Finding Comfort in Baja California Sur
If any Baja California resident was ever to be voted Most Likely to Liaise with the Living Whilst Dead it would surely be Robin Austin who passed in 2019. Her passion for life was so great, her compassion for those in grief was so strong, and her being was filled with so much vitality that it was literally impossible to concede that she was dead, that all that life force was simply gone. Turns out, we were right to be skeptical. “I walked into my bathroom one day and realized that my hairbrushes had been rearranged”, recalls long-time Todos Santos resident Wendy Rains. “Now the only person besides me who ever took an interest in my hairbrushes was Robin since she was a hairdresser by trade. So I said tentatively to the air, ‘Robin?’. And in that typical Robin way I heard her laughingly say ‘Well it’s about time you figured out I was here!’. She went on to tell me that my father, who had recently passed, wanted me to know how much he appreciated the care and assistance that I gave him in his final days, and how much he loved me. I was not surprised at all that Robin would come to give me comfort about my father.”
Comfort. It is what we all crave when faced either with our own mortality of that of our loved ones. It is what we all covet when illness overwhelms us and once-small tasks become insurmountable obstacles. It is what we can offer one another as we face the transitions that mark our passage through life. Wendy started Comfort Care & Assistance in 2017 as a program of the Mexican nonprofit A.C.T.S. (Associacion de Colonias de Todos Santos), to formalize comfort for friends and neighbors in the community as they or their families face illness or death. “About 5 years ago I hosted a seminar on death and dying for A.C.T.S. Not only was the seminar a huge success, but when I put out a signup sheet to see if there was anyone who wanted to be trained as a caregiver, 20 people signed up. Interest was so great that Comfort Care rapidly evolved into a not-for-profit service with 40 volunteers and now has a database of 70 volunteers. It is extremely satisfying to see how far this program has come in such a short period of time.”
Comfort Care’s bilingual/bicultural services start with an initial assessment conducted in the home. The services available from that point cover many facets of care for both the patient and their families including medical assistance (nursing care, medication oversight, dressing changes, wound care, post-operative care, bed baths, palliative care), comfort care (dog walking, pet feeding, shopping, driving, meal preparation, companionship, respite for family caregivers), grief counselling and end-of-life services. The last two services are where Lu Pearson has really made her mark at Comfort Care.
Lu, who has been coming to Todos Santos since 1992 and living here full time since 2017, is a retired registered nurse from Canada. At the age of 60, after she and her husband closed their wholesale art business, Lu went back to university where she became a Licensed Holistic Health Practitioner. 5 years after that, she became a Reiki Master Teacher, then subsequently became a Certified End of Life Doula. “Dropping our physical bodies is much like a birth and a cause for celebration,” says Lu. It is simply the transition to another plane. “There’s the celebration of coming into our bodies at birth, the celebration of leaving our bodies at death, and all the other birthdays in between are just numbers.” Lu’s experience with death and dying is not simply academic. Not only has she worked with countless patients and their families as they face the end of life, she has lost a child, 9 siblings and a spouse. She was not at all surprised to learn of Robin’s post-death visit to Wendy. “When my son died, I was sitting in a chair sobbing when he came to comfort me. He said ‘Mom, I’m OK’ to which I replied ‘Well I’m not!’ ”
Lu uses her vast experience to help patients and families prepare for their final days, and to be able to face them without fear. “There are two stages of dying” notes Lu, “Pre-active dying and active dying. It is very important for families to understand these stages of dying so that they are prepared and not fearful when the symptoms manifest.” Lu recounts the case of her former husband as she sat by what was to become his deathbed. “He stated it was time to leave and that he had a date with family and friends on the other side around midnight. He had obviously been quite ill and not eating very much, but after that pronouncement he sat up, ate a huge meal, then laid back down and went into a deep sleep. Shortly before midnight I noticed that his feet were cold. Since we leave our bodies from the feet up, I knew that his death was imminent; he said he saw his father on the other side. I asked him to please wait for our son to come back into the room. He did, then looked at me, said ‘Thank you’ then closed his eyes and passed peacefully about midnight, right on time.”
Education and information are an integral part of Comfort Care’s mission. Wendy wrote the humor-filled kit Adios Amigos, a guide for expatriates who plan to spend their final days in Mexico. Comfort Care also has a continual series of training sessions in Spanish and English for both volunteers and family caregivers, and will soon launch Neighbor-to-Neighbor, a program to provide free foundation-level care-doula training. The group also has a medical aid resource information program that provides information on where to find medical equipment and supplies, as well as contact information for local hospitals, ambulances, doctors and holistic services.
Wendy has been living in Todos Santos since 2002, but has now decided to return to her native United States so that she can be an integral part of her granddaughter’s life. Lu will take over from her as the director of Comfort Care, and they are working together now to create a more formal governance structure for the organization so that it is prepared for the growth in both services and the demand for services that will inevitably follow the growth of the community. “I am so happy to know that I’m leaving Comfort Care in such caring and capable hands,” says Wendy of the transition to Lu’s leadership. “The town is increasingly populated with enthusiastic, skilled people, and Lu is already doing a great job of tapping into these resources and taking Comfort Care to the next level.”
While one of Comfort Care’s goals is to help people die well, Wendy has given the town a 20-year course in how to live well. She celebrated, reveled in and contributed to Todos Santos at every turn. She was the sassy milkmaid who wrote about the colorful characters of her hometown in Encounters of an Underground Milkmaid, her regular column in El Calendario, the precursor publication of Journal del Pacifico. She then compiled some of those columns into a book that has become a treasured piece of Todos Santos history, Genuine People of Interest in Todos Santos. She subsequently shifted mediums and wrote, produced and starred in three different radio shows on Cabo Mil radio station, all celebrating her hometown: Todos Santos Today, Todos Santos Tonight and Weekend with Wendy. Always agile, during Covid Wendy shifted her format to Zoom interviews with business owners and thought leaders in Todos Santos in On the Spot with Wendy Rains. Wendy was so intent on connecting the people of Todos Santos that she even edited the Todos Santos phonebook, a publication of A.C.T.S.
But Wendy’s impact will perhaps be most lasting through the formal organizations she helped create that give a strong voice to the residents of Todos Santos on issues of deep importance to us all. She was a founding member of the Las Tunas Home Owners Association which later became Associacion de Colonias de Todos Santos, or A.C.T.S. A.C.T.S. has led the charge on everything from protecting the dunes, to preventing new mines, to stopping the illegal construction of cell towers in residential neighborhoods. They created the Vecino Vigilante program for neighborhood security, which included the monumental task of creating an extremely detailed map of Todos Santos which could be used by police and ambulance services, something which had not previously existed.
“I’ve poured my heart and soul into trying to provide things in Todos Santos that didn’t exist before” says Wendy. “I was always made to feel so welcome here, and I’ve really done my best to repay all that kindness by helping to usher in new programs, new ideas, and lasting solutions.” During her tenure in town Wendy has brought excitement and innovation, but most importantly, as we all face an uncertain future, she has brought us comfort.
If you would like to learn more about Comfort Care’s services and/or get involved as a volunteer or nurse, please contact Lu Pearson directly at Lu@comfortcare.mx. To learn more about A.C.T.S. please visit their bilingual website at https://actsbaja.org.