Death and an Expat – How to deal with a death at home while abroad

My grandfather had just celebrated his 90th birthday so I knew there was a chance that call would come while we were abroad, but it was a shock nonetheless. What follows is reflection and advice after a crazy few days dealing with the grief over losing a family member, and making last minute travel arrangements…

Appoint a contact person.

Ask your sister, a cousin or your mother to keep you updated on what’s happening, whether it is learning the cause of death or funeral arrangements. Phone calls, Twitter, email, Skype and Facebook make these updates quick and easy, and will help you to feel more connected to what is going on.

Talk about it.

Laughter is the best medicine, share fond memories with your family and friends from home; my sister tagged a picture of us with our grandpa on a bench swing on Facebook. I was too young to remember the photo, so what followed instead were funny recollections from other visits. Sharing stories with your expat friends can also be very therapeutic; some may have been through a similar situation and can offer advice, or simply a sympathetic ear. An online community of expats sharing their stories can be found at English Forum.

Check into a bereavement discount if you will be traveling home.

I had never heard the two words strung together until the funeral home handling my grandfather’s remains recommended it. Most airlines offer a compassion, or bereavement fare, but flights must be booked direct rather than through an agent, and verification information must be provided. More advice from the funeral home was to wait until you have established the cheapest fare before asking about the discount, otherwise they may take the discount from a more expensive ticket. Be aware, though, that with so many online and last minute deals, a bereavement fare may not be the cheapest.

Ask for, or accept, help.

Whether it’s an offer to cook dinner, pick up your kids from school, or help with travel arrangements, accept it. Stress and sorrow can hinder our normally clear thinking. I was so confused from figuring out the best flight home, making our trip work within our allotted emergency leave, and dealing with the time differences that I was relieved when one of my bosses offered to take over our travel arrangements. They helped to organize our flights, exit visas and even arranged a slumberette for our long layover in Singapore, something I would have never thought to do at the time.

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