When someone dies overseas, red tape is a nightmare. Here are some thoughts on how to manage effectively.
We lost a friend in a
traffic accident just over a month ago, and so our community has been in
mourning. Now we’re climbing out of the initial shock, I thought I’d get this
down in case others find it useful.
#1 Know You’re Not Thinking
When someone young
dies in an accident, devastating loss comes with an extra whammy of shock. That
combination does some very strange things to your thinking.
For me, the last month
has been like thinking through cotton wool. I’ve been slow to make connections
and I’ve been forgetting things. My temper has been very much up and down as
This combination makes
it difficult to attend to all the practical things that have to happen:
arranging the funeral, and starting on the paperwork process to get the estate
When you’re an expat,
red tape is a nightmare. So, if you are overseas and find yourself helping out
in tragic circumstances, here are some practical tips.
#2 Hire An All Round
Fixer For The Funeral Arrangements
Before you can bury
someone, you need a death certificate. You also need to have that endorsed by
the embassy of the person who died. If there is no living spouse, and no other
direct family present, you will need extra paperwork that gives you the right
to deal with funeral arrangements.
You know what it’s
like to do even normal things, like renewing a work permit: it takes multiple
visits to find out what paperwork you need, and then you’ve got to queue, get
everything in triplicate and even then there’s going to be something forgotten
My advice is that it’s
not worth doing this paperwork yourself. You’re already stressed to the max,
and to have to run around for days on end talking to officials, will likely
bring you close to collapse.
Top Tip: there are
funeral service companies that do it all for you. They have all the contacts so
they know what paperwork needs to be done, and they have the clout to make sure
it’s done swiftly and properly. Also, they don’t queue.
Important: Don’t go
for a local company that only deals with local deaths! The paperwork involving
a local death is different than that involving an expat. Pick a company that
deals with expats.
The question you need
to ask to check if the company is sound is:
How do I know the
death certificate will be accepted back in my home country?
And the answer you
want to hear is one that involves the local certificate being stamped by your
#3 Grieving Spouses
Are Blank With Grief
That cotton wool
thinking that hit me is nothing compared to what hits the bereaved family. In
my experience, it doesn’t matter if people cry or are calm, if they have lots
of family around or none, if they are local or not - over the first few weeks,
every one acts in the same way.
What you are dealing
with is someone who will say, “Yes. No. Okay.” And a day later, they won’t even
remember seeing you. They’re not being difficult. They’re just blank with
grief. This blankness lasts at least a
This leads to...
#4 Decide How You Need
There are two
extremes. Some people fight grief with action. They need to be doing stuff so
they can put off the hurt that comes with loss. Other people are paralysed by
emotion. They can’t think at all.
Others still fall in
the middle. They may keep busy by pursuing one particular task. Again, some go
for a known comfort activity, such as cooking while others obsess over one
aspect of the situation, perhaps intent on getting together the perfect
My advice: let people
do their grieving in their own way, and match your support by complimenting the
places where they’re not going.
So for the man who is
focusing on funeral flowers and music but who just can’t deal with condolence
calls, step in and offer to answer the phone and reply to the email and
#5 Keep Meticulous
At the very least,
you’re going to have to: inform family and friends over several countries, talk
to the deceased’s landlord, deal with the deceased’s company (clearing out
desks, handing over laptops etc), and then you may have to also look at
canceling work visas, talking to accountants over taxes, etc etc. If there are
kids left behind, add in dealing with schools.
My advice: Rope in
friends. I have to say, the people who stepped up for us were absolutely
totally amazing. I won’t name them
here, but oh boy, talk about respect.
Anyway, rope in
friends, and share out tasks so you don’t overlap. Most of all, make sure you
don’t drop a loop by keeping itemised to do lists.
My list was divided
into headings: accommodation, school, family and friends updated, and so on....
I wrote down what had to be done, who was in charge of doing it, and I marked
tasks to be done, in progress, and complete.
Now, to get back to
your bereaved friend....
#6 Act Like A
Support during bad
times is an art, and there are no fixed rules. I think it’s important to
balance respect with relieving the burden.
I’d say, if you are
roped in to help, act as a secretary.
You’re your friend’s PA, which means you take them over what needs to be
done, and ask them what they want you to do.
Deal with urgent
matters but don’t be shy about putting off less important decisions until
Warning: don’t sign
anything and don’t let the bereaved person sign anything. Grief messes up your
brain so it is at this point that crooks and con artists come out of the
woodwork. If you’re not careful, you will sign up for paying endless fees for
services that you don’t want or that are actually free.
Tip: the more they
push and yell and threaten, the more likely it is they are crooks trying to
intimidate you. Push back by saying, “Write a letter and the family will refer
it to their lawyer.” Even if there is
no money to hire a lawyer, that legal bit will quiet the legit ones.
At some point the
bereaved family will come out of the fog and take over. As long as you have it
all down on paper, you won’t drop a loop.
It’s horrible, it
sucks but when you feel overwhelmed, take a step back and remind yourself that
it’s always difficult to adjust to violent sudden change.
Go do something nice
for yourself. Surround yourself with friends, and have a laugh. My personal
view is that mourning is made a little easier if you celebrate life.
I hope this helps.