Holidays and travel are supposed to be full of fun, excitement and joy. Even travelling for work, while it can be mundane, stressful and exhausting, can also be really interesting. Usually, the last thing we expect when we are travelling, is that someone is going to die
"On the 27th February 2011, whilst on holiday in Barbados, my husband got off his sun lounger, adjusted his glasses and headed into the sea for a swim. Moments later, I heard him call for help, and watched helplessly from the beach as he was pulled out to sea by a rip tide. He drowned. Bizarrely, after he died, almost the first thing I said was, "But I’m wearing a bikini!" as if bad things can’t happen when you’re wearing a good bikini. But they can, and it did. At the age of 46, I crash-landed on Planet Grief, a place where nothing, not even my own reflection in the mirror, felt familiar."
What to do
The first thing to do when someone dies abroad is to contact the British embassy, high commission or consulate. If the death is in suspicious circumstances, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office can provide specific advice and support. If the death is of someone on a package holiday, the tour operator will be able to help. If you have not travelled with the person who died, the consulate will inform you through the police force or British Embassy.
The death will need to be registered in the country where the person has died, and with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in the UK. The local police or hospital may also be able to help, and an English-speaking lawyer can provide additional support if necessary. There are a number of UK-based organisations that can also provide support, assistance and information. The personal belongings of the person who died will also need to be sent home.
Depending on local laws, a post-mortem may need to be carried out; there may also be a post-mortem in the UK if the person's body is brought home. The authorities in the country will need to know if the person had an infectious disease such as a hepatitis or HIV infection. The death may also need to be reported to the coroner in the UK.
You as next-of-kin will need to decide to do with the person's body. This could be a local burial or cremation, and will usually need a local funeral director. A funeral abroad will, however, depend on local laws and customs, and on the circumstances of the death.
Bringing the person home – repatriation – will need support from an international funeral director. This may require the passport of the person who has died, and will need a death certificate (with a certified English translation), an embalming certificate, and authorisation to take the person's body out of the country. Repatriation is likely to cost up to £4000.
The death will need to be registered in the UK. A burial or cremation in the UK will need a burial certificate from the registrar, or a Home Office cremation order.
If the person who has died has travel insurance, the insurer may cover a number of things such as medical, repatriation, legal, interpretation and translation fees. The insurer may also have a list of approved funeral directors.
Trigger warning: Discussions of death, including violent death
It's October. The days are getting shorter, the leaves are starting to turn yellow and red and gold. The nights are getting colder and there's a hint of frost in the air. The shops are filling with orange and black. With pumpkins, costumes and masks. And if you live somewhere where people decorate their houses and gardens, there might be skulls and coffins and ghosts all over the place. There'll be children dressed up knocking on the door for sweets. And then, a few days later, Remember remember! The fifth of November, with bonfires and fireworks. Parties, food, drinks, dressing up, playing games. It's just fun, after all.
For some widows, though, Halloween and Bonfire Night can be really hard.
The imagery of death around Halloween all over shops, people's houses and gardens, and in social media, such as skulls, skeletons, fake tombstones and coffins, can bring back awful memories and trigger flashbacks. The coffins bring back some of the intrusive thoughts that I have fought to deal with over the past four and a half years.
For people whose partners have died a violent death, the images of bodies with nooses around their neck, or with bleeding wounds, can be devastating. Halloween depicts graveyards as scary, with bones and reaching arms, not as the safe resting places that we have created for the people we love.
The sounds and smells of Bonfire Night can be particularly hard where death by fire or gunshot has left widows with PTSD. These can also be difficult for autistic widows.
What to do?
I've had a birthday this week.
My birthday has long been a bittersweet day. My first husband's mother died suddenly and unexpectedly on my 24th birthday, nine months before we got married. He rang me just as I was getting up, and I knew as soon as he spoke that something was wrong. That was the first death close to me.
Roll on a couple of decades, and Tim and I married on my birthday. Everyone sang happy birthday to me at the reception. It seemed like a lovely thing to do at the time. But after Tim died, this left me with two milestones on one day. A birthday in September is associated with a change of the seasons, and I think my brain and body subconsciously mark the approach of the date with the smells, sounds, temperature and day length of oncoming autumn, even before I realise that the date is approaching.
My birthday rolls into the milestones. Tim's birthday in December. Christmas, which was often a time just for the two of us. New Year, where we saw the people we've partied with since our early twenties. And then his death date, 24 February. And so, I find this time of year tough, and often have to surf a wave of depression around now. Which means I need to try to take my own advice. I'm going to be kind to myself. Sit through the grief attacks. And know that the depression wave will lift.
Christmas can be hard for some people. This is written for The Widows' Handbook, but there are a lot of reasons why people don't want to be forced to be jolly at Christmas.
Don't push people who don't want to be part of the Christmas spirit - people who have been bereaved, particularly if they were bereaved during the Festive season, don't always want to be part of the jollities.
Invite people who struggle with Christmas along to things, and if they say no, accept the answer. Tell them the offer remains open if they change their minds. Accept that they might say yes, and then change their minds. And then give them peace and space.
Remember that if you invite grieving people, you are inviting their grief too - it's part of who they are.
Above everything, be kind.
Christmas can be such an emotional time, but it can be even more challenging for widows, because it brings up a lot of memories, happy or sad. As with so many things about being a widow, there is no right or wrong. No rules. Do what you need to do. And do it as one moment, one step, one breath at a time.
Avoid the hype
Christmas is everywhere, and you can cut down your exposure to it by using ad blockers online, unsubscribing from marketing emails, watching DVDs, streaming services or BBC to avoid ads, listening to albums, podcasts, spoken word radio such as Radio 4, Radio 4 Extra or Radio 5 Live or music streaming services to avoid Christmas music on the radio, or recording live TV so you can fast-forward through ads. Shop online (at independent shops if possible) to avoid Christmas fluff, furbelows, jumpers, tinsel and endlessly looping Christmas music.
Taking the last couple of days off work before Christmas can get you out of all the Christmas talk.
Give yourself permission
Give yourself permission to laugh, cry, go out, stay in, or go to things and leave early. And whatever you plan to do, you are totally allowed to change your mind.
Don't do anything you don't want to. Fib if you need to, but just say no. You don't have to go to the party, wear the jumper, or get involved in the Secreat Santa if you don't want to.
Announce your intentions early
The first year I decided to spend Christmas afternoon with friends. The second, I decided to head off to a shepherd's hut in the Lake District. Both years I told my family early, to stop the well-intentioned invitations. I love my family, and I love spending time with them, but I just didn't want to be part of a family Christmas without Tim.
Be aware that things can get overwhelming
If you are part of a big celebration, it can get too much sometimes. Take a breath, try grounding (five things you see, four things you hear, three things you touch, two things you smell, one thing you taste), or find a quiet corner for a moment.
Let people know that you might have tough moments, and let them know whether you want to be fussed, ignored, hugged or distracted. And if you are spending it alone, you can ask someone to check in on you at some point of the day if that would help.
Have an exit strategy
If I go to a big event, I like to arrive early so that I can find places to hide if I need them, and so that I'm not walking into a full and busy room. Driving or having a taxi booked means that you can leave early if you want to – taxis can always be rescheduled if you find you are having fun.
Ignore Christmas completely
It's allowed. Buy nice non-Christmas food, stock up on non-Christmas films, binge on box sets. Shut the door on Christmas Eve and ignore the world, and then emerge on Boxing Day. Switching off social media can help you to keep Christmas away too.
Don't give in to pressure from others
Spending Christmas alone, with friends, with strangers, working, volunteering, whatever – if it's what you want to do, then just do it. Don't feel that you have to fit in.
Volunteer if you want to, bit don't do it because you feel you ought to.
Create new memories
Do something totally different. I have amazing memories of the year I went and stayed in a shepherd's hut. I stocked up on goodies, stacked my Kindle full of books, saw a friend for Christmas lunch, but for the rest of the time I looked at the view, pottered around, ate my body weight in chocolate, and slept. You can have a tradition of not having a tradition.
Buy yourself something nice
A big present, a little present – it doesn't matter what it is, but have something special just for you on Christmas Day. You can say it's from you, or from your partner, or from your cat. Whatever you want.
You are allowed to enjoy whatever it is that you are doing. Don't feel guilty.
It might be a good idea to have some plans made, otherwise you might just drift and feel worse. But don't plan so much that you feel guilty about not doing it all. Stock up on the food you need, decorate the house and tree if you want to, plan to catch up on some hobbies or some reading, go for a walk, pamper yourself with a long bath. Whatever you really fancy that you don't normally have time to do.
I was widowed at 50 when Tim, who I expected would be my happy-ever-after following a marriage break-up, died suddenly from heart failure linked to his type 2 diabetes. Though we'd known each other since our early 20s, we'd been married less than ten years.