Old age is not the end

Katarzyna Woynarowska

If you love people this love will be repaid ... - claims Mariusz Pocalujko, the director of the Senior Citizen’s Home in Druzykowa (photo: Pocalujko with one of the residents).
Druzykowa is a village located near the small town of Szczekociny in the Region of Silesia. Small farms along the road, a church in the centre, flat fields until the horizon that ends with a distant line of woods. There is a spruce building situated 150 metres on the left side of the church. The building is the Senior Citizens’ Home run by the Mother Theresa of Calcutta Association for the Support of Charity Initiatives, based in Czestochowa. This is our destination. ‘Recently many bad things were spoken about old citizens’ homes’, says the chairman of the Association Mr Lech Matysiak. ‘Come to us, look around, talk to people. Let us make it clear; we do not need any advertising. We want the truth. Generalisations are usually harmful...’

You will be the manager

- Years ago my situation was unenviable’, Mr Matysiak says. - I had to place my wonderful mother in a house that would provide constant medical care. A difficult matter. I visited dozens of such centres. I did not find any suitable one. Then I did not even enter such centres where you could feel sadness, hopelessness and ...urine. Tragedy. Finally, I got an idea, an apparently risky one, that I would organise, a cosy place for my mother and for other ‘mothers’. I convinced 15 friends to embark on this project.
We founded the Association the saint patron of which became reliable Mother Theresa of Calcutta. Then I sent a letter to all districts that I was looking for a place that would become a senior citizens’ home. The best response came from the district of Szczekociny: the building of a former school, a large yard, a forest, fresh air and a penny for annual rent (the symbolic cost). I hurried and put all my savings in the house. The house turned to be very good but my mother did not live long enough to move there.... and I promised her that she would be the manageress of the house... well, such is life.’

House means people...

Luck concerning some place means less than a half of its success - people are important. It is them that make such a house a shelter or on the contrary that make it a place of banishment or a place of torment. The residents came relatively quickly. Mariusz Pocalujko employed twenty people as the staff of the home. Its director Mr Pocalujko will soon have a diploma in marketing and management, which is needed to run such a centre. The residents love him...
- No everyone is good at such a job - Lech Matysiak explains - This is hard work, which requires a lot of patience, gentleness and cheering spirit. And Mariusz has all these features. I think that he lets them walk all over him. They knock at his door quite late, just to talk and tell him what bothers them... ‘We do not have strict working hours. I am living with my charges. We are friends; we like one another; we talk all the time.’
- I am idealistic, convinced that one can do a lot showing goodness, steadfast goodness, ’ the chairman interrupts me. ‘I have evidence that good always wins. Sometimes we bring people whose relatives made them not want to live. They are withered, depressed, closed, malnourished, and scruffy. With us they slowly blossom, both spiritually and physically... sometimes their families are amazed at their change... Mr Matysiak is full of energy, creativity and desire to make the world better. He cannot understand and accept human indifference and mindlessness. In his opinion the scope of the problem of care for the elderly is increasing. And since our society is getting older we cannot avoid the problem. However, it appears that the authorities stick their heads in the sand like ostriches.

The residents

- Old people often live in worse conditions than cattle in stables. We have some old people whom we brought from forest shacks in winter... Once I brought a woman with long dark hair. When she was put in a bath it appeared that her hair was white and lousy. And such a situation happened in the 21st century’, Mr Mariusz Pocalujko says.
‘Currently, we have 40 residents and cannot accept more. Many people call us and they even come here asking for help. But we must send them back...We are the cheapest senior citizens’ home in the Region of Silesia’, the chairman gives concrete information.
Double or triple rooms with bathrooms. A cosy dining room and some places where the residents can chat. You can feel family atmosphere. A cook calls the residents for lunch. You can hear them scraping, calling for lunch and bantering with one another. Their faces are marked with time and hardships. Some of them are educated people; some are farmers with their small pensions. There is a retired accountant who worked in the municipality of Czestochowa. One can see various social classes. Everyone has his or her story...
- My relative lives in this house. Before we decided to choose that place we had visited many centres. I recommend this house very much. I wish its staff much health and fulfilment of their plans. May God lead you - Anna.

Good children, bad children

It is in a way like this: if you loved people your love returned. Sometimes it is not what we expected but love returns. If you were cold, demanding, strict - you would gather what you sowed. Children and grandchildren regularly visit some residents. From time to time they rent a room in summer to be with their mothers. But it can also happen that nobody has visited some residents for years. Recently, a son of one of the residents has visited him. He took trouble to come here from Krakow but his visit lasted only 5 minutes: his father told him to go away. Nobody could make him talk to his son. And the son was not convinced by the fact that his father suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. It happens that some old reasons, anger and wrath win. ‘A daughter comes and at once she grumbles and pretends to be a caring daughter’, the chairman says. ‘But I can remember the filth, cold and neglect her mother had lived in before I brought her here. So sometimes the children’s complexes and guilt are healed here.
Although... not as a rule. Sometimes a mother brought up four kids, gave them education and brought up grandchildren but when she stopped cooking, washing, shopping, when her legs and hands could not work any longer she was immediately brought to an old people’s house. Such children do not visit her and do not take her home...
- There are also some romantic stories. Teofil and Wandzia, who lives here with her slightly handicapped 40-year-old son, got to know each other in this house. They fell in love and got married. There was a church wedding and a huge wedding reception, which the entire house enjoyed. One of our friends said, ‘Old age does not mean the end of the world...’
- I have visited my aunt recently. The house is clean and nice and you could see that the old people found their home here. The staff is very cordial, always cheerful and loving. They help them with great understanding. God bless you - Krzys.

The worst thing is when...

The worst thing is the lack of funds for the activities of the Society. ‘Otherwise, the clerks would close our house legally and nobody would be interested in the fate of 40 people. Well, perhaps they would send him to some homeless centre where there are 20 or 30 beds in one room.’ The latest requirement of the authorities is to install a lift. The house in Druzykowa has one floor but the rules are merciless. There must be a lift that costs 300,000 zlotys. The state covers the costs in public old people’s houses. But for private houses there are no concessions. The only income comes from the residents.
- The hooliganism of the state organs or the local government is that our organisation has no VAT for our services. We can only appeal for this legendary 1 per cent of income for charities... Last year we received 1,600 zlotys from that. This is the only act of mercy from the state. We even pay the land tax like a factory, which means several thousand zlotys a year in spite of the fact that we have created twenty work places here. We also cover some costs of funerals since the Polish Social Insurance institution (ZUS) treats us as con men. For example, the institution did not accept our bill for a small gravestone for the urn with ashes of one of our residents, saying that it was a case of extravagance but actually it was just a small stone...

Scandals connected with old people’s houses

The Chairman of the Association Lech Matysiak: - Currently, there are about one thousand old citizens’ homes in Poland. Some 2-3 per cent are improperly run. In my opinion it is not possible that the residents are hit, starved, harassed in every senior citizens’ home but the example comes from the top. If the director treats the residents badly the staff will follow his or her example. Many families are afraid of their relatives who live in such homes when they hear about various abnormal situations. How can they discern whether their mothers or fathers will be treated properly in such centres? They can visit us any time, see how the house is managed, see its daily schedule or even rent a room and stay here for some time. We do not hide anything. Mariusz Pocalujko: - The man whose father lives with us told me that in the previous house he could enter only the guest room. If there is some limitation, regardless of its justification, this is a bad sign. I often tell my employees, ‘Think that it is you lying in this bed but in 20-30 years from now. ‘The patience you have now is the patience you will experience later’, Mariusz Pocalujko adds. - Goodness is always repaid... Always!
- I have been there. I have checked everything and let my mother stay there. Woods, silence and peace surround the place. Ideal place for those who worked hard and now need constant care. The staff is friendly, always smiling and ready to help. The meals are like those served at home, very delicious. Coffee is served with delicious cake and you can eat fruit at teatime. My mum is very glad to be there. I can sincerely recommend this house to those who seek peace and silence. May God lead you and help you - Lukasz H.
Our contact address is:
al. Niepodleglosci 50/11, 42-200 Czestochowa
phone: (0048-34) 363-99-74, phone in Druzykowa (0048-34) 355-96-86; KRS 0000140741 - 1%;
More information at:   www.matkateresa.boo.pl

"Niedziela" 4/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl