Her eyes are bright and there's just a hint of cheekiness in her smile. And while her face wears the lines of time from her 96 years of living, Lola Ibarra has few complaints.
"The nurses and the staff, they are very good to me," she says. "I am very happy."
Primitiva Ibarra, Lola to some and Mama to others, was born in the Philippines in 1915. The eldest of three children, she grew up in a family where basic things, like meals and clothes, were not always easy to come by. She married young, and soon had three children. But no sooner had she and her husband Jose begun their new life together, he died unexpectedly of natural causes. She carried on, and raised her children alone.
When Lola's daughter Estelita turned 21, she immigrated to Manitoba to continue her nursing career. Ten years later, Estelita was able to bring her mother to join her. At first Lola was not impressed, and dearly wished to go back home. It was a huge step for a woman in her mid-sixties, and it took a while to adjust. But she settled in and happily took on the role of caring for her four grandchildren while their parents worked.
As she aged, Lola's health began to fail. She was diagnosed with COPD, a lung condition, and the onset of arthritis.
Walking became difficult and she needed Estelita's help to move from her bed to a chair. As her condition deteriorated, it made it impossible for her family to continue to care for her at home.
Help was needed, and it came in the form of Kinsmen Lodge. When she first arrived, he had been unable to move her arm, which meant relying on others to feed her. However, Kinsmen Lodge is one of the few care facilities that has purposely reallocated resources to support an in-house rehab program. Thanks to this physiotherapy support, Lola regained the use of her arm and some of her independence.
"It was very hard for me to have to move my mother into a care home," recalls Estelita. "She raised my siblings and me all by herself, and was always there for us. I always wanted to be there for her - to give back for everything that she had done. But I just couldn't do it any more. It's such a relief to see her socializing with the other Elders, playing bingo, and being happy."
Many of the families of Elders at Kinsmen Lodge tell the same story, and all have felt the same depth of emotion.
Quite often it's a difficult adjustment to make. Yet most Elders fare better in a care home where multiple social interaction opportunities abound, and where their health and safety needs are better serviced.
This is exactly what happened to Lola. She found a friend.
Angelina is also from the Philippines, and came to Canada in the early '70s. She found work as a nanny, and saved every penny to sponsor her husband Rogelio and their four children. It was hard raising another family's children while her own grew up many miles away, but she was finally able to bring them to join her after four years.
They settled into a typical Canadian life - travelling around North America, enjoying camping trips throughout B.C. and Washington State, and making regular trips back to the Philippines to see family and friends.
Angelina held a variety of jobs over the years, but was happiest working with the kitchen staff at UBC Hospital. However, it was here, in 1993, at the age of 49, that she suffered a stroke. She was rushed to hospital and lay comatose for 18 weeks.
"This was an extremely difficult time for my family," remembers her daughter Maria.
"Her prognosis was not good. We were at the point where all the professional opinions around us could not see a chance for recovery and recommended we prepare for the end."
But Rogelio would have none of it. His love for his wife was the sustaining force of their family and had grown stronger every year since he first laid eyes on her as a teenager.
Theirs was a traditional marriage but, over time, they grew to be inseparable. Their fondest moments together were found in their shared love of singing.
Miraculously, Angelina survived. As she came out of the coma, it was apparent that much damage had been done. Her speech was severely impaired, as was her ability to walk. Months of rehab lay ahead but the family joined forces to meet the challenge.
Rogelio retired early from his career to be able to care for his wife at home. As her condition improved, he took her on regular trips to the Philippines, staying for or six months at a time. She learned to walk with a walker, and worked hard to improve her speech.
Then tragedy struck again. At age 65, Rogelio was felled by a heart attack. Angelina's love, the father of her children, the knight in shining armour who had refused to leave her side, was gone.
Maria did not hesitate to assume the role of her mother's caregiver, but her own health issues, coupled with Angelina's need for complex-care, made the situation impossible. It was then that Angelina came to Kinsmen Lodge.
At first it was difficult. She missed her home, her daughter, her freedom. Many elders who lose a spouse become lonely and feel isolated. But with all of the activities and opportunities to socialize at Kinsmen Lodge, Angelina soon took an interest in life again. While her motor functions are still somewhat impaired, her mind is as sharp as a tack. She amazes staff and volunteers with her photographic memory and can recall everyone's name.
Which brings the story back to Lola. When the two ladies first met, they bonded immediately, thanks to their shared cultural background. But they also enjoy sharing their stories with the other 144 elders at Kinsmen Lodge, who represent 23 different countries of origin. And they are so happy to be able to share one of the seven double rooms in the new building.
Rosemary Cabarlo, Director of Care, knows the importance of social connections to both the mental and physical health of Elders. "We are a family here at Kinsmen Lodge, and we do everything we can to make our house just like a home. Being able to sit in the neighbourhood kitchen and have a cup of tea with a friend, share memories and become engaged with the abundance of life in our home is very helpful to their overall wellbeing."
While both women have lived through significant changes through out their lives, they know that change is what life is all about. And as they enjoy a visit with their families in one of the new lounge areas in their neighbourhood, they have these words of wisdom to pass on: "Live a good life. Be happy."
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