Aging, Death and Dying, End-of-Life Care, End-of-Life Planning, Health & Wellness, Living Abroad, Mexico, Retirement

Death Café Ajijic, Mexico; Ex-Pats and Snowbirds Talk Gently about Mortality

A group of American, Canadian, and UK ex-pats and “snowbirds” recently gathered for the first Death Café Ajijic, Mexico. There were 18 persons present at Café El Grano including an anesthesiologist, a hospice nurse, a hospice social worker, a psychiatrist, teachers, and others. There were two facilitators who work with end-of-life planning and transitions.

If the term Death Café (excuse the brash wording, I prefer Sacred Conversation or The Conversation) is new to you, you may hear it more and more.  Death Cafes or Café Mortels began with Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz who held over 100 such meetings in his native country until recently. In 2011, Jon Underwood, inspired by Crettaz, created Death Cafes in England (see history at http://deathcafe.com/what/  ).

These all-volunteer social events to discuss death and dying respectfully and informally (no agenda) are now held in 52 countries including Australia, Europe, Canada, the U.S., and parts of Latin America where death has sometimes, but not always, been a foreboding and scary subject.  Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim countries, and places with indigenous populations tend to consider death a natural part of life and honor it as such more easily. Most café organizers work with end-of-life, and tend to focus on alternative, kinder, spiritual ways of departing. Note: There is a Death Café in Singapore.

“At a Death Café… our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives,” states the Café web site. Most of all, the Café encourages an exchange of stories and perspectives as a way to embrace death.

What prompted a Death Café in Ajijic?

First, a number of retired ex-pats and visitors die in Mexico unexpectedly, and, they die without a health care directive and/or an end-of-life plan. There is a need for continued conversation and education.

Second, Loretta Downs, MA, has been speaking to locals at a popular venue, Open Circle (as well as at In the Heart of Awareness, the Buddhist center), about end-of-life for several years.  She flies in from Chicago every January to deliver her talks. About 300 + persons show up to listen as she encourages her audiences to become friendly with the idea of mortality and to prepare for it – think about it, and express to others what you want.  See http://www.endoflifeinspirations.com.

DSCN2635
Wendy Jane Carrel and Loretta Downs, End-of-Life Guides, Planners, and Educators; Co-Hosts of Death Cafe Ajijic 2018

Third, yours truly, Wendy Jane Carrel, MA, has been speaking to ex-pats around Ecuador for three years and subsequently in Mexico with the same passionate message – make friends with your demise, please make a plan.

It seemed natural for Loretta and I to team up to host a Café for Lake Chapala.

My interests had been reinforced as a result of volunteering two years at Juntos Contra el Dolor, the only 24/7 palliative care hospital and hospice in the state of Jalisco, a model for Mexico. I was given the gift of observing how painful chronic and terminal illnesses are treated, the politics of medicine, the politics of opioids, cultural difficulties related to dying, family constellations, and the difficulties of running a non-profit in a rich country (yes, rich in many resources) with little tradition of philanthropy. Most of all, I learned the concept of a “good death” requires much education and outreach in Mexico as well as at home.

Loretta’s friend Nancy Gershman, who produces Death Café NYC, gave us welcome pointers before the Ajijic meeting. We followed Nancy’s advice – small tables of 3-4 for intimate conversation, one of us (Loretta) to circulate and ensure participant exchanges were flowing, see that anyone who was recently grieving the loss of a loved one was comfortable, followed-up by an evaluation to learn what we could do better the next time.  https://www.meetup.com/Death-Cafe-New-York-City/

Cafe El Grano, nice partitions for intimate conversation
Cafe El Grano, Ajijic, Mexico – nice partitions and small tables for intimate conversation – also a most accommodating owner 😉

Because Loretta and I travel often, she is based in Chicago, and I in LA, we may not be producing other cafes until January 2019 unless another healthcare worker can pick-up in our absence.

Note: If you have not heard of Ajijic, it’s a sleepy Lake Chapala village, with a population of around 10,000, an hour south of Guadalajara. It is a popular tourist destination. Lake Chapala is home to around 20,000 full-time retirees from north-of-the border.

The DeathCafe.com web site indicates there are 9 death cafes in Mexico. I could only find one. It is located in Mexico City. See http://deathcafe.com/deathcafe/1695/ .

I have so much more to learn. I am now eager to return home to attend hospice social worker and end-of-life guide Betsy Trapasso’s Death Café LA https://www.facebook.com/deathcafelosangeles/   or Maggie Yenoki’s gathering in Pasadena https://www.facebook.com/deathcafepasadena/

References

https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/01/12/what-happens-at-a-death-cafe/   excellent overview of a Death Café gathering in Sonoma, California by Shepherd Bliss

https://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2017/mar/09/death-cafe-learn-talk-dying-patients

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/07/10/the-founder-of-death-cafe-has-died-but-his-movement-to-accept-the-inevitable-end-of-life-will-live-on/

https://www.facebook.com/DEATH-Cafe-Singapore-402018853254286/  a unique look at what Death Café Singapore is paying attention to

https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/take-me-to-the-death-cafe

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Aging, Alzheimer's, Assisted Living, Assisted Living Mexico, CCRC's in Mexico, Health & Wellness, Life Planning Communities Mexico, Living Abroad, Mexico, Mexico Senior Living, Senior Care Mexico

Guidelines for Choosing Assisted Living/Nursing Care in Mexico

Gardens at Casa de las Lunas in Puerto Vallarta with independent living, assisted living and respite care, private pay

According to realtors at Lake Chapala, Mexico, and the information desk at the Lake Chapala Society in Ajijic, the popular ex-pat retirement destination has received more than double the no. of potential renters, buyers, and information hungry folks from Canada and the U.S. than in years before. (Other popular retirement destinations are also seeing an increase in activity – see no. 3 below).

Among visitors intent on moving are travel aficionados looking for a unique cultural experience, the prospect of meeting stimulating people from all parts of the world, but more importantly, an opportunity to stretch their dollars.

And then there is senior living and healthcare, a subject of interest for most. For “sandwich-generation” boomers who lost savings and/or homes during the American recession of 2007-8, or spent savings for the education of millennial children or grandchildren, many are finding there may be little left for themselves or parents if assisted living or nursing care are ever required.

An added concern is that funding for Medicare and Medicaid in the U.S. are currently being challenged.

Alma, a non-profit home for 40 residents in San Miguel Allende

If the cost of assisted and continuing care in Canada (Canada takes care of its disabled, ill, and older adults through universal care programs but there is also private pay care) or the U.S. is not an option, there are more affordable options in other countries. The closest place to look is Mexico.

Here are guidelines for looking at assisted living and continuing care in Mexico, costing between $600 USD to $3500 USD/month, depending on the value of the American dollar and the Canadian dollar vs. the peso, the location, and the residence you choose:

  1. Take note – in Mexico the terms assisted living and “nursing home” are often one and the same, with exceptions. Care facilities are not known as they are north of the border – assisted living, rehabilitation, nursing home, and hospice. It is often an all-in-one approach. Also, with some exceptions, homes mix physically disabled residents with memory care residents.
  2. Select cities or areas you wish to be in for climate – coastal, desert, mountains. (Coastal tropical places cost a little more because A/C is expensive).
  3. If the future resident does not speak Spanish, seek places with ex-pat communities and English-speaking locals who are often a source of volunteers – Baja California Norte (Ensenada, Rosarito Beach, Tijuana), Cancun, Lake Chapala, Mazatlan, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta. Or, choose smaller places such as Merida, and San Miguel Allende. Some care homes have all foreigners as residents, others locals and foreigners together. Usually one person on staff speaks English, sometimes more than one.
  4. Do the due diligence. Research places and determine costs. Most assisted living and “nursing homes” catering to foreigners have web sites in English easily found on Google Search.
  5. Consider private pay homes and non-profits, as well as residences run by nuns whether you are Catholic or not. Nuns often (but not always) provide quality care as most are nurses with a mission to serve, plus costs tend to be what Mexicans would pay if price is a consideration. Another level of care is found in government homes, some pleasant others not; some accept foreigners with residency cards. There are differences in every region of the country, and there are no rules.
  6. Note: no two places will be alike – financially, environmentally, socially, and in terms of care. Homes are not regulated with the strict standards one is accustomed to in Canada and the U.S.  However, there are places with quality care and high standards.
  7. Conduct site visits. Assess for yourself what might be an acceptable match in terms of environment and people. Would you or your loved one feel comfortable and safe? Do you like the space, the staff?  How are you welcomed? Do residents seem cared for or are they alone in “God’s waiting room” without attention and activities? Ask residents what they like best and what they don’t like. How clean is the home? Standards differ from place to place. Arrive at meal time… is there enough assistance for each resident? Is food fresh, nutritious, and nicely presented? Is it food you would or could eat? Does the home prepare meals compatible with health challenges? What about care plans and medication management? What about emergencies? How are these matters handled?
Patio at a private pay “nursing” home, Casa Nostra, at Lake Chapala

 

Casa de los Abuelos DIF (government) home for seniors, Morelia – these homes are intended for Mexican nationals but on occasion persons with residency visas who pay are accepted, depends on the place and availability

There are no simple answers for selection.

Ideally, we would all have perfect health to our last days and an abundance of funds which would allow us to receive the best possible care wherever we choose to live.

Note: CCRC’s (Continuing Care Retirement Communities, from independent living to demise), now referred to as Life Plan Communities, have not arrived in Mexico, with one exception. There are plans in the works for Life Plan Communities in Baja California, Cancun, and at Lake Chapala from American, Canadian, Mexican, and Spanish developers.

References:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=6lYA7c1Pnuo   Ajijic, Mexico video 2017

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/foreign-retirees-flocking-mexico/

https://www.seniorhousingforum.net/blog/2016/8/3/will-mexico-solve-senior-living-affordability-problem

Ecuador, Ecuador Senior Living, Emergency Preparedness, Expats, Health & Wellness, Living Abroad

Cotacachi Health Chapters, Ecuador End-of-Life Planning Discussion

On June 7, 2015 I had the pleasure of speaking to the Cotacachi Health Chapters group at Gran Hotel Primitivo about End-of-Life Planning for Norte Americanos. (Cotacachi is a charming Andean city 2 1/2 hours from Quito).

My hosts were community organizer Caroline Goering – a true delight – and a team of other amazing, supportive people – Dan and Janda Grove, Mike and Linda Munhall, and Bill and Ann Henry. What to do in case of a health emergency, especially if you don’t speak Spanish, is their focus.

Caroline introduces Wendy
Caroline introduces Wendy Jane Carrel
Cotacachi Health Group, June 2015
Cotacachi Health Group

 

school marm...
school marm…

We discussed physicians, who to call and why, transportation, the importance of having end-of-life documents prepared, attorneys and notaries, cremation options, and disposition of remains to North America.

Fortunately, bi-lingual nurse practitioner Mary Grover, a former Peace Corps volunteer, can be of service to the estimated 200 expats in the area. I introduced Mary to those who had not met her.

A special thanks to CHC for the invitation. I was exhausted by the time I arrived, but content to meet a group that understands the importance of planning ahead, just in case, when living abroad.

Aging, Ecuador, End-of-Life Care, Expats, Living Abroad, Retirement, Senior Living

Why Creating an End-of-Life Plan When Living Abroad Is a Good Idea

Here below is a link to an article I wrote that was posted on CuencaHighLife.  It’s about the importance of creating an end-of-life plan if you live in Ecuador.  The bigger message is that it is wise to have such a plan in place where ever you chose to live.

Ecuador, is ruled by civil law. North America and England are ruled by common law. Different systems, different procedures.

Why creating an end-of-life plan in Ecuador is a good idea for expats | CuencaHighLife.

 

Camposanto Santa Ana, a    cemetery in Cuenca, Ecuador
Camposanto Santa Ana, a
cemetery in Cuenca, Ecuador