“You can go wherever you want; you can do whatever you want,” my dad told me once, in one of his lucid moments, bewailing his lack of agency.
He doesn’t like being beholden to anyone.
He doesn’t like being followed by a “handler.”
He gets antsy when we tell him we’ve bought a ticket…unless the ticket gets him on a plane the very next day.
He doesn’t like waiting on his kids to bring him to the airport.
He doesn’t like being “helped.”
So when he took a walk last Feb. 15, he made a choice. We don’t know what went on in his mind that day. The thing is, there are people who would help him out, if he were willing to be helped.
We went to several places today, but I guess the most pertinent one would be GRACES (Golden Reception and Action Center for the Elderly and Other Special Cases) in Q.C.
This is where the elderly who are picked up off the streets are taken. The words “abandoned” and “rejected” have been used to describe the ones who end up in GRACES, sadly. Also, “rescued.”
At the reception, I find a wall calendar bristling with lists of activities, and a male social worker who bade me be seated and to wait for “Joy Banaken.” I’d come in before my cousin Mel, who was looking for a good spot to park “near the santol,” as we were instructed in the vernacular by the guard.
A portly old lady is escorted in, looking well put-together, wielding a quad-cane like a boss, and carrying leftover Chickenjoy in a box. “Lola [X] is back,” says a fully made-up matrona, the escort. Where did Lola [X] come from, I wondered. Were the elderly allowed a day out? Did she go malling? And where did the old man — whom my cousin and I saw getting into a taxi while we idled at the rotonda, waiting to park — go?
Another social worker, female, helps Lola X into another room. When the female social worker returns, I learn she’s the Joy I’m waiting for. I show her the photo of dad and tell his story. My cousin comes in and discusses the case with the other guy in the room.
While Joy excuses herself to check if any of the new admissions answers to dad’s name or fits his description, the male social worker gives a series of suggestions of other halfway houses in Pasay, Manila, and Makati — in other words, nearer our place than Q.C. One is named “Manila Rock” (I wonder, briefly, if that’s where old rockstars crash.) I consider it free advice, if lacking in detail, so take down notes.
Joy comes back and tells me that dad doesn’t seem to be among the 278 “clients” currently at GRACES. You see, GRACES is a halfway house to Haven for the Elderly (formerly Golden Acres Home for the Elderly) in Tanay Rizal. Clients get to stay for six months, before they’re taken to the Haven as their permanent home. Dad has been lost for 10 days, so if someone had found him and taken him to GRACES, he’d still be there.
We go in anyway, accepting Joy’s offer to look around.
There are wheelchairs aplenty. Most are old but still serviceable, seating a few seniors who are chillin’ outside their huts. Some wheelchairs are rusty-looking and lying unused near the half basketball court. Joy tells us we’d come in during “nap time.”
There’s an invisible line between the “lola side” of the facility where I spy women hanging their washed items, or wandering around wearing “dusters” (serviceable caftans), and the “lolo side” where old men in white shirts and shorts hang out near their huts or gather in an open-spaced common area before a mounted TV. “Do the lolos and lolas socialize?” I ask. “Yes,” assures Joy, while underscoring that the residential huts are merely gendered for propriety’s sake.
We go to the lolo side, and show dad’s photo to another social worker, a twinkly-eyed fellow of a certain age, who says definitively that he hasn’t seen dad, but he’d be happy to keep a lookout. (Obviously, I can’t really tell which are staff and which are clients, because everyone is dressed casually. By our calculations, there are 3 clients to one staff member). I ask if the piano, shunted to the side of the TV, is in tune. Nope, it’s broken. And no, I don’t play, anyway. Thank you, cheeky lolo.
We go back to the reception. Joy puts up dad’s poster. We thank her for her time and hope for the best. At least as far as GRACES is concerned. Hulog ng langit, kumbaga.
The Golden Reception and Action Center for the Elderly and Other Special Cases (GRACES) is located right behind SM City North EDSA, next to Quezon City Science High School. Contact (02) 929-1187.
Photo credit: DSWD Twitter