Rita Anastasi, 74, Casa Arkati

Rita has been a resident at Casa Arkati for the past 26 years. When her mother, who was a resident at Casa Arkati, passed away, Rita, who was 47 at the time, decided to move to the elderly home. “Initially, I moved in with my sister Jessica and her family, but after a while I decided I wanted to be where my mother was, as we were ever so close,” she says.

“I’m very happy here and feel very much at home. The pandemic has been a difficult journey, especially since I am very close to my sister but could not see her or visit her for an entire year. I am now over the moon that she can pick me up and take me to her house. I can also run my errands at the Mosta square. Best feeling ever.”

George Spiteri, 93, Casa San Paolo

George was a chief petty officer in the Navy for 25 years before he married. His last trip round the world was six months long. His wife, Ineż, who was also a resident at Casa San Paolo, died recently. The couple have four children, Victor, Lina, Norman and Amy, who passed away at the age of 32. They also have seven grandchildren and a great-grandson.

“I miss my wife. She was the best thing I had. We had a very happy life together and we are very united as a family,” says George.

“Now that we can finally go out after so many months spent inside, I cannot wait for my children to come and pick me up with the car, so we can have lunch together.”

George says he is very happy at the home. “The staff are wonderful and each time I return to Casa San Paolo, to me it’s home sweet home”.

Theresa Buhagiar, 89, Villa Messina

Theresa joined Villa Messina in July 2020 to be with her husband Joseph, who entered the home in January 2020. The couple have a daughter and a son.

“My daughter, who got the vaccine, has already visited us in our room, which is great, and she can also pick us up with the car and take us out. We missed not physically seeing our children, even though they call us all the time,” says Theresa.

The couple both tested positive for COVID-19 in December 2020.

“My husband, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, depends entirely on me,” says Theresa.

“He joins me in the garden but doesn’t enjoy walking, so I walk twice around the garden on my own every day. I love it. The garden here is beautiful. The most difficult part of this journey has been having to spend around four to five months in our room, not being able to go out for some fresh air. It feels great to be able to go out once again.”

Edgar Azzopardi, 78, Zammit Clapp

Edgar has been a resident at Zammit Clapp for 11 months. His wife, Elizabeth, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 14 years ago, has been living at the home for 10 years. Married for 56 years, the couple have a son, Ivan.

Edgar and Elizabeth, who met 65 years ago when they were still at school, are very close and Edgar speaks fondly of his wife. “I used to take good care of her when we both still lived at home. But then, after she got sick, I had to learn how to cope on my own.

Edgar was a professional referee for 25 years and an international one for 14. “Not being able to do any physical exercise during the worst months of the pandemic was the biggest sacrifice I had to endure. Now I feel like a bird that has just flown out of its cage. Being able to go out is a great sensation.”

Being active and independent, Edgar can now run errands once again while taking care of his wife. “Elizabeth can recognise my voice sometimes, even though she hasn’t spoken for years. Luckily, I was admitted to Zammit Clapp just before the pandemic kicked in, so I could be with her. My room on the first floor has a balcony which overlooks the street, so I saw my son regularly throughout the pandemic, even though from a distance.”

Joseph Borg, 72, Roseville

“It’s such a great feeling to be able to go out,” says Joseph. “I was probably the first resident to do this,” he chuckles.

The father of two, a son and a daughter, Joseph is extremely independent and his two favourite places are the Kitchen Garden and San Anton.

“I also love to hang around in Roseville’s garden. It’s beautiful here and the staff are wonderful. I make myself a cup of tea and always find someone to chat with. Since my balcony overlooks the street, during the pandemic I saw my children regularly.”

Having spent over a year inside, with entire months confined to his room, Joseph says the pandemic has been a difficult time, particularly since he is a free spirit. “It has affected many residents badly, with some experiencing a sense of confusion and loneliness. But the carers here are extremely helpful and always with a smile on their face,” says Joseph, who spends most of his time eating and visiting the bird corner in the garden. “Feeling free is the best thing ever.”

Ronald Jackson, 85, Żejtun Home

Ronald, from Manchester, has been living in Malta for 16 years. A resident at the Żejtun Home for the past three years, he has one daughter, Christine, who also lives in Malta, two granddaughters and four great-grandchildren.

“I do not go out much, but I am so relieved that restrictions have been eased, as my daughter, who lives in Buġibba, usually picks me up. She is such a loving daughter,” says Ronald, who spends most of the day painting by numbers and doing jigsaw puzzles. Many of his beautiful works of art hang on the home’s walls.

Ronald makes his way to the dining room at around 8.15am, right after breakfast, where he stays until lunchtime painting away. Right after lunch, he returns to the dining room and stays there till around 4pm. “I hate to sit and do nothing all day long. Before bedtime, I resort to my Criss Cross and Word Search books,” he says.

Having worked since the age of 14, first as an apprentice in the watchmaking trade, then as a support staff member with the Greater Manchester Police, he decided to move to Malta after his wife passed away.

He is very happy at the Żejtun Home. “My only drawback is that I do not speak Maltese.”

Manuel Pace, 88, Mellieħa Home

Manuel is a lovely man with an infectious smile and a sense of inner peace.

“One of my daughters, who is vaccinated, picked me up with her car, took me out and bought me presents. It was so lovely to see her again after such a long time spent separated,” he says.

A father of four girls, a grandfather of five and a great-grandfather of three, Manuel says the pandemic has been terrible. He missed seeing his four daughters, “as we are a very close-knit family”.

The resident, who creates wonderful miniature models using matchsticks, says he has found solace in prayer… and his hobby. “I am also blessed with love and humility, the best qualities.”

His workshop, full of recycled bits and bobs which he utilises to create his masterpieces, includes his latest work of art, made out of milk carton caps and matches.

“Somehow, during the pandemic, I always managed to find a kind soul to provide recycled material for my creations.”

The toughest times for Manuel have been special occasions like birthdays and Easter, “because, as a family, we always spend these together”.

Manuel praises the wonderful staff at Mellieħa Home, including nurses, carers, maintenance people, saying he is grateful for “their dedication and kindness”.

Michelina, 90, and Salvu Farrugia, 94, Bormla Home

Michelina and her husband Salvu, of Għaxaq, have been residents at Bormla Home for the past five years. The couple have two sons and four grandchildren, two boys and two girls. Even though they can now go out on their own, they prefer to go out with their children.

“It’s great that our children can finally visit us in our room or take us out. Before the pandemic, they used to pick us up with the car and take us out to lunch or to their house,” says Michelina, who takes very good care of her husband.

“The best thing about going out is that I can finally see my grandchildren. I took care of them when they were newborns so we still have a very strong bond. They love us both dearly. Being able to hug my children and grandchildren once again is such a beautiful thing.”

Mary Bayliss, 71, Casa Marija

Mary, of Sliema, comes from a big family of 11 children. Three sisters, one of whom lives in Canada, and a brother are still alive. Her father, a police major based in Sliema, was born in the British Forces’ quarters in Kalkara. Her grandfather was Irish. She has been a resident at Casa Marija for the past year.

“I love going out. I also missed the activities and outings organised by the home. But now, as restrictions continue to ease and we can finally go out, I look forward to going out more. But I understand that when cases were high, we had to obey the rules and respect the restrictions. It is for our own safety after all.”

Mary, who is single, is very close to her nieces and their children. “I am like a mother to them. They visit me and take me out often, as I don’t go out much on my own.”