The pandemic moves in extremes, pushes the edges of the collective tragedy. But it also runs along the wide avenue in the middle: the one of hundreds of days that, even without nearby fatalities, piles up loneliness, normed abnormality. A slight but permanent corrosion.
Millions of people pass through that avenue who, it is assumed, have nothing to complain about. They did not contract coronavirus or, at least, they did not suffer symptoms. Yet their health is affected by isolation, the unsatisfied craving for a hug, the house and the mind transformed into cages.
“I heard the elevator and thought, ‘Here comes my son Martín.’ But he is not there, he continues to live in Australia and for now he cannot return. So I was wondering, ‘Am I going crazy?”Recalls María C. (65).
María is one of those accompanied by Laura, a volunteer from the Santa Maria Spirituality Center (CESM). A year ago, that institution began to support those who feel alone in a pandemic.
The group of companions of the Santa María Spirituality Center.
Remember that she is not crazy or alone. That has a lot to be thankful for. That and more Laura tells María by video call once a month, before every two weeks. More than the frequency, say those accompanied, it matters to know that that ear is there, available.
A company guarantee that was upset in the last year. “I stopped seeing my grandchildren, my friends, to go to have coffee in Zurich, which makes it delicious, “says Carmen, another accompanied by CESM. The pandemic stole from “Carmita” the trivialities that punctuated her days. But above all, it stole time: “I am 83 years old and I don’t know how much longer I am going to live. This takes two precious years off my life”.
María also feels that with the pandemic her life is ending, even if she is in good health. “At 65, I no longer have years to lose,” he stresses. And remember the strictest quarantine: “My only human contact was in the supermarket. I lost the ritual of eating with others: I started to drink water from the bottle, to eat from the saucepan, always in front of a screen. It seems not, but that brings you down”.
Not everyone dares to talk about this internal state: while poverty and deaths pile up out there, put the sadness into words between four walls It may sound like a full complaint. But drowning with guilt never proved to be a solution.
“The word today is more valuable than ever because it is the only thing we have”, admits Rosalía Algañaraz (62), that after the death of her husband a year ago she moved from Huinca Renancó, in Córdoba, to the Northern Zone of the GBA, closer to her children. He is supported by Lola Gutiérrez (73), a spiritual companion for 40 years at CESM. They do not know each other personally. The contact is online.
Rosalía and Lola do not know each other personally. The contact is virtual. Photo Germán García Adrasti
Rosalía’s mourning for her husband was coupled with quarantine, or vice versa. “In the pandemic all the pains are exacerbated, because there are no hugsThey are all at a distance -he observes-. Luckily Lola transmits everything she knows to me through the screen. I hope to meet her one day and give her the hug that is in the air today ”.
Carmita also hopes to hug Natalia, her companion. “She is like a spiritual psychologist. We spoke once a week because I was in great anguish. I was improving little by little and now it is once every three weeks ”, he celebrates.
Better to talk about certain things
“The pandemic forced us to address the things we never want to talk about, because they scare us: death, anguish, loneliness. The key is to know that that fear does not have the last word, what we are not a state of mind”, Highlights Inés Ordóñez de Lanús. He founded the CESM in 1972 in the Palermo neighborhood. Today it has offices in other Argentine cities and in Chile, Mexico and the United States.
Inés Ordoñez de Lanús founded the Santa María Spirituality Center in 1972.
There the career of spiritual companion is dictated and volunteers and graduates are linked with those who want to be accompanied, whether they are religious or not. On one side and the other, the majority are women. The most common triggers were duels, separations, illnesses. Now they are also the pandemic and its loneliness.
“The main protagonist here is the question ‘How are you?’ There the companion begins to speak and the companion displays empathic listening. Validate the experience of the other, without judging or advising. It lets him know that there are people willing to give their time to ‘be with him’ and that each one has the tools to get ahead, ”explains Inés.
“How are you?” is the first question. And the accompanied people can speak and know that they are not alone. Photo Germán García Adrasti
Maria continues to miss her son and her friends, but she is aware that she is not alone. “I have taken a positive part out of this quarantine: knowing that I have one ear ready to always listen to me, that it does not criticize me and that makes me realize that I am not alone. That is one of the keys: remembering that we are all in the same place ”.