What to do when the unthinkable happens . . .

Lots of us who spend time in the greater Akumal community are of a certain age . . . which begs the question – What do I do if the unthinkable happens! Our pal Shirley faced just that dreadful circumstance last season when her husband died here at Sirenis. We asked Shirley to put together an account of her experience so the rest of us would have some idea of what to expect. According to Shirley –

Shirley and Dave at La Nave in Tulum

The first thing we did was call security at our complex.  The head of security arrived and called the Red Cross and the Police, who then called a funeral home from Playa del Carmen.

The Red Cross arrived and took information from me.  Because Dave had been seeing a doctor and had been in the hospital, I had detailed reports of his illness. Lots of paperwork was filled out by the two men who came.  Police arrived, checked the room and immediately put up crime scene tape. Dave would have loved that, given what he did for a living [head of State Police forensics].  They asked lots of questions and because we had documents outlining his illness, when the second plainclothes cops arrived, it was agreed that no autopsy was required.  They filled out lots more paperwork, but none was given to me. Because it was a death from natural causes, the plainclothes guys and the Red Cross left.  Having a detailed hospital and doctor’s report was important and an autopsy was not required.  This might not be the case if someone dies without any medical history, either from another country or Mexico.

Then I had a choice of funeral homes.  I chose the younger guy, but I do think they work together. They removed Dave about 4:30 am; he had died around 2:00 am.  I asked them if they could remove the mattress for me, and they said they’d have to return the next day.  When I had to go into the bedroom, the older man followed me and asked if he could have Dave’s shoes, which were on the floor.  I did give him the shoes, which were probably too big for him, and also gave him a few more pairs that were in the closet.  Prior to our going to the funeral home, the older man called my friend Mónica, nothing said about the mattress, but he asked if he could also have Dave’s clothes!  Monica hung up on him.  My friend Álvar had the mattress removed that afternoon for me.

We had to go to the funeral home in Playa at 10:00 that morning to make arrangements and pay for the services.  They accept pesos, US cash or credit cards.  I paid by credit card.  The total cost was just under $2000.00 usd, and that included an urn.

I had contacted the US Consulate in Playa and spoken with Irina.  She told me she would send me a form via e-mail that I would have to take to the funeral home.  The funeral home also had this form.  It’s a Personal Data Sheet, which would go to the US Consulate in Mérida, along with Dave’s passport and the death certificate.  The US Consulate would cancel Dave’s passport, send a death certificate to Washington DC, and 20 copies in English would be made for me. Irina told me I would have all the paperwork on 15 April – Dave had died on April 6th.

The next day, Mónica and I returned to pick up Dave’s ashes.  I received a copy of the death certificate, in Spanish, signed by all the appropriate parties involved.  I also had a bill from the funeral home stamped paid in full, and a copy of my credit card receipt.  We had to go to a dental office in PlayaCar for the funeral home to use their machine.  During this entire procedure from the first moment security arrived, no one spoke a word of English. If it weren’t for Mónica Estrada I would have been in trouble!  I believe that the US Consulate has an on-call person for things like this, but the process would have taken hours longer.

I called Irina at the US Consulate on the 13th to make sure I would have the paperwork.  Of course, she told me that would be impossible to get it that quickly.  She knew I was leaving on the 19th and had told me I’d have the death certificates on the 15th.  then told me I would have to set up a FedEx account so that the US Consulate in Mérida could send the papers to me in the US.  I was very upset about this and questioned her back and forth and asked what I could do to speed it up.  Nothing could make it happen any faster.  I did not have much confidence in her, so I called a friend, Leslie Vetters, at the US Consulate office in Cancún.  She eased my fears and told me that Irina should have never told me I’d get the papers so quickly.  So I set up the FedEx account and gave the info to Irina, telling her I wanted the paperwork sent the fastest way possible.  I had to go on blind faith on this.

I had planned to leave Dave’s remains in Mexico per his and my wishes.  Even if I had wanted to bring his remains with me on the flight home, I would not have been able to do that without the paperwork from the US Consulate. With all the security with the airlines, there was no way you could bring the remains on board without the airlines knowing this.  I guess it’s important for people to know this because getting the remains home, if someone were on a 1-week vacation in Mexico, could be an upsetting ordeal.

The funeral home did all the necessary paperwork and sent it to the US Consulate in Mérida right away.  Since I had documentation from Hospiten, the doctor connected with the funeral home was able to determine the cause of death.  Cremation took place very quickly because in Mexico, they do not embalm.

The paperwork from the US consulate arrived on 20 April 2016, 20 days after Dave passed.  It included a cover letter, with 20 copies of the death certificate and Dave’s cancelled passport.

I believe that my ability to have this done in a timely manner resulted from two things. First, I had Mónica Estrada to translate and be very direct and handle everyone with respect and authority.  Second, I was not hysterical during the first moments when the authorities arrived and could answer questions.  They also were able to deal with me and get the information they needed.  Please don’t get me wrong, I was probably in a bit of shock, but also knew I had to handle myself to get through all of this.  Interestingly, no one asked for a marriage certificate or Dave’s birth certificate.  I had both with me.  I have heard that this is not always the case. They did ask to see his passport.   No matter what, having someone die in a foreign country can be a daunting experience, especially with the language barrier. My Spanish is just not good enough to get through all the questions and details that were needed.  Remaining calm when you have to can be a huge asset.

Thank you very much, Shirley!  We love you!  


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