When The Worst Happens

Feb 7, 2013 by

www.jamesandshilo.comMy friend Sharon came down to Mexico with her partner, Tony, last month to join everyone in snow-birding fun and festivities, but she had no way of knowing that her worst fear was about to come true. Last Tuesday, Tony had a massive heart attack and died during surgery at the hospital here in Mazatlan.

We were all devastated (and still are) at the news.

Death is one of those shocking experiences that can bring out feelings of helplessness in us all.

Everyone wants to do what they can to support Sharon and the family, but there is very little any of us can do. If we could bear their pain for them, we would. If we could help with arrangements to ease their burden during such an emotional time, we would. Fortunately or unfortunately, we cannot. So we all hover along the sidelines, sending love and prayers… hugging our own loved-ones that much closer instead.


Rest in Peace, Tony.

Last Wednesday, I took a meal over (homemade chicken veggie soup), as have many of our friends. On Thursday evening, Joanie and her husband hosted a spontaneous gathering at their home for Sharon, and Tony’s son Anthony, who flew down on Wednesday to make the necessary arrangements. That was a beautiful opportunity to hug Sharon, just BE with her, and to meet Tony’s son. Everyone laughed a lot, cried a little, enjoyed the beyond-incredible cooking, and savoured the togetherness of telling stories. Oh and Tony loved country music, so there was dancing too which was a lot of fun. It never ceases to amaze me how joy and sadness can co-exist so easily in the same moment.

Tony’s Celebration of Life was held on the beach at Stone Island, out on the point, on Saturday afternoon. It was a beautiful, heart-opening and meaningful wake. More laughter, more tears, more connection.

Losing a loved one is difficult at the best of times. But losing a loved one in a foreign country adds a whole different layer of complexity – logistics that must be addressed in order to get the body home. I have learned a lot this week observing Sharon and Anthony’s situation.

  • In the event of an emergency here in Mexico, you don’t phone the police. As an ex-pat, you phone the local Red Cross. They send the ambulance (which is free).
  • Insurance companies may not cover the medical emergency if the person isn’t admitted to the hospital for more than 24 hours. So it’s good to know what the fine print is in your insurance policy.
  • If insurance will not cover the expenses, then the body will not be released to the family until the hospital fees have been paid. Getting $20,000+ together in a foreign country in the midst of panicked desperation is more diffiuclt than you can imagine (when emotions are high, our intellect is low – it’s hard to work out any logisitics in that state).
  • Credit cards won’t always process large amounts, or process at all if you have not notified the credit company that you are out of the country.
  • When someone dies, you don’t phone the police. You phone your country’s Consulate office. Sharon and Anthony are working with the Canadian Consulate here in Mazatlan to make arrangements for the Death Certificate to be issued and to transport Tony’s ashes home.
  • Funeral arrangements (such as purchasing a coffin or having the body cremated etc) are much more affordable in a foreign country than they are back home. Plus, if someone passes away abroad, you have to make arrangements with the local Funeral home for the body to be released.
  • A Death Certificate must be issued by the local government, which needs to be translated and then notorized, along with other verifications to make the transfer smoother.

When you are travelling, preparing for your unlikely – but possible – medical emergency or desmise is not fun. But being prepared in advance, in just a few small ways, can bring you peace-of-mind and make things much easier for your family, should the worst happen. Here are just a few things you can do:

  1. Have Emergency Phone #s posted on the fridge or in an easily accessible and visible location. Also, save them in your cell phone.
  2. Keep your travel insurace policy # in your purse or wallet. Ensure it’s on your person at all times.
  3. Phone your travel insurance provider and ask questions. What is the fine print in your policy?
  4. Notify your credit card companies prior to your departure: where you are going and how long you will be away.

Having lost a loved-one myself, the toughest time is often weeks or months after the service, when everything quiets down. Other people move on with their lives. That can be when grief and sadness is at it’s peak for the survivors.

Sharon, please know that James and I continue to send you our loving blessings and are here for you if you need anything.

Peace be with you.