Remember when celebrating Halloween meant having a carved pumpkin on the doorstep and a store-bought mask to greet young Trick or Treaters? Now, it’s a free-for-all for adults too and neighbors compete for the most ghoulish decorations.  “It’s all in good fun,” we tell ourselves, but is it? (cue Vincent Price’s chilling laugh.) Are we distancing ourselves ever further from dealing with the inevitable or getting closer? Just South of the Border in Mexico, death is more festive and heartfelt in ritual as a link to loved ones lost. (Read about the celebration in La Paz.) In the first days of November, they feel that the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest. Mexicans embrace that and it’s slowly making a mark in Dia de Muertos celebrations in North America too. For those of us who love to travel – what if our passion for crossing borders led straight into the worst travel crisis possible – death? How would you and your family deal with it?

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one. ~ Khalil Gibran

Dia de Muertos decorations inside Tijuana's oldest cemetery

Dia de Muertos decorations inside Tijuana’s oldest cemetery

Bear with my morbid but necessary tale…

For the sake of example, I was a young teenager vacationing with my parents in Mazatlan when death passed close. While hanging out with other teens by the pool, the oldest in our group jumped up as a commotion started nearby. A man had passed out and slipped into the water. Once he was dragged out, the boy started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and the crowd thickened around them. When ambulance drivers arrived the drowned man was transported to the hospital. We later found out that he died on the way. It was a shock and I remember that day decades later. I still wonder about the dying man’s family, how would they deal with that worst travel crisis imaginable? How would I?

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

While looking for answers a book crossed my path and while often gruesome, it’s a wonderfully warped and clear-eyed look at the death industry and our complicity. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Tales from the Crematorium by Caitlin Doughty is a wickedly good read and enlightening. (I do receive a minuscule fee that adds no cost if you purchase the book from my affiliate link.)  The Guardian writes:

It’s become fashionable to complain that as a society we’re out of touch with death, but for the most part, that’s a good thing. We should celebrate our lack of acquaintance with the stench and the agony that, for much of human history, all too often accompanied the last days of life. Still, modern life permits a distance from death and dying that brings its own problems, not least a difficulty in accepting the inevitable, or being able to adequately grieve. Doughty is a trailblazer of a “death positive” movement…

Smoke gets in your eyes book cover

The San Francisco Chronicle isn’t as positive, writing that “… the fear of dying warps our society” in their review.  Author Doughty is genuinely drawn to facing death squarely. She relentlessly exposes her experiences while working within the death industry and touches on the way other societies deal with passing. We have much more control over end-of-life issues more than ever before if we choose to. It’s an especially fraught issue when a love of adventure and the worst travel crisis intersect.

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live. ~ Norman Cousins

Paranoia is a waste of energy, I tell myself. Travel is now easier than ever for many. It’s relatively affordable whether we cocoon on a cruise ship or backpack across the Andes. However, preparing well involves more than following best practices for packing light. Get travel insurance and make sure that end-of-life issues are settled before traipsing off across the world. Even if you’re just going across the state, you’ll relax knowing that things are in order.

Seaworld San Diego Halloween Tree

What would you do?

In the 1980’s, my twentyish friend, Jaime and his girlfriend were exploring Thailand when he fell ill suddenly. Disabled by fever and weakness, he checked into a hospital while his girlfriend hovered near. Before returning home, he spent a month convalescing in the American Consulate. She had to make do while alone in a foreign country without a plan. The expense and worry were staggering. His expression as he told me the story haunt me still.

I’m in the planning stages of a trip to India and as with any extended trip, I’ll get travel insurance (see this earlier post for questions to ask yourself) but I’ve considered doing more. What would be involved in returning my remains home to California if the worst travel disaster happened? I’ve discovered that can be an extended ordeal in India.

Grateful Dead window display in Woodstock, New York

Grateful Dead window display in Woodstock, New York

Here’s how it begins if you die in an Indian hospital:

  • You need to get clearance from hospital authorities. Which includes the death certificate in a specific format.
  • If there’s a post-mortem you’ll need a disposal order certificate
  • Arrange for immediate freezing in a mortuary once the hospital release is obtained.
  • Set up transportation of the remains

Remember if you’re not traveling with family members (or even if you are,) this is just the beginning of an elaborate obstacle course. When coupled with long-distance worry and grief, it’s a horrible gauntlet. I’ve decided to formalize my end-of-life issues to include transporting remains. It’s taken a weight off my shoulders. Truthfully, the planning hatched after watching the incredibly fraught decisions that family members made recently. They were tormented by making choices as a group while still fresh with grief. That was after the relative had tried to plan well but left much open to question.

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live. ~ Marcus Aurelius

Pumpkin display inside Corning Museum of Glass

Pumpkin display inside Corning Museum of Glass.

Plan of action for the worst travel crisis

We don’t have to obsess over this or live in denial. Let’s get through it and onto traveling well through this adventure we call life. I know how busy we all are and I need the nudge to take care of this as much as anyone! I am not receiving any compensation from the following suggestions (with the exception of a minuscule Affiliate fee that adds no cost if you purchase the book from my link.)

  • Set up a Living Will as a road-map for your care in case of hospitalization. An “Advance Directive” allows a person to state their end-of-life medical treatment and care. Living Will forms are available online.
  • If you are incapacitated and can’t communicate your needs you would be well served by having a “Medical Power of Attorney.” The company Legal Zoom has a wealth of resources.
  • There are also free forms available for download from AARP
  • Read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes to help you decide about cremation or burial and what each entails, especially if you live in North America.
  • When you choose cremation and want to lighten the worst travel disaster for your family and friends look for a plan that includes transportation and relocation of remains. I feel better planning my travels knowing that the final, potentially ginormous expense and all the traumatizing details are settled.

Even if you wear a seductive pirate-ghost costume for a party, death just isn’t sexy. Like taxes, there’s no escape so let’s just get on with it and get the necessities out of the way. Then we don’t have to fear to live fully before facing the worst travel crisis.

Help a friend or two by sharing this pin: Ready for the worst travel crisis pin