When looking in the eyes of elderly, you see your future

In a previous article I wrote about Cottolengo hospital, about its development and its founder. A tragic and touching experience was a source of emergence to one of the largest health facility in Turin. Until nowadays this hospital took care to thousands and thousands of people in need.

We are not alone

Bogoslovci iz Treviza
Seminarians from Treviso and fr. Roberto (up right).

Me and Silva arrived to Cottolengo from Rome at 11 AM. As we soon realized, we were not alone to volunteer in this hospital for the next few days.

In the guests’ area, Lorenzo was already waiting. He is flirting with a thought to become a monk and he came to Cottolengo on the recommendation of the Cistercian order. Beside him, there were three seminarians from Treviso, accompanied by their priest.

Short introduction for volunteers

On the same day, at 17 PM, we had a brief formation, where we learned more about the work schedule and practical basics of our work: how to take care of personal hygiene and hygiene of the patients, how to assist with routine tasks such as getting out of bed or feeding, how to ensure safety and purity of patients and how to contribute to good mood.

All the things which could most likely relieve tired hospital staff. Working with people in care is not at all an easy task! It is exhausting, both physically and mentally and burnouts are a common phenomenon with hospital staff.

Hospital section Frassati

Each of us was assigned to a certain section, where we are now performing our daily duties. Together with Silva, we were sent to the house of Frassati, named after the Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, which has already at his young teenage years helped various organizations working with the poor.

He donated a lot of money of his rich family to the poor. Due to illness and infection (probably from working with patients) he died aged only 24. John Paul II proclaimed him blessed on 20th May 1990.

Frassati house has two floors, we’re operating in the second one. Our residents are elderly people, including the disabled and deaf-muted. Our schedule looks like this:

At 7 AM, we have breakfast in the building on the other side of the hospital, the same side where our living rooms are located.

At 7:30 AM, we start to work at the department, which lasts until 12:45 PM, at 1:00 PM lunch is already waiting for us in the foresteria cafeteria.

Up until 5:00 PM we can rest, afterwards and until 7:30 PM we are continuing with our work at Frassati.

Such dull presentation of our schedule may not be too descriptive, however we do have a very intense and concrete activities.

Dynamic and varied work

Bolnišnica Cottolengo
Silva and Sisto (employed at Cottolengo) are making up the bed. Following precise rules.

In the morning, we help patients getting out of bed and with their personal hygiene. We are rushing from one room to another, wash up their faces and hands, assist the males with shaving and help patients to get dressed.

When everyone is ready, we take persons using wheelchairs to the dining room for breakfast. Working in the dining room usually includes preparing the tables, serving food and feeding people who are unable to do so by themselves.

A typical day is preceded with morning activities, various handicrafts such as drawing, decoration making, weaving and alike. Animation for these activities is more or less provided by others, we immediately go back to the second floor, where we start to make things in order, make up the beds…

Until their lunch time, which usually takes place at 12 PM, we do have some spare time to join the patients, take them for a stroll or something similar.

Lunch and breakfast is time for us to help serving and feeding the patients. At 1 PM we return back to the foresteria and have our meal together with other volunteers. At this point, let me say that the food is simply delicious. A pleasant and invigorating fact is also the possibility to socialize with our friends at the hospital.


Darilo od Alberta
Alberto, one of the elders at Frassati, donated us this nice picture.

If eight years ago, during afternoon rest time in Cotollengo, I could be walking kilometres long discovering Turin all over, today I can only throw myself exhausted to bed and sleep like the dead until 5 PM. Same goes for my otherwise energetic and youthful wife. 🙂

When I claim to our young theologians, who spend their time in the chapel, that the reason for this might certainly be our age, they laugh heartily at us. But there must be something on it.

Moreover, the work at the department where we are today, is much, much more intense compared to eight years ago.

Anyway, at 5 PM we are up again, ready to make all what is necessary, e.g. to prepare tables for dinner, deliver food and clean a dining room.

…but feel rewarded!

Quite varied and full day, I would say. But the essence is not so much in activities and routine work themselves. What is valuable are the things that remain inside us, when we return tired for a night sleep.

Cottolengo Torino
Silva with her new friend Amelia.

As much as we feel tired, as much as we also feel richly rewarded! I’m talking about an award that can only be given to you by another person, especially from weak and decrepit one. In fact, these people give us power to perform such work, they are the ones who help us on their own way to overcome all efforts.

When feeding others is actually feeding yourself

In a certain moment at lunch, when I was feeding Mariolina, a ninety years old lady with Alzheimer’s disease, a thought stroked me.

When we are in touch with elders and weak, we are looking at our own future. Literally face to face!

When you feed the elderly, you may just as well be feeding yourself. You feed the person that you will see in your mirror years from now, using a wheelchair, totally dependent on others, maybe ill and demented, equally powerless and alienated from this world.

Trust in the future

And what I felt was not fear of the future. Neither fear of age. Neither the fear of disease. I felt a lot of confidence in my life and no fear for the weight that my life will bring me.

What can I say to someone, afraid of aging, of losing life power and of dependency on others?

Now is the right time to get close to your future. Physically, with your body. You may stare in the eyes of your future and see how live and present God is in your life. He keeps working, right now, right this moment. Dio sta operando!


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