Rosa Otero prepares her dinner for another evening meal in solitude.
This Christmas Eve pandemic has transformed what should have been an extremely rare time to spend time with your family into yet another daily portion of your life as a widow living alone.
Otero, 83, usually travels through Spain, from his small and neat apartment in Barcelona in northwestern Galicia, to spend the winter holidays with his family.
But travel restrictions and health officials’ urges that infections are increasing have convinced Otero’s family to cancel their vacation plans this year.
“I’m not in the mood to celebrate anything,” said Otero as he sat down to eat a plate of salmon and potatoes. “I don’t like Christmas, because it brings back bad memories. My husband died in January, seven years ago. Since then I feel very lonely.”
Otero is one of the countless elderly people, mostly poor and hiding at home, who feel even more isolated than usual the night before Christmas.
Otero misses the company of the publicly run senior center in her neighborhood, which she and many others attend to meet friends, chat or play a card game. This island of society was isolated due to the pandemic.
Practically the only link that keeps their fragile lives connected to the rest of the world is the local primary care clinic. Medical workers, who have borne the heavy burden of fighting the virus in Spain and elsewhere, have done their best to maintain home visits for the elderly who cannot afford to take care of themselves.
Francisca Cano’s 80-year-old lifelong home has become a miscellaneous storehouse. Cano knits, cross stitches, makes paper flowers and makes collages with pieces of wood, plastic and paper you find on the street.
The pandemic means that she can only speak to the two sisters over the phone.
“We lost each other this Christmas break,” said Cano. “As I grew up, I went back to my childhood, doing manual labor like a girl. This is my way of keeping loneliness under control.”
Then there are those whose social connections were already erased before COVID-19 made socialization a danger.
José Ribes, 84, has been used to living alone since his wife left him. He maintained the Spanish Christmas Eve tradition of eating shrimp. He peeled them and ate propped up on the bed where he ate all his meals and smoked cigarettes that leave his home with a permanent smell of old tobacco.
“My life is like my mouth,” said Ribes. “I don’t have any of my upper teeth, while all the lower ones are still there. I’ve always been like that, having all or nothing.”
Álvaro Puig also barely noticed the impact of the virus that prevented many families from joining.
Puig, 81, lives in the former butcher shop specializing in horse meat that he administered after inheriting from his parents. Closed a long time ago, the counter where he served customers, the scale where the meat weighed, the cash register where he wrote the bills, are all intact. The refrigerator, in disuse, has become a miniature of the living room for its existence as a cloistered bachelor. There he watches television with his pet rabbit, which he rescued from the street.
“Loneliness hits me today. I often feel depressed,” said Puig. “This vacation, instead of making me happy, makes me sad. I hate. Most of the family died. I’m one of the last ones left. I’m going to spend Christmas alone at home because I have no one to spend with. “