Dealing with death – the practicalities

The death of a close relative or friend is a sad and painful business. Before the bereaved have even had time to absorb what has happened they are thrust into the intimidating world of funeral arrangements. It can be a bewildering, even frightening experience, especially if they have no prior experience of death. They may well feel out of control and unsure of what they need to do and when. A firm guiding hand in the form of someone with greater experience, is invaluable in navigating this unknown territory. To this end, the Observer on Sunday met with Scott Ruby, general manager of Bodden Funeral Home, to get a step by step guide to coping with the practicalities of the death of a loved one.

Pronouncement

In the event that the deceased is not in hospital at the time, the first thing to do is to call 911. The police will go to the scene and call one of the two funeral homes in the Cayman Islands to collect the body and transport it to the Cayman Islands Hospital, where a doctor must pronounce them dead. If the person is already in hospital this will be done automatically.

In cases of accidental death or where the cause of death is not obvious, an autopsy may have to be carried out. The body cannot be released to the funeral home until this has been done.

In the Cayman Islands, the next of kin has three options: burial, cremation or repatriation.

Burial

Burials are most common in Cayman, as there is no crematory here. The deceased must be buried in a cemetery, either a private one or a government one. Some families may have reserved vaults already. If not, this is something that must be arranged. The next of kin must decide whether they want the deceased to be embalmed, a process in which chemicals are used to preserve the body, and they must choose a casket. Another decision is whether to have an open casket and a viewing prior to the funeral

for people to pay their last respects. While this might seem a little macabre to some, Ruby explains that it can be a positive experience in as much as it helps people absorb and accept the death.

Cremation or Shipping

Ifthe family decides on cremation, t

he funeral home will make the necessary arrangements to fly the body to Florida where it will be taken to a crematory and the ashes returned to Cayman in a timely manner. In order to ship a body, international regulations dictate it must it must first be embalmed and transported in a sealed shipping container.

Should a visitor pass away while on vacation in the Cayman Islands, or should a person who has been living here die and have expressed the desire to be laid to rest elsewhere, the process at this end is the same. A local funeral home will prepare the body, make the arrangements with the airline

and coordinate with a funeral home at the destination to collect the body and take over from there. The next of kin just has to decide what they wish to do.

Service

Funeral homes do their best to take care of as much leg work as they can,

and will coordinate the service and ensure everything runs smoothly. The family must just communicate to the funeral home where and when they want a service held, who is invited and what form they wish it to take.

Decision Making

It falls to the closest relative to make the decisions as to whether to bury or cremate, embalm or not embalm, as well as choosing hymns, flowers and programmes for the service. While Ruby encourages people to write down their funeral instructions, to save the family the ordeal of having to work out what they would have wanted in the midst of their grieving, the family is under no legal obligation to obey these wishes and can choose to override them. While this might sound disrespectful to the deceased, as Ruby points out, “Funerals are for the living. There is nothing more you can do for that person, nothing you can do to make them feel any more loved, or to make them any less dead.” Quite simply, a funeral marks a life lived, and the relatives can choose to commemorate it in whatever way they want.

The weeks after

Once the funeral is over, the family still hasthe daunting task of dealing with paperwork. Effectively, the person’s existence on paper has to be eliminated: bank accounts must be closed, insurance and pension providers informed, drivers licences cancelled and property ownership papers changed. Lawyers may be able to help with this but it serves to underline the importance of keeping one’s affairs in order in life – if nothing more than to spare one’s loved ones any unnecessary trouble.

In the week or two between a death and the funeral service the family may be so busy with arrangements and decisions that they barely have time to acknowledge their grief. It may only be once routines return to normal that they begin to confront their loss.

Rubin is a licensed grief counsellor, as well as a funeral director, and can continue to help families deal with their grief in the weeks and months that follow. It is inevitable in his line of work that he generally meets people at the very worst moments in their lives, but he makes it his business to lend all the support he can, both practical and emotional. “Words don’t help,” he says. “You do it with action: I am going to take this yoke off you and I am going to put it on my own shoulders and I’m going to pull you through. Then I am going to teach you how to carry it.”

Even in death, being prepared is a powerful tool. Although it may seem morbid to discuss it, if you want to spare your closest family any unnecessary anguish, do think about how you want to depart this life and make a record of it. It is even possible to make your own arrangements with a funeral home and pay in advance. For those that will be left behind, the most important thing is to have the support of a good funeral home that will guide them through the process and ensure that they do not face the ordeal of organising a funeral alone.

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