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'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

Embalming Anyone?


The unexpected phone call from the mortuary in Las Palmas immediately took my attention. Was I in a position to pay the outstanding account at the mortuary? This really was not the kind of call that anyone would wish to receive first thing in the morning, and particularly when one is struggling to make sense of the world before coffee.

I assured the very pleasant lady at the other end of the line that I had no previous knowledge of their service and that, no, I did not have any kind of account with them, nor did I have one that was due for payment. However, I assured her, that I would keep her number on file - just in case I needed a spot of embalming in the future. One just never knows when such services might be required. The very nice lady even offered to send me a brochure about their range of services...

The early morning telephone call reminded me of a series of articles that I wrote as a newspaper reporter several years ago about ‘Death in Spain’. The series of articles were intended to be a helpful guide in managing one of most traumatic times of our lives, and to assist expats in making the right choices in a country with different customs and traditions in dealing with death. The articles were not exactly a bundle of laughs and not ones that would, at first sight, encourage advertisers to promote their new restaurant or estate agency on that particularly page; however, the series was very popular with readers. I recall one elderly gentleman who shuffled into the newspaper office to ask for back copies of the newspaper. He was asked why he wanted them. “It’s those Death pages”, he muttered, “my wife reckons she’ll be needing them soon.”

Although it is not really a subject that is often discussed over dinner, or over a gin and tonic on the balcony, thoughts about our passing and those of our loved ones should be considered seriously, particularly when living as an expat in another country. Do we have a will in the country that we are residing in, for instance? I know of many expats who are relying solely on wills made in the UK many years ago. However, lawyers assure me that this arrangement is potentially fraught with difficulties and that all expats should also have a Spanish will, as well as their UK one.

What about bodies? It is traditional, and good sense because of the heat, that bodies are cremated or buried very quickly in Spain, and often within two or three days. This is in contrast to the UK where bodies can be waiting for two or three weeks before funerals can be arranged. Over here, the final departure is quick, which adds more pressure to be clear about the wishes of the deceased.

In the event of your demise would you prefer to be flown back to the UK at considerable expense, cremated in your newly adopted country and then sent back in a pot, or popped into one of those filing cabinet tomb arrangements that seem to be popular in Spain? What about costs? Has provision been made to cover the cost of repatriation, for instance? Do you have a funeral expenses insurance policy? These are all very serious issues, I know, but ones that need to be considered carefully and wishes made clear to dependents.

Now, back to that early morning telephone call. I am still wondering why that very nice lady at the mortuary called me...

© Barrie Mahoney

From the 'Letters from the Atlantic' series by Barrie Mahoney

Living in Spain and the Canary Islands : ISBN 978-0995602724

Click here to find out more

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