him. Here it is – pointing to the yard – there was a walnut. This walnut was like a pub, a barrel-like barn, around which the table was organized, gathering neighbors and friends together.” Francesca’s eyes narrowed and she added, “We were seven children. Life was enough for us to be happy. And now I’m alone. I’m missing being surrounded by a lot of people.”
When her mother gave birth to one of her sisters in the open field, amid corn, the birth homes were just a novelty. “My mother was the first to be hospitalized in a birth home. Notwithstanding that she had already delivered a baby. I am born in the barn. What could she do, she had to manage at the time … Different times were then.”

Unfortunately their mother passed away early. Francesca, then a young woman, moved to Plovdiv and created her own family there. Now she has children and grandchildren. Over time, however, when she retired, she was tired of life in the panel block, and when her aunt died she decided to return to her father’s house in the countryside. “And my daughter is very fond of this house. “This is our relationship with the land, Mom,” she often tells me.”

“In Plovdiv, I had created a friendly company of women who do not work – we are pensioners. Every morning we gathered at the café – to chat – and so until noon. That’s what I miss here because it’s gone. But now life is much more difficult. It’s good that children drop in during weekends.” Francesca sighed and added, “What gives me strength in life is that I manage to recover my courage. I feel very well surrounded by pets. I mean my dog. Before, in the house, we had a kitten. And so it got used to us, so we loved it. We had grown it from a baby, among 17 kittens. We take care of it seven years. But it received kidney failure and died. The children are still crying for him, me too. Otherwise, I have other animals, here, the hens in the yard.”

“Another thing that gives me strength is Caritas. You know when they are visiting you. Caritas go wonderfully with me. I accept the nurse’s help with an open soul and a pure heart. I accept Veni as a close person I can rely on. A person I look forward to telling me a good word, to comfort me, to keep silent, and to share the pain and suffering I have experienced. Caritas is a wonderful organization which we need because sometimes it is the only one to rely upon. Before I call 112, I would call Caritas first. It is like a need, a healing dose of warmth.”