The invisible wash of pain

The man is in line at the sports hall where clothes are distributed for the victims of the volcano. A psychologist observes that, suddenly, he turns around and leaves. He goes after him and asks him why he is leaving. He replies: “I am ashamed to ask for socks.” A child rejects the shiny new toy offered by a volunteer. The reason is as simple as it is heartbreaking: “I don’t want a new toy, I want my toy.” A family is accompanied by the Military Emergency Unit (UME) to collect the documentation and the most important belongings of their house to save them from the path of the volcano. The mother realizes that during the time they have been evicted as a precaution, the food has spoiled and smells bad, and the ashes have invaded everything. He only has 15 minutes to save the most important thing, but he starts sweeping the hall and cleaning the kitchen. Perhaps because it makes him difficult for the soldiers to see his house like that, or maybe it is his way of shrouding it in conditions, saying goodbye. The daughter looks for the psychologist captain of the UME Alberto Pastor and tells him that her father has locked himself in the orchard. He explains that he came from Australia and invested all the money saved in this house: “He is crying, he says he does not want to leave, that if the volcano is going to take everything he has in life, let it take him too . Could you speak with my father? . What is clear is that, parallel to the incandescent river that seeks the sea, an invisible stream descends, that of the pain of those who have lost everything and are realizing that their lives will never be the same. The volunteer psychologist Cristina García says that, after the initial shock, now is the time of fear, uncertainty, and impotence: “They tell us that the 15 minutes they had to go home to pick things up were the worst 15 minutes of their life. Many admit to us that they were blocked, that they did not know what to take. Some feel selfish because they took something for themselves and forgot to collect something for their children or for their partner. They tell you: why would I have chosen this when I could have taken the other? ” , but Captain Alberto Pastor witnessed it live. The UME, as in other cases the Civil Guard or the Police, participated in the organized device to accompany residents to their homes to collect their belongings. So that all those affected could safely access, shifts of 15 minutes were established. Captain Pastor followed a method that most of the time was effective, but not so much other times. He tells it in a very graphic way: “Before entering the house, I would ask them to stop for a minute. I would say to them: my name is Alberto, what is your name? Well, you are going to be our boss, or our boss, we don’t need you to take anything, but to tell us what you have on the list you have made and we bring it to you. You are aware of the seriousness of the situation and you try whatever you can to lower the tension. We try to get them to focus on the task so that they put their emotions aside, but sometimes they get stuck in front of a memory and then we have to try to rescue them, bring them back to reality. ”

La psicóloga Cristina García en una sesión de ayuda el sábado.
The psychologist Cristina García in a help session on Saturday. PACO PUENTES (EL PAÍS)

The psychologist captain does not forget a woman of some 40 years he told them with a smile do not worry, I am clear about what I have to collect. They are tourist accommodations, they are sure to be saved from the volcano. But when he put the key in the lock, he collapsed and began to cry at the top of his lungs: “He told us that his entire family in Venezuela depended on those apartments, and that at the moment when he thought that if the lava would eat that, his family she lost her livelihood … there was no one to console her. ”

The psychologist tells that another colleague from the UME approached a young man of some 30 years that she had sat in front of her house and wept with dismay. He asked him if he could help him and he told him that he had just bought that house that was about to be devoured by the volcano, that he had a full mortgage to pay, but not to worry about him, that he was young and that he would get ahead , that they were to help the elderly. “Those displays of empathy reach deep into you,” he acknowledges, “and there are also times when you take charge of the magnitude of the situation.”

The captain refers to a case that he witnessed and which reflects a very common reality on the island of La Palma: “We went to pick up the belongings of a house and the owner, a young man, said to me: does it matter if we go there that my parents are? We crossed a patio and I asked him: do they live nearby? And he replied: no, no, this is my house, this is my brother’s, this is my uncle’s, this is my grandfather’s and this is my parents’. There were six houses one after another, all linked by a plot … ”. All in line, waiting for the lava from the volcano.

Cristina García, who belongs to the Official College of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, says that the most difficult thing these days is working with the elderly: “They tell us that they have fought for stability and that they know that they will no longer have enough life to start from scratch. It is very hard for them, they have a very bad time. You see them in the host sites, looking at the clouds and it makes you very sad. ”

An elderly neighbor showed him the key that opened his house, and explained all his pain with a couple of sentences:“ Until a few days ago this key he opened everything he had. Now all I have is this key. ”

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