I did have a mental debate as to whether I should write about today’s topic. After listening to both sides for several days I’ve decided we’re all adults and can deal with grown up things.
Ever given a thought to what happens when someone who is living/ traveling /vacationing overseas dies away from home? It’s one of those things that lurks darkly at the back of our minds which we push away and promise ourselves we’ll think about it another time.
For many of us with spouses, children, family and friends who regularly travel the world perhaps it’s something we should at least be aware of and which I’ve touched on briefly before (Death of a Spouse Overseas and Death and The Expat)
Having friends who have just been through the ordeal of flying the body of their son home it’s something at the forefront of our minds. We had little idea of what was involved – dealing with insurance companies, undertakers in two countries (home and abroad), the legalities of a foreign country and people who go home at five o’clock. Even with the help of a consulate it can be gruelling navigating through the red tape.
When something like this happens we become acutely aware through news media or other people of how many other families are dealing with this situation, of bringing a loved one home.
Suddenly articles on this subject seemed to be everywhere but one in particular caught my eye as it was close to home, involving Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, Martijn van Tol’s ‘A First Rate Death in the Netherlands’
Schiphol is the only airport in the world with a mortuary and around 1450 bodies a year pass through on their way to their final resting place.
The facility is in the capable hands of Theo de Haardt, care manager of the mortuary, situated next to a runway within the sprawling airport complex. The department is accessible 24 hours a day and the deceased are cared for with respect and dignity, irrespective of who they are or where they’re from.
They arrive in de Haardt’s autopsy room for preparation for the flight home where he works alongside rabbis, imams or family members, depending on religious or cultural requirements. The body is embalmed ensuring the deceased arrives at the funeral destination in the best condition possible.
The staff are accommodating to all nationalities, faiths and cultures, with friends and families welcome to pay their respects at the facility,
‘It’s different every time,’ says de Haardt. ‘People from Indonesia often bring snacks and drinks. People from Suriname like a party with lots of singing. Nigerian families are immaculately dressed with sashes. Turkish people are extremely friendly and polite. Sometimes we have as many as a hundred people here but there’s never any problem.’
It seems the team are happy to accommodate anything required by a grieving family, a lock of hair, a poem in the casket. Whatever the family want,’… we can arrange that. 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Everything is possible.’
Everything is possible? That’s an expression not uttered often in the Netherlands.
Yet where de Haardt works so respectfully and diligently, thinking only of those placed in his safekeeping for transit home, is not really the Netherlands or any other country for that matter.
It’s that ethereal place removed from the world which goes on regardless and unseeing – those days following death when the clocks stand still, the earth wobbles on it’s axis and life for the families involved stops. Theo seems to have an intuitive understanding of what is important at these times of raw grief – for the deceased and their families.
I’m deeply touched by the humanity of this man. I’m warmed and comforted that should the very worst happen, here in the Netherlands we have one of the best facilities in the world to deal with it, led by a man who sees what he does as more than a job.
Thank you Theo.