Leila Perez Ortiz and Francisco Javier Ortiz (a.k.a. Pancho) are my grandparents. Leila was born in 1916 in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico after the end of World War one. Pancho was born in 1920 in Yauco, Puerto Rico. Both of my grandparents came from very poor families. They witness and lived through. The Great Depression of the 1930s., The Ponce Massacre in Puerto Rico, the Cuban missile crisis, The assassination of John F. Kennedy, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, the attacks of 9/11 and recently the election of America’s first African-American president Barack Obama. I remember my grandfather telling me stories about historical moments in his lifetime. Like the time he tried to enlist in the Army to serve in World War II and was rejected for having flat feet and poor eyesight.
In the 1990s my grandparents moved to Chicago to be closer to our family. I have grown up with my grandparents almost all my life. I have witnessed their change throughout the years as they started aging. Their hair started graying more and more. Their bodies grew weaker and health problems started to complicate their lives. Pancho’s cataracts and glaucoma worsen through the years. My grandmother’s high blood pressure would send her to the hospital time and time again. But faith, hope and love for each other has kept them going through out the years. My grandmother is very religious she prays the rosary once a day. My grandfather was an avid reader. In the past four years they have lost their teeth. My grandfather started to lose his hearing and almost all his sight.
About three ago Pancho started forgetting things. He started calling me by my brother’s name. And asking my father to take him to his mother’s house who passed away 20 years ago. We started noticing that he was forgetting things more and more. He started walking out of the house by himself without telling anyone where he was going. Pancho started getting lost in his own home. And forgetting his wife’s name. He would ask Leila who are you? She would reply “Leila” I’m your wife of 70 years.
Soon after these events started piling on our consciousness. My father took Pancho to the doctor he was diagnosed with dementia. Leila also started worsening as well. She started falling out of her bed and taking many trips to the hospital. My parents, their main care providers had to make the hard decision of putting them into a nursing home for better care.
For the past two years they have been living at Casa Central nursing home in Chicago. My grandmother’s health has improved dramatically. She walks and talks more than ever and has many friends. My grandfather’s health slowly got worse and worse. Last week his condition worsened and he was put into hospice care.
About an hour after taking this photograph my grandfather passed away. Leila was holding his hand. Pancho passed away peacefully with his family by his side on October 26, 2011 at 11:40am. As a photographer people open their lives to me. Here are some moments of my life. Thank you.
Francisco Javier Ortiz
April 26, 1920 October 2011
PHOTOGRAPHS + TEXT by CARLOS JAVIER ORTIZ / facingchange.org
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