Death In A Foreign Land

I know, I know.  What a delightful subject.  

I’ve been putting off writing this (or anything, for that matter) but I’m going to wade into it.  I think, while it’s not a very uplifting subject, it’s something that needs to be thought about.  Before it happens is best, you know.  

Some of this is very personal for me but I hope that you learn from what I went through.

So, you want to move to a foreign country?  You’re going to leave things and people behind and live out your remaining days in Paradise.  Sounds like a great idea.  A fantastic idea.  Go do it!

But what happens when you have no more remaining days?  

Things do not go the same in Latin America as they do in the US.  First, you should know that patient rights as you know them in the US have not made their way fully to 3rd World.  A lot of the population is very religious and a lot or their views are based in their beliefs.  It’s ok.  In fact, it’s great.  But it doesn’t always translate well when you’re in the hospital.  Doctors have the ultimate say in your care.  This might seem like a great idea but they have control over whether you become a vegetable or not.  

Also, there are no EEG machines in the 3rd World.  There’s no test on whether your brain is still functioning or not.  If your wish has always been to NOT become a burden, your family can beg and plead and even sue if they want.  But, still, if the doctor decides that a miracle is on it’s way, he can continue the course of care as he lays out.  Your family cannot request you be removed from life support.

Don’t get me wrong.  You can find world class care in the 3rd World.  Most of the doctors were trained or worked in the 1st World.  A lot of doctors, especially dentists, have access to better equipment than your guy in the States.  Trust me, you’ll receive the best care possible in the 3rd World from World Class doctors.  You will find that the doctors are warm and capable and have access to 1st World equipment.  In fact, you may find yourself waiting for the MRI machine to warm up because there was no use for it earlier.  A luxury that doesn’t happen in a hospital in Los Angeles.

So, you didn’t make it.  The doctors couldn’t save you.  You did not get your miracle.  What happens next?  

In Guatemala, your body must be dealt with immediately.  Within 24 hours, you must either be buried or cremated and claimed.   Within 24 hours, a funeral home must come and get you from the hospital, embalm and bury you or cremate you.  If your desire is to be cremated and put into an urn next to your Aunt Ethel, your family has 24 hours to take care of it, have the funeral and take your remains.  Yes, I’m being redundant for a reason.  24 hours??!! 

I was unprepared for this.  No one wants to think they’re immortal.  Especially someone who has run marathons and been healthy most of his life.  But it didn’t work out as planned.  I was given no time to make a decision.  Luckily I knew that Dad wanted to be cremated.  So that’s what I asked for.  I had help.  A dear friend found the Funeral Home, contacted them and paid for it all.  I was given a time to claim the remains the next day.

What I also didn’t realize is that time was meant to be the funeral.  What???  Less than 24 hours later?  Had I known, I would have had at least some Jimmy Buffet playing or something.  It was an awkward affair to say the least.  I’m grateful for those that were there that they don’t mention it was incredibly awkward on regular basis.  Remains were claimed and that was that.  

Next is the business of death.  You know what I mean if you’ve lost a loved one.  There are forms to fill out.  Death Certificates to gather.  Wills to settle.  Stuff to go through.  The business.

It began to dawn on me, slowly, that had I not been in country and had Dad not had friends here, I would not have known what happened to him.  He was a resident of Guatemala.  He had his DPI so there was no need to contact the US Embassy to then contact the next of kin.  I wrote about this before but I waited for the Embassy to call me.  They never did.  And the Embassy knew.  They were notified in some manner because the US Govt ended SS payments.  How did they know so quickly?

It took me 4 trips to the Embassy, 2 to the local equivalent of Social Security to get the legal death certificates.  Finally I have all the paperwork but no one could really tell me all I needed to do until I was trying to do it.  Or at least I think I have it all.  I’m ready for any surprise.

What’s my point?  Please, take a minute to think about your plan.  It’s good to talk to someone in the country you’re looking to move to about what the rules are.  Have a plan.  WRITE IT DOWN.  Share it with your loved ones.  

I’m sure, had Dad thought about it before, he wouldn’t have left it the way it was.  He would have contacted a Funeral Home ahead of time and taken care of the arrangements.  He would have told me the rules in the country he was in and what to expect when he passes.  He would have made sure that it was written down somewhere where someone could find it.  He would have had someone he trusted in country to help family members deal with the business of it all from far away.

Or maybe not.   😛  


2 thoughts on “Death In A Foreign Land

  1. Pat kenedy Reply

    Jen, I am so sorry for your loss. It’s been awhile now, and I see you must have been in grief last trip there, when I met you. It hurts like hell to lose your dad, I know. Take good care. I will probably see you again, down in Guatemala.

    • Jen Galt Post authorReply

      It was a tough time for sure. But it was such a great group I didn’t notice it much. Let me know when you’re headed back down. I’d love to catch up!

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