By Peg Lopata, Contributing writer
CAMBRIDGE – Liz Aguilo, 55, likes to help others. After she obtained a master’s degree from Simmons College School of Social Work in Boston, she started working with seniors. She is now director of Paine Senior Services (PSS) and a geriatric social worker.
“I liked working directly with clients,” said Aguilo. “This is why I became a social worker.”
Aguilo and Paine Senior Services
She continues to work directly with clients, but as director of PSS also develops policies in collaboration with the board of the agency and is responsible for day-to-day operations, including finance, outreach, fundraising and clinical supervision of the other social workers and students.
The majority of PSS’s work is done through home visits with clients, but due to the pandemic, this has been greatly curtailed to keep elders safe. It’s not only made it difficult for Aguilo and the agency, it’s very hard on the clients they serve.
Seeing clients through tough times
“Without a doubt,” she said, “My clients say that it’s hard not seeing people for extended periods of time. Also, our clients find having to rely on technology to get anything done is quite a barrier, which adds to feelings of frustration and helplessness. It’s even hard to have to plan so much for even simple things like just going outside.”
Aguilo added, “For our clients who live alone and did not necessarily have a clear support system, they had to quickly devise survival strategies–this is not an exaggeration, especially as the systems and services they depended on needed time to adjust. The consistency of the uncertainty has been exhausting physically and emotionally.”
Finding her own way
Though overall she feels blessed in many ways, it’s been hard for Aguilo personally, too.
“I really miss being around people, especially friends and family, and I cannot wait until we can hug again,” she said.
However, Aguilo is not the type to dwell on what she doesn’t have and even more so during these times.
“I’ve had time to create more balance in my life—to garden, appreciate the beauty in my own neighborhood in South Boston, take walks, and have long talks with friends and family,” she explains. “Learning ballet has been my therapy. I’ve watched a lot of cooking videos and have learned how to cook some delicious dishes.”
Learning from our elders
Like elders, perhaps her resilience comes from some hardships in life, such as the loss of her brother when he was twenty-eight years old and raising her daughter as a single mom. But Aguilo thinks elders may have some advantages over younger people weathering this storm.
“Many elders have already lived through other traumatic events. If we are wise, we can learn lessons of resilience from them,” said Aguilo.
We can also learn some practical things from our elders, as Aguilo has discovered.
“Because of my work,” she said, “I have learned many lessons about planning for retirement.”
Making the most of life
But whatever lies in the future, Aguilo will continue following her guiding philosophy.
“When my brother died, I vowed to be grateful for my life—mess and all. I work hard not to dwell on the negative and to appreciate my blessings. I acknowledge any sadness, worry, anger, fear and remind myself that these feelings will pass. I have made a decision to choose to live my life with the knowledge that this is my one and only chance at this life, and I want to make the most of it.”