It is the Best of Times and the Worst of Times

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens quote says it all about my life as an expat. I recently read an article which grouped expats as Stayers, Goers, and Newbies. Since we’ve lived in Nicaragua over ten years now, I would classify us as Stayers. Yet, what happens when we can no longer stay?

That has been on my mind a lot lately. In the best of times, we built two houses, planted over 20 varieties of fruit trees, watered and maintained a lush garden, and tended daily to our chores of feeding our dogs, cats, chickens, and stray animals that wandered on our property.

In the best of times, we walked daily into town, kayaked in the lake, swam daily, experimented with recipes from the fruits of our labors, and preserved the many fruits that fell from our trees. We climbed ladders, carried bags of cement, raked mangoes, dug holes, pulled weeds, and built stone paths. We cleared the beach, bagged garbage, hauled sand, planted flowers, and dug out the road to our house that washed away in a flood.
You get the picture, right? What happens when we can no longer keep up our lifestyle? What happens when I get dementia like my mother, aunt, and grandmother? What happens when I no longer know who I am, or wander into the jungle only to be captured by a congress of Howler Monkeys? Or, even more frightening, I can’t walk and there is nothing…absolutely nothing on our island that is handicapped accessible.

Will it be the worst of times? Will I be a Stayer?

I am not a fatalist. I am a realist, and I know the time is coming to prepare for the transition to a different lifestyle. But, what? We’ve had many discussions about our future. Should we stay or should we go? When is the right time to make a transition? Where will we go?

My expat friend on Ometepe Island is dying of cancer. She is weak and frail, spending most of her time in bed. Nicaraguans who used to work for her, now tend to her needs. It scares me that she is leaving this world unprepared. She never made a will. The scavengers are circling, rumors are rampant, little things go missing from her house, and fights ensue among her employees.  I hate that for her and I am determined not to let that happen to us.

What are our options?

I am a Stayer. I know that in my heart, I can never return to the states. That is not an option. Yet, I don’t want our only son or my husband to be my caretakers, and I refuse to go into a nursing home. I worked in nursing homes throughout college…and I know that is NOT an option for me.

I am a Stayer. We are fortunate to have many options. We have two houses we can sell, and with the money either move to a small apartment or condo in Nicaragua within walking distance of grocery stores and restaurants on the mainland.

I am a Stayer. We can buy a plot of land and build long-term rentals, all handicapped accessible, in an area that lacks long-term rentals. Our son can manage the rentals and build a house for his family. We can rent our house until we feel that it is time to move off the island.

I am a Stayer. We can stay on the island and hire trusted helpers who can live in our casita. We will need to expand the casita and add a kitchen, but it is doable.

I am a Stayer. Our wills are prepared in Nicaragua and the states, our property title is legal and filed in the courts, we have international health insurance, we are registered with the U.S. Embassy in case of an emergency, my passwords are safely stored in my email folder, my son and husband have my passwords, and as far as I know, everything is in order.

I am a Stayer. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am nowhere near ready to kick the bucket, but when I do, I want to be in control and it will be on my terms. I will not die with incompetence, pain, or suffering. I will pass peacefully in the BIG SLEEP on my terms, when I consider it necessary.
It will never be the worst of times for us. Whatever we decide to do, we will both feel comfortable and reassured that we made the right decision to STAY. For we are Stayers. We live with informed wonder and discover new things daily. We create, we trust, and we live with grace…lots of grace. For we are Stayers in this wondrous life.

Are you a stayer?  If so, what makes you a stayer?

Going Nowhere: Ten Tips for Expat Stayers

21 thoughts on “It is the Best of Times and the Worst of Times

  1. Here’s to the stayers, realists and ESPECIALLY the planners. We actually talked to our Portuguese attorney a few days ago about the very same concerns you’ve expressed and how to draw up wills and advance health care directives for our lives here. Like you, I plan and hope to live a good many, healthy years but preparing for the next stages gives us peace plus it removes the decision making burdens from our son. I think that making your loved ones aware of your choices to stay independent for as long as possible as well as putting some means in place to remain so demonstrates love and care for those who will survive us. Anita

  2. HI, I would just like to add that the nursing homes here in Canada and especially the urban area have improved so much in the last ten years…..I have worked in them in my youth , and into adulthood as a specialist. I was just blown away….There is one called Tansley Woods in Burlington, Ontario. They have such a wonderful setting, way back off the street, with lots of green space….they have greenhouses and so many activity rooms. They have a streetscape mall that has an Irish Pub, hairdressers, tuckshops, computer room. They have meals with fresh vegetable from the gardens. There are a thousand things one can join in. Spa like treatments in the shower rooms. It blew me away. A govt. sponsored room costs $1700.00 per month, everything included , meals,laundry, paper products, but that is a shared room. The province here is trying to make these places more liveable and they are doing an excellenjt job in some cities….Life always leads us somewhere, it seems. We just don’t know where….they say that is the mystery of life…thank you..

    • Laura, this is wonderful information. Thanks for sharing it with us. My mother was in three different assisted living facilities in the U.S. She was not covered by medicare because her income was too high. So, everything was paid out-of-pocket. Her first experience was an independent beautiful apartment in a retirement center with a country club setting at the cost of $4,000 per month. She was unable to live there for long because she became very forgetful. Her second experience after she lived with my brother for a year was in another fancy assisted living center, but she only lasted two days. Although the setting was absolutely gorgeous and on the campus of Furman University ( a unique approach to assisted living), the nursing staff was horrible and weren’t trained in dementia. I won’t go into all the details of the horrible event, but they didn’t give her her medications when she first arrived, my mother became very upset and hit the night nurse with a telephone because she wanted to make a call, and they sent her in an ambulance ALONE to the regional hospital where she sat ALONE for several hours. They didn’t notify my brother until the next morning and then they told him the wrong hospital. We were furious. This place cost $5,000 a mo.
      So, after my mother came out of the behavioral psychiatric unit of another hospital, we placed her in a wonderful memory care unit, only 12 residents. She lived there for a year at the cost of $4,500 mo., then about a month before her death, she was moved to the long-term care unit in the same facility at a cost of $6-7,000 a mo. Sometimes the outward appearances of retirement facilities are a cover-up for poor care and untrained staff. At least that is the case in the U.S. We had to constantly monitor my mother’s care. Thank goodness my brother and sister-in-law are anesthetists in the local hospitals and they had a wonderful network of doctors and professionals who understand the challenges of nursing home care.

  3. Excellent post and beautifully written. Yes, we all must consider these issues and I’ve some minor discussions with my parents but need to talk much more about it. They’ve been talking for years to get their Will updated.

    You belong where you are most happy 🙂

  4. So sorry to hear about your friend. I can’t imagine how hard that must be. I say live where you are happiest and you and Ron have built yourselves a wonderful, happy life! Plus you are young and healthy. I admire you both! 🙂 I agree, no nursing home for me either or my parents.

    • Haha! Happy, yes…not so young though. But, the death of my mother and my expat friend, who is near death, makes me realize my mortality. I have always been a planner and I only want to make sure everything is in order.
      Oh, the stories I could tell you about working in nursing homes. I’ve seen everything…more reasons to stay far, far away from those places.

  5. Good for you. No matter where a person lives, being prepared is so important, as well as being able to think and talk about the end. My parents have been doing that for years and consequently, their passing, although sad to those of us left, will be as painless to us as possible. My in-laws refused to discuss death, wills, etc. and that made things much more difficult.

    Excellent post.


    • Thanks, Janet. I think it is especially difficult living abroad when a death occurs. The Nicaraguan laws are different and the customs for burial here are different, plus it is outrageously expensive to send a body in a casket back to the home country. I only want to make it as painless as possible for my family, and me, too. 🙂

  6. Beautifully written and expressed!
    I think of all these things as well, and Im readying to move to Nicaragua this year .
    With a busy life and schedule Im making all the adjustments and venturing forward , and my mom want to go with me …..
    she’s 84……..okkkkkkkkkk…

    so, better to have all lined up,,,as much as possible anyway….

    Remember this song?????????

    when I was just a little girl …I asked my mother …what will I be….?
    will i be happy,,,, ?will i be rich…? .heres what she said to me…


    Remember that song…sung by Doris Day???

  7. Yes. Although not imminent, the time to both mentally and physically prepare for the inevitable end however it may arrive, is definitely NOW. Thank you for this reminder. (And. Yes. As much as I love my family, I am a Stayer in Mexico. I cannot imagine ever returning to live in the USA.)

  8. Excellent! You have given words to many people’s thoughts. People are afraid to talk about death. As an RN who has openly discussed with patients and their families the critical need to make EOL (End of Life) decisions now. Not next month, next year, or even tomorrow, do it now. Not because they were going to die in my care or on my shift, but because no one knows the future. We can all speculate that great grandma will die before the teenager, or the new mom, or the college professor. But we all know of someone who died unexpectedly.
    I would ask my patients and their families do you want: to donate your organs, have life sustaining medical treatment, be cremated with ashes scattered at a favorite spot. Who in your family would know these answers? Have a conversation with your family.
    Just like your post today. You opened the door and you blogged about it! Thank you for being brave enough to be the ripple in the pond. Well done.
    I highly recommend these two books for those who want more information or need advice on getting started:
    1) “It’s OK to Die” by Monica Williams-Murphy M.D. [ ]
    2) “The Conversation” by Angelo Volandes M.D. [ ]
    An additional online resource is: [ ]

    • Wow. Thanks for the links and your experience as an RN in dealing with families whose loved ones may be close to death, ME BE. I can’t tell you the number U.S. citizens who live in Nicaragua and die suddenly without any planning or information for relatives. I am the U.S. Warden for Ometepe Island and it seems like I am always calling the U.S. Embassy with another expat death where I lack the information for them to contact the family of the deceased. I really appreciate your thoughts.

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