Though distracted by the threat of imminent immolation over the summer, I haven’t lost sight of my main goal: finding a new home for my mother. So in June, my old friend Alex and I boarded an Alaska Airlines flight from San José, California to Guadalajara. Final destination: Gringo Paradise, AKA, Ajijic, Jalisco, about an hour south.
Oddly, Ajijic is one of the few (many?) places in Mexico that I’ve never seen. In 2014, it fell victim to the failure of good intentions. During my 2014 Mexican Road Trip, I spent an entire week in Guadalajara, but never visited Ajijic. I wanted to, but by the end of my trip, I was just too tired. Plus, I’ve never been all that keen on settling into a Gringo Chinatown somewhere in Mexico. To me, one of the big charms of being S.O.B. is being in a foreign country, with foreign customs, a foreign language, and hot foreign friends. If I want to speak English with a bunch of older Americans I can just go to a bingo game here, stateside. OK, maybe that’s too harsh, but you get the picture.
Despite all that, the pull of Ajijic proved irresistible. The promise? Cheap, or at least reasonable assisted living facilities for an older, non-Spanish-speaking Gringa, in this case, my nearly 90-year-old mother. Not to mention the fact that there’s tons of good, cheap restaurants, low housing costs, low food costs, tons of cheap berries (lakeside is a major growing region), and a fantastic social infrastructure for Gringos. Exhibit “A” for this is The Lake Chapala Society, a sixty-something year old institution that provides social services, an English library, meeting places for affiliated clubs, help with immigration issues, TED Talks, computer clinics, a lovely garden with a restaurant, and just about anything else a stranger in a strange land might need. Oh, and Ajijic also has a nearly perfect climate, topped off with a tendency to rain mostly at night. Camelot itself would be hard-pressed to compete as such a great place to retire.
Alex and I arrived with a tight schedule and a to-do list. Fortunately, Alex had already been to Ajijic a time or two, having helped a married couple of lesbians move there a little more than a year earlier. And I had, after some considerable work, compiled a list of seven assisted living facilities that we were to check out, to see what might be best for my mother.
Let me just tell you, checking out rest homes in a town you don’t know is anything but restful. Over five days, we saw the seven facilities which ranged from the tawdry and depressing, to a place that I was sorely tempted to check myself into. The latter is a beautiful, large house, situated high on the Sierra de San Juan Cosalá, with breathtaking views of Lake Chapala and the far shore. But it wouldn’t likely have been good for my mother, with only seven residents, and some concerns about the owner’s ability to carry on alone after the recent death of her husband.
After checking out all seven places, we flew back to California to report back to mom. Ultimately we settled on three top candidates to show her personally. All of them had private rooms, nice facilities with patio gardens, and mostly English-speaking staffs, and all English-speaking residents. Prices ranged from about $1,500 USD/month to $1,800. Pretty much everything is included: room; board; cleaning; laundry; taxi service into town for shopping, events, and the like; daily activities; and medicine management. As for the latter, it’s quite a comforting thing. Over about the last six months, mom has become inconsistent about taking her regular meds, despite me loading one of those weekly pill minders for her. And I worry that she might overdose on acetaminophen, taking some tablets for pain and then ten minutes later forgetting she’s taken them, and then taking them again because they’re not yet working.
In late August, the three of us piled back into a plane and flew to Ajijic to show Mom the top contenders. Fortunately, my top pick became her top pick, as she liked the staff, the facility, and one of the residents who we had befriended on our first visit.
While there in June, Alex and I met Marjorie, a woman in her early 80’s, and the three of us immediately had hit it off. Marjorie had worked as a trainer for IBM in the 50’s and 60’s, back when women mostly didn’t do such things. Later she and her husband moved to Ajijic where they became involved in Democrats Abroad among other projects. About three years ago, she and her husband moved to the facility when he required more intensive care, and sadly, he died not too long afterward.
But since we liked her so much, we decided to invite Marjorie to lunch with my mother during the late August visit, and during lunch, completely unprompted, she told us a story about the owner of the facility, Dolores. Apparently one of Marjorie’s friends who didn’t live in the facility found herself in a medical emergency. Marjorie asked Dolores what she recommended. As it turns out, Dolores dropped everything, drove the friend to a hospital in Guadalajara, arranged all the medical care, contacted the friend’s family, and generally just manged the situation, and managed it well.
For my mother and me, this sealed the deal as we felt like she’d be in really good hands, and we decided that this was where we’d move mom. Now we just needed to finalize the details. Right after Labor Day we flew back to Redding and began to pack. While there are myriad boring details that subsequently transpired, to make a long story short, on January 11th of this year, Alex, my mother, and I all flew to Ajijic and moved mom into her new home that night.
Ever since, I’ve been living here with my new friend Lisa in West Ajijic, who Alex helped to move down nearly 2 years ago. Mom is happy in her new home, and I’m delighted to be beginning to have my life back again. There’s lots more to recount, but it’s looking like we’ve got a happy ending to my mother’s difficult journey post the death of my stepfather, her long-time partner.
Saludos and thanks for stopping by!
For various reasons, I haven’t named any of the facilities. Obviously I don’t wish to reveal my mother’s location. And in other cases I don’t wish to cast any aspersions on the homes we didn’t select. If you are curious about what I’ve found, I’d be happy to share some information via e-mail. So just leave a comment, and I’ll get back to you.