Giuseppa and David: To Fill the Void

The apartment where Giuseppa lives is a ‘trompe l’oeil’ that makes it become smaller the more you look around it. Colored drawings, magazine clippings, dolls, fabric flowers and photographs seem to fill every gap in a desperate attempt not to leave any space for loneliness to set in.  

Emptiness is the lack of affection, the lack of listening, the lack of conversation, the lack of caresses and hugs. Our affective needs, our need to feel useful, our need for intellectual and sensory stimulation are not sufficiently understood in a society that disdains any type of unproductivity – and sees old age as unproductive.  

Giuseppa has the support of David, who has worked for the Alzheimer Catalunya Foundation for 10 years.  

Giuseppa’s children live in another country, and probably because she is hurt by their absence and the distance, she introduces David to me as her nephew.  

“I’m a social worker and I visit Giuseppa every two weeks. I make sure she has food and medicines and I also check her general condition and the state of her house. I make sure that the therapeutic plan is being carried out successfully and I help Giuseppa with any problems that she may have with the building administration or with her neighbors.

The people that work in my profession are mostly female because the cultural norm is that women are the ones who offer care. I believe that men and women have the same caregiving skills. I chose this profession out of vocation and being a caregiver means much more than just a salary.

At a functional level, Giuseppa has autonomy, but she no longer wants to be alone and cognitive impairment makes it increasingly urgent to find a residential center for her. However, the current dependency law means that many people like Giuseppa are excluded from residential centers, because having certain physical autonomy and moments of lucidity makes it seem as if they can continue to be independent. There are many things that are not considered that denote social, economic or cognitive vulnerability. These situations are putting people at risk. When I say goodbye to Giuseppa, I leave with great concern. She has support because we have managed to find a place for her in the day care center where she spends most of her time, but at night she is alone and that gives me a bit of anxiety. As caregivers we have to learn to manage this anxiety because resources are limited and it does not depend on us how these resources are used.” –David

David tells me that during the lockdown he spent months without being able to see Giuseppa and the other people he accompanies.

“I always knew that with our job we fill the void that the family leaves, but after spending so many weeks without seeing them and then being so happy to meet again, I discovered in a very concrete way how much each of these people means to me, how much I learn from them and how much they contribute to me.” -David  

I finish the photo shoot quickly because Giuseppa has to go to the day care center. David accompanies her and I join in to share some more time with them. On the way, Giuseppa chooses a shopping trolley at one of the neighborhood stores. She tells us that she had needed it for some time. Walking through the streets her step is agile and her gaze is cheerful.  

How fulfilling it is to receive attention and to have a purpose.