Heather with parents in happier times
Heather with parents in happier times

Moving to Portugal: don’t let your dream become a nightmare

“I wish I’d done it years ago” is one of the most-uttered sentiments I hear among the recently-arrived in Portugal. This isn’t surprising, of course, in the 50-plus foreigner world that I move within, where many are facing the double-whammy (and paradox) of retirement and migration.

Enjoying a life we love, sipping that coffee whilst delighting in a pastel de nata with the Portuguese sun warming our bones, an ‘if only’ feeling can arise that has us wish we’d done this sooner and, with it, a longing for more years to enjoy our new lot.

The irony, of course, being that our years of toil and delay have made this delightful experience possible. If not for the work, then little possibility of this pleasure. In the spirit of saying that ‘youth is wasted on the young’, we might also say that ‘retirement comes too late for the old’.

But before I get too wistful or inspire any bitterness about this – our chronological ‘saudade’ – let’s just accept it as a hard fact of this existence, to be honoured like gravity and taxes, rather than railed against. Madness certainly lies that way, should we go all King Canute on the inevitable process of ageing, wherever we experience it.

Let’s face it, ageing, in the best possible way, requires conversation, scrutiny and resources, despite – maybe because of – our indifference, unwillingness and straight-up fear of the unknown.

To illustrate this further, and to perhaps help make it easier to face across our community, let me call upon a fellow incomer who has been forced to look at this rather than look away as we might, left to our own devices, coffee and pastéis de nata.

Thanks to a full house of turbulent and challenging experiences that have become part and parcel of her whole moving-to-Portugal process, Heather Binder has forged a path in the domain of elder care that I believe is a service to us all.

Heather moved from Arizona in early 2021 to the Caldas da Rainha area of our Silver Coast. In the moving party were mum, dad, fiance and the family’s pets too! And not content moving extended family – human, furry and feathered – she also set about “a fairly extreme remodel including solar installation and top to bottom refurbishment”.

Heather Binder - “I am not a dreamer. I am a doer”
Heather Binder – “I am not a dreamer. I am a doer”

“I am not a dreamer. I am a doer,” she says, now a helper of others following in her footsteps as founder of Boots On The Ground Portugal. True to her word, Heather has done, and learned, a lot along the way.

Coming here, not as a retiree, she needed to “find a work niche that offered the flexibility of being able to be the primary caregiver to both my elderly parents”. So, Boots On The Ground was born soon after her own boots hit the ground running.

“Almost four months after leaving my house in the US, my shipping container arrived and, three days later, my parents arrived,” recounts Heather. “All of this didn’t just happen though. It took work, planning, and research, it took the development of key relationships, and it took investing in the right help for the right jobs and paying for that invaluable help. These were smart decisions that got us to this heavenly place!”

And this is where a new and unexpected set of challenges came her and her family’s way.

As with all dreams and human endeavours, there can be nightmarish twists. After all Heather’s diligent, painstaking and devoted work, her parents’ health took a turn for the worse, causing her to research and learn about another side of life in Portugal – elder care.

Both mother Sharon, in her late 70s, and father Jerry, in his early 80s, faced serious health setbacks, setting Heather on a steep learning curve. In the process, she learned about Portuguese hospitals, healthcare entitlements, what happens upon discharge and what to do when a family can no longer meet care needs at home.

Sadly, Heather’s mother passed away after a number of complications, pneumonia and cancer. I can only imagine how devastating this must have been for Heather and the whole Binder family who worked so hard to create a new life in Portugal.

Father Jerry too faced serious affronts to his wellbeing, already dealing with blood cancer and heart disease pre-Portugal, experiencing chronic complications soon after arrival.

Looking back, in the midst of this horrific experience, Heather commented: “I’m so thankful that we are in Portugal as both my parents would be in Medicaid State-run facilities by now in the US where COVID is the worst.”

“Getting old is not easy,” she added. “I’m thankful I’ve been given this long with my folks. Medical is really amazing and I do feel the system here is much more thorough and better organized overall than in the US.”

On a lighter note, and thanks again to Heather’s determination, we can share that dad Jerry has improved, now enjoying life in a sheltered facility, typically Portuguese it seems, “getting his lunch, complete with wine, of course!”.

According to his doting daughter, “everyone has been absolutely sweet, helpful, caring. I’m feeling extremely grateful for this fabulous senior assisted-living community that allows for no help to full-on care, according to personal need”.

Based on her profound experiences, Heather has thoughtfully put together a social media group for “sharing information, resources, and experiences plus support for people considering relocating to Portugal and for those already here navigating rough waters with seniors, disabled/differently abled, neurodivergent issues, mental health conditions and other related issues”.

In awe and conclusion, I ask your forgiveness for what we Brits might call ‘pee’ing on your chips’, when all you might want to do is to focus on your custard tart by day and cold beer or Portuguese wine by night. But I’m sorry, not sorry. It helps to consider the ‘darker’ side of our new lives and futures, just as Heather Binder was compelled to do in loving service to her parents.

The more we can talk about what’s difficult now, the easier it might be when the inevitable comes in the future.

More about the amazing Heather Binder – www.bootsonthegroundpt.com

By Carl Munson

Carl Munson is host of the Good Morning Portugal! show every weekday on YouTube and creator of www.learnaboutportugal.com, where you can learn something new about Portugal every day!

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