A Love Thicker Than Blood
Photos & Text by Lindsay Pytel
During a recent March morning, residents of the San Vicente de Paúl Senior Home in León sat around a wide open meeting space that branches off to individual residents’ rooms. They beamed as they played with children from a local school, part of an initiative to connect the senior center and the school around communal bonding activities.
Gioconda Mayorga has been living at the senior home for two years. Now 78 years old, Mayorga tells a story which makes clear that, for her, blood does not define familial love.
Before coming to the home, she spent decades of her life in the service of a León family. Her mother worked as a caretaker to the family and Mayorga was born and raised in that home. The family even helped pay for her education. Over time, she became so attached to the family that she followed in her mother’s footsteps when she got older and began taking care of them as well, living there altogether for 68 years.
“They really loved me. They really took care of me and appreciated me,” Mayorga said. “I used to call [the lady of the home], like, my ‘godmother’ to the point that some of her friends would say to her, ‘She’s almost like your own child.’ She really trusted me.”
Mayorga’s godmother, however, did have children of her own. She had a boy born with birth defects who was three years younger than Mayorga.
“I would take care of him and help him and loved him as though he were my brother,” Mayorga said.
Her godmother also adopted a son so he could help support the family, especially the child with birth defects and Mayorga herself. However, the adopted son grew very jealous of the women’s relationship.
“He started to be kind of rude to me, to harass me, to not be very nice to me,” Mayorga said. “To the point that I became so desperate and so upset that one day I ran out of the house and said to myself, ‘This is it.’”
They women had leaned on each other for support through the different obstacles in their lives. They trusted each other with everything. For example, as Mayorga's godmother grew elderly and became more fragile, she put Mayorga in charge of her affairs. Mayorga soon had privileges to sign for her godmother’s documents at the bank. The godmother’s husband used to take care of everything in the household. After he died, however, her godmother knew the next person she could trust with handling her affairs was Mayorga.
Mayorga’s desperation, which led to her fleeing the only home she had known, turned into an all-consuming grief.
Her godmother died 41 days after she ran away. Mayorga cried as she told the story, removing her glasses to wipe the tears from her eyes. She said she was sad that she never got to say her final goodbye. The way Mayorga spoke about her godmother suggested that her relationship with her employer was the primary maternal relationship in her life. Although her biological mother had died two years prior, it was recalling the death of her godmother that brought Mayorga to tears.
Perhaps Mayorga’s admiration for her godmother had to do with the woman’s extraordinary fortitude in the face of terror. She was the daughter of a general, a fact that, Mayorga said, made her godmother a very strong woman.
Though her godmother’s death still tears at her heartstrings, Mayorga remembered the life and face of bravery her godmother always presented.
She recalled a single day during the Nicaraguan Revolution when her godmother’s biological child and his father were kidnapped. At this point the child was in his late 30s, however, Mayorga always spoke of him as a boy.
She said one morning the men were on their way to a farm on the road to Poneloya and as they opened the gate to the farm, were grabbed.
The kidnappers let the father go, telling him they were holding his son for ransom and if he didn’t bring the money back to them, his son would be killed. After her husband told her the news, Mayorga’s godmother couldn’t allow this to happen to her son.
At around 5 p.m. the same day, Mayorga’s godmother went to confront her son’s and husband’s kidnappers.
So when she arrived she said to them, “‘You’re just a bunch of thieves and I am not going to give you anything. If you’re going to kill my child, you’re going to kill me first and that’s why I’m here,’” Mayorga said.
Mayorga’s tears turned to laughter as she recalled her godmother calling the kidnappers “thieves.”
Eventually that night, the kidnappers saw her godmother wasn’t playing games and let them both go.
“They told her, ‘You can leave, but don’t look back,’” Mayorga explained.
Mayorga’s love and admiration for her godmother was evident as she spoke. She did not always want to work for this family. Instead, she dreamed of becoming a doctor, but as she grew older, she changed her mind.
“I dedicated myself to taking care of this family that gave me so much love,” Mayorga said.
Ten years ago she finally left the family after the conflicts with the adopted son became unbearable. She went to live with friends in Managua for eight years, before returning to León. Mayorga said she never liked life in Managua, but she really had nowhere else to go.
Growing up in her godmother’s home and eventually with her friends, Mayorga was always forced to rely on others financially; she never had any means of her own. She grew very weary of taking charity.
“You can’t take advantage of somebody’s help for too long,” she said. “There will come a point where you will become a burden.”
Mayorga sat to the side smiling, watching the children laugh and play with the residents, playing games like Bingo and passing beach balls back and forth. She looked around with a light in her eyes at the new family she is a part of and her home.
Mayorga’s gratitude toward her employer kept her attached to the family for decades. Now she thanks God for having found a place to finally call her own.
“I thank God because he helped me make the decision to come here,” Mayorga said. “I feel very calm here.”