COVID-19 killed couple Alfonso Ariza and Cesarea Andrés almost simultaneously.
They were among the thousands who have died from the disease in retirement homes across Europe.
Alfonso, 87, and Cesarea, 85, spent their final days in Madrid. The disease has hit hard in care homes in the Spanish capital, killing at least 6,000 people.
The couple had been together for 56 years. When Cesarea was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they moved to a nursing home so they could stay in unison.
For mourning relatives, the grief is heightened by not having had a chance to say a last goodbye to their loved ones.
Their daughter Almudena and her sisters say they had spent days trying to get news of their ailing parents. Finally, they got a communication from the nursing home: both would be sedated. They died alone, without the comfort of their family.
“It is very painful,” says Almudena. “My father was born in 1932. He lived 40 years under a dictatorship. And in the last days of his life, when he got ill, he was denied his right to hospital care. He didn't deserve this kind of death. Not him, nor my mother.”
Allegations of mistreatment, negligence and abandonment have forced the intervention of the Emergencies Military Unit in many residencies across Spain.
“In one they found seven corpses,” said Carmen Flores of the Patient Ombudsman Association. “Why were they there? Why weren't they sent to a hospital? Why didn't they call their families? It was terrifying. Like a horror movie.”
Health workers have denounced the lack of protective equipment for staff and deficient confinement measures that meant the virus spread like wildfire.
Now a new rescue plan has been introduced to try to break the vicious circle of infection. In hotels, nursing home residents who tested negative for COVID-19 have been given the opportunity to escape the virus.
In one such hotel, hosted by Room Mate, up to two hundred beneficiaries enjoy a safe haven: a COVID-free environment with nursing home care.
“There are 35 of us working,” said Marina Cendrero, a hotel assistance coordinator. “This is a ratio of three workers per resident. This is very difficult to achieve. But we want to prove that it can be done. And we are doing it.”
Juan and Mari Ángeles have been settled in a bridal suite with a view, but they cannot forget the friends they lost at the nursing home.
“Two of my friends died,” said Juan. “Another friend of mine had a very bad time. He said 'They sent me to a place, I saw the people next to me and I thought I am never leaving here’. He thought: ‘That's it, I am done’. But finally, he was discharged.”
Others only dream of the day all this will be over.
“The first thing I am going to do, once I am free again is to go to Plaza Mayor,” said Maria Rivas Arroyo. “Before that, I will go to see my grandchildren and even if I can't touch them... I will give them a tight hug.”
And with that, she gives them an imaginary embrace.