The pandemic, the planning, the chaos

There we were in March, at the beginning of the shut-downs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, happily and mindlessly planning our future life. I quit my teaching job of 20 years, bought plane tickets, rented a condo through a video chat, and started tearing apart my home of 29 years. Sure, the International airport in Belize was closed, the number of COVID cases were rising, but still we went ahead with our plans.

Find us at the end of the arrow
Most importantly, a pool and garden I do not have to maintain

As much as I talk about positive thinking and following your gut instinct, those are not always easy feats to accomplish. While Rick has always been 100% confident and positive, I have had many sleepless nights, fits of tears, and nervous energy.

Not to feel sorry for myself (maybe a little bit), but I will note that Rick is limited as to what he can do, so the purge of the house is left mostly up to me. As I sell furniture and decor, I add metal storage shelves along the walls of the rooms and fill them with offerings for our moving sale. It looks like some wacky thrift store in my house right now. I walk among piles of junk we have managed to collect throughout the years. We are frantically transferring video movies of our kids to a digital format, as well as scanning and saving albums and albums of pictures. The most difficult thing for me is to toss pictures. I keep a few, and for the rest I close my eyes and dump them. Each kid is going to get a small box of their items, and then it is up to them to toss or keep their memories. Transitioning to this next chapter for us requires downsizing to a major degree. We try to keep in mind that the object is not the memory. Those memories cannot be taken away. On a side note: it is amazing how many things I pull out of the closet that are tossed onto the “junk” pile. I cannot believe everything I have held on to that is just worthless!

Two boxes containing the largest of our items deemed essential. They are heading to Florida now to be shipped to San Pedro. They will arrive by the end of July, but will we !?

It is now June 3rd, and Belize announced their decision to NOT open to travel on the originally proposed July 1st date. Our plane tickets are for July 18th. We are still holding out hope. We are also resigned to the fact that we cannot change the world crisis, so we are trying our best to move forward in faith and confidence.

For my next entry, you will learn how to get dogs into another country. Along with 6 more suitcases and the 4 guitars your husband cannot live without!

The catalyst

So now you know that we spent 9 years planning, hoping, and dreaming of the day we would retire. We still thought that retirement meant: working hard first; paying off all bills; saving enough money; working until that golden early retirement age of 55.

You know what they say about the best laid plans?

One month after Rick’s 54th birthday, he almost died.

13 long nights spent in ICU

Click the link below to read Rick’s entire story. https://www.aortichope.org/new-blog/2020/4/17/survivor-story-of-richard-tkach?fbclid=IwAR1imbWzjQ860HInXb_TWorrkT7gcbei3QN-n-jCEI2KDg4dAwhH8UrpIRI

We do not advocate going to these extremes to achieve your dream! What we do want everyone reading to realize though, is that it’s how you bounce back after adversity that matters. We were fortunate that Rick’s aortic dissection did not leave enough serious and lasting damage that he could not enjoy his life. Rick is left with slight paralysis in his right arm, a huge scar, an inability to do heavy lifting, occasional brain fog, and is trying to build his endurance back daily. As of now, he can walk one mile with only 2 or 3 breaks. He will never have his normal and active life back, but he values the life he does have.

He woke up in the ICU on January 11th, 2020. The first week was very touch and go. By the end of March, we were consulting with his surgeon and cardiologist about a move to Belize. The medical team considered all his needs, we will be carefully assembling trusted medical professionals on the island, and will be traveling back to Chicago for all of his follow up appointments every year. Other than ensuring we would follow all protocol for an aortic dissection survivor, we were given the green light. The quote from the surgeon was “Go live your life.”

How it began

Everyone has a dream. If you are like most people, you may think that your dream must be postponed indefinitely until you complete the difficult tasks in life. After all, many people are conditioned to believe that life is hard. What if I told you it was all an illusion? Life is only as difficult as you make it.

Let us introduce ourselves: My name is Robin. I have been married to Rick for 33 years, and for many years we did what we needed to do. We got married, bought a house, raised two wonderful kids, watched them go to college and turn into wonderful adults, and worked and worked and worked. Don’t get me wrong, work is wonderful when it fulfills you and you can honestly say you would do your job with no pay at all. I was fortunate to be a 5th grade teacher, and I absolutely loved almost all of that job. Rick, on the other hand, was our main provider. He worked so hard for so many years, and we believe his health was compromised because of it. More on that later.

For years, we would watch those shows where happy couples are moving to exotic locations all around the world. Of course that could never be us. We were an average family making an average income and working hard. Life is supposed to be hard, after all. Those happy couples had something we didn’t, we were sure of it. While we could watch their stories and celebrate them, we could never hope to be them.

Ten years ago, we scrimped and saved and went on our first “fancy tropical vacation.” Prior to this, our big tropical event was Florida! We landed on St. Thomas and something clicked. While St. Thomas did not hold the appeal for full time living, we were hooked. We knew that one day we would find our fit. Once home, I began searching for other islands in the Caribbean to test out. We still never believed we could make an island our permanent home, but we set that intention and kept working toward that goal even when it felt like we were lying to ourselves. The next stop was intended to be Aruba. We still have not made it to Aruba. One day Rick came home with an article about this great place to visit and retire, with a huge American ex-pat population: Belize. “Where the heck is Belize?” We had to consult a map. It wasn’t long before we started planning a vacation there with our then 17 year old daughter and her friend. We rented a private condo on the outskirts of town, walked everywhere, bought food from vendors on the street and on the beach. We hopped in and out of boats that would shuttle us up and down the coast of this small island nestled just inside the reef. We went to the mainland and climbed on 2000 year old ruins. We found the Belizeans to be welcoming and kind. We found the island of Ambergris Caye to be “just right.”

Fast forward 9 years, and we are preparing for a permanent move to the island. It has been suggested to me a few times that I document the journey in a blog, so here it is. My ultimate goal is to inspire and entertain my reading audience. Ideally, you will reflect on what your dream is, and you will persevere in making it a reality.