Dying Away From Home

oldercoupleonbeachAs a mobile society many people have the need or desire to travel. Whether it be for pleasure to visit friends or relatives, to conduct business or for medical treatment, more and more families are faced with the possibility of death away from home.

When a loved one dies away from home there is a strong emotion to want that person brought back home as soon as possible. Emotions become exasperated depending on the circumstances surrounding the death and the location where the death occurs. For example, the return of someone who died suddenly during vacation on board of a cruise ship in international waters can be much more complicated and take longer as compared to someone who died in a hospital in another province while undergoing medical treatment. Therefore, the cause and location of death will dictate the procedures to be followed and the length of time it will take to return the deceased to his or her native home for final disposition.

From a legal standpoint the manner in which the body is prepared and shipped must also comply with the laws that apply to the handling of human remains. These laws vary from country to country and, in some cases, each city or region may have their own laws in addition to those of the country.

What should a family do?

With these burdens suddenly forced on surviving family members, what should they do? There are a number of alternatives available. They can either contact a funeral home in the community in which the deceased and surviving family members reside or contact a funeral home in the location where death occurs or where the remains is taken should death occur in international waters.

So that funeral arrangements can be made on a personal basis, it is generally recommended the family contact a local funeral home in the area they reside. This funeral home is considered to be the “receiving” funeral home or the one to which the remains is consigned and is responsible for the funeral and burial services. The second funeral home located in the community where death occurs or the remains are taken is referred to as the “shipping” funeral home. This funeral home is responsible for basic services. These include the removal of the deceased from the place of death, embalming, securing necessary legal documents, provision of a shipping container and transportation of the remains back home.

If the family did not wish to view the deceased, another more economical option would be to have the remains cremated and the cremated remains shipped back in a plastic or cardboard transportation urn for burial or scattering at a later date.

Shipping services

Regardless of where death occurs, a local funeral home would be familiar with or could readily access the rules and regulations associated with the transportation of the deceased. However, in most instances they would not be familiar with the reputation and integrity of the funeral establishment and personnel.

Because of this, many funeral homes contacted by families outside their regular service area engage specialty firms providing international shipping assistance services. These firms have established shipping networks and other affiliations throughout the world, and in particular, countries frequently visited by Canadians. They are also familiar with the laws in each country and the government agencies to contact should problems occur. Once contacted by the local funeral home and provided with pertinent information about the deceased in order that the Death Certificate can be completed, they will contact a service representative in the area in which the death occurred. The service representative will look after all repatriation details, including information concerning the release and condition of the remains, flight scheduling and documentation.

Greater challenges

Because it is natural for family members to want all the arrangements looked after as soon as possible when death occurs away from home, “receiving” and “shipping” funeral directors are faced with greater logistical challenges than if death occurs at home. Unfortunately, problems do occur, causing delays and many anxious moments for all.

Some of these problems include, communication difficulties between the “receiving” and “shipping” funeral directors due to language differences, variance in time zones, remote locations, setting unrealistic expectations with the family in terms of the arrival of the remains and a day and time for services, difficulties in having the remains released to the “shipping” funeral home due to delays by the coroner’s office or medical examiner, transportation delay where the remains may be inadvertently removed from a flight due to bad weather and finally, delays due to poor quality embalming that requires additional work by the “receiving” funeral home.

After September 11th

After the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attack in the United States, more stringent security measures and procedures for international travelers have been introduced worldwide. As a result of these new measures the International Federation of Thanatologists Associations is currently developing an International Travel Pass for The Dead. In the not too distant future security measures relating to shipping and receiving human remains are likely to be implemented in many countries.

These measures will likely entail:

  1. Picture identification of the funeral director
  2. Written verification that the person is an employee of a legitimate funeral home
  3. A call to the funeral home by the airline, and on occasion a visit to the funeral home by an airline representative before the remains are released for shipment.
  4. The casketed remains will be subject to inspection and search.

Extra costs

Recognizing the risks of traveling and being away from home for extended periods of time, many individuals who are frequent travelers take the time to preplan and prefund their funeral service. Unfortunately, the costs associated with handling and shipping human remains should death occur away from home are not factored into a typical prearrangement. Therefore extra costs would be incurred.

Cancellation or travel insurance may cover some or all of the extra expenses related to repatriation services. Depending on the insurance company, the policy could contain a benefit from $3,000 to $5,000. This type of coverage is usually purchased on a per trip basis.

Now there is a new product available which offers lifetime protection to the traveler if death should occur 100 kilometers or more from their legal residence. Included by many funeral homes as part of their preplanning program, the preplanner can pay a one-time lifetime fee of between $400 – $500. The fee entitles the purchaser to a Life Membership in the International Welcome Home Society™ and guarantees the complete cost of transportation from anywhere in the world.

Society’s propensity to travel has created new challenges for families when the death of a loved one occurs away from home. If you travel a great deal, or have family living away, consider speaking to a funeral director about this issue.