How to deal with grief when you are abroad

Funeral abroad

In the final part of our trilogy considering different aspects of grief, one experienced funeral Celebrant in Spain looks at death and dying overseas. Read on for a very personal account full of advice on how to die well abroad.

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My reasons for becoming a funeral Celebrant

In 2004 my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal Cancer.  She died aged 63 on 5 November 2005 at 11.55pm she loved fireworks and the noise outside the hospice in Hackney where she died was deafening.  To this day I still say she chose that day to die so we would remember – she knows how bad I am with dates!

Whilst she was in the hospice we planned her funeral, she chose the music and the vicar who was going to do the service, this was someone she had known for some time and she left instructions regarding “the box – don’t spend a lot of money it will be such a waste” and she wanted donations to the hospice, no flowers. 

Having spent some time with the vicar talking about mum, her life, youth and aspirations, her wishes to travel in her retirement, I can honestly say it was the worst service I have attended and I knew I could do better and decided that one day I would.  That is one of the reasons, the main reason I became a celebrant.

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What is a Celebrant-led funeral

Jumping into 2020 and I have now been living in Spain for 18 months. Having retrained as a Celebrant, I believe a funeral should be a celebration of the person’s life.

It will be sad, of course it will, and undoubtedly it will be one of the hardest days of your life BUT, there are no rules to say you cannot laugh, and that you cannot remember the fun times through the service.  You can cry, you can laugh and you can sing, but the main thing is to remember and by remembering and saying goodbye we start the grieving and the healing process.

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The funeral process abroad

A funeral process overseas may differ substantially from that in your home country.

In Spain for example, most funerals take place within 24 to 48 hours after the death.

So, at one of the hardest times in your life you have very little time (if you are unprepared) to decide what, when, where, and how you are going to say goodbye to your loved one. 

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What to do if a loved-one unexpectedly dies abroad

  • If the death happens at home or the accommodation where you are staying and you do not have a funeral plan, you should call the police.
  • If the death is unexpected and you DO have a funeral plan, call your plan provider first.
    They will then inform the police on your behalf so that the body is released into the care of a supplier covered under your insurance.
  • An unexpected death is referred to the coroner

The death process abroad if under medical care

  • If the death occurs in hospital or whilst under the care of a doctor, a medical death certificate will be issued and the body released to your chosen funeral director.
  • If you are going to repatriate the remains, there is a second certificate required – check each country’s requirements for specific advice. 
  • If on holiday, read your travel insurance policy to see if you are covered for repatriation following death overseas. 

Whatever the circumstances of death, DO ensure you have any paperwork read to you in English before you sign anything.
To be aware of what you are signing for, find someone who you can call on to translate at any time!

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Funeral plan advice for those who live in Spain

Where I live in Spain most people have a funeral plan.  

The locals have insurance policies they start paying into from a very young age and many ex-pats purchase a funeral plan from an insurance company or from their local funeral parlour often paid for over a period of time.
These are very cost effective as the cost of the funeral is set and it means that there are no nasty surprises.
However, DO check with the insurance provider exactly what location your plan covers you for. Eg You are still covered if you move out of the area or die abroad

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How to die well abroad

Ensure you know what your loved-ones want and ensure they know what you want.

If you do not speak the language, have a translation made of your wishes so this can be handed to the authorities when they remove the body – and make many copies!

Finally, write down memories, things you want mentioned at your funeral, things your family and friends may not know/remember about what happened in your childhood and during the years you were growing up.  All this will help them when it comes to speaking to the person who will write your funeral service.  You may not be bothered about this but, they will want it to be the best it can be. 
Most of all, it will help them to come to terms with their loss.

We all grieve in different ways, some cry, some laugh, some drink and some talk. 
Very recently I had a call from my stepdaughter, she was in tears and very upset as her four-year old grandson’s rabbit, Biscuit, was dying and did not have long to go.  I spoke to her later that day and, her son seeing she was upset, said to her, “Don’t cry mum, we’ll get another one.”
If only it were that simple!

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For more information on death and dying in Spain, contact the author, Wendy Sherwood

Further UK Government information on death and dying abroad

Further information on coping with bereavement

The Celebrant Directory What is Grief – part 1

The Celebrant Directory What is Grief – part 2

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