Keep on smiling

In the latest in a series of interviews with Waltham Forest’s older population, Amina Ahmed meets care home resident Elisa Heredia

Elisa Heredia

Elisa Heredia at Aspray House Care Home in Leyton

My previous interviewee was an active and strong woman; always on the go. This month I met Elisa Heredia, an 88-year-old who is temporarily living at Aspray House Care Home in Lea Bridge Road. As dementia sets in she finds it hard to get around, and I find Elisa strong in a very different way – emotionally.

She has lived in Leytonstone for 55 years; ever since moving there with her late husband Christopher. Elisa left her family to move to the UK from Spain to become a chambermaid. She was recruited overseas and brought here via a boat with others in similar situations. She worked until she met Christopher, and became a housewife.

Because of her dementia, Spanish has become more prominent than English. But the tears, the smiles and the expressions said it all.

She told me tearfully about how she met her other half, who died 10 years ago. “I met him at a new year’s party in Piccadilly,” Elisa said.

“We were surrounded by many Spanish people who came to dance. A week later, I was at home and my mother called and told me someone had come to see me.

“She told me to look out the window and there was Christopher with flowers and a bottle of wine.

“He loved to go shooting and would always bring back pigeons for me.”

Elisa gives me little snippets of her life back then as I struggle to decipher the phrases that are spoken in Spanish. In doing so I learn that ‘senora’ means married woman and ‘senorita’ means an unmarried woman.

Elisa and Christopher moved to Leytonstone after they got married and she has lived there ever since. She only moved into the care home last month and throughout my short time there, she kept on repeating how happy she was compared to her empty house.

“I have company here,” she told me as she clutched the hand of one of the staff that she seems very close to. “I have people to talk to and I don’t feel alone like I did at home. I am content.”

Elisa is only at Aspray on trial for six weeks, after which her social worker decides if she gets to stay on. For her sake, I hope they decide for rather than against.

She says she found solace in this country and in this part of London. Elisa worked hard and raised a boy and a girl. But most importantly, she teaches us to be strong by her will to keep on smiling.

The most important thing in life according to Elisa is: “Love and my children.”