AFTER ASCERTAINING that I spoke English, a woman in charge of a pay-now-die-later stand in Benidorm asked: ‘can you spare a moment to discuss what plans, if any, you have for your funeral?’
‘No,’ I snapped. ‘I’m running late for an appointment – and I am not planning on having a funeral. EVER!’
She looked aghast. If I had the time I would have stopped to explain the brush-off I’d just given her.
Just a week before I took possession of a Spanish directive drawn up by a lawyer that says that if were to be struck down by any condition likely to leave me permanently disabled, I should be allowed to die.
The legally binding Acta De Manifestaciones also stipulates that I want my organs harvested, and whatever remains is to be donated to medical science. If my cadaver is deemed unsuitable for either organ transplants or for science study, then I am simply to be incinerated at minimal cost without a funeral – just like David Bowie, who took the direct cremation route in 2016.
And, in a belt-and-braces move, I had tattooed at the base of my neck the words “do not resuscitate me” in Spanish.
The document also makes my partner, Marcus, my next-of-kin. This was an important part of the document, for I had just learned of the bureaucratic nightmare into which the family of a friend had been plunged when he died suddenly in Spain.
The authorities flat-out refused to hand over the body to his partner because the couple were not married, did not have a civil partnership nor any documentation to indicate that they were in a relationship. They would only deal with family members who were unable to come to Spain.
The upshot was that the body was kept in storage for around three weeks while the authorities sorted the necessary paperwork for a funeral.
What reminded me of this ghastly incident was a distressing news report on tellie last week. ITV reported that an increasing number of people in the UK were finding it impossible to meet the escalating costs of funerals, and that bodies were being held in mortuaries for lengthy periods while relatives struggled find the cash to lay them to rest.
A Freedom of Information request by ITV News revealed that a quarter of hospital trusts in England have held bodies for three months or more. And two trusts said they kept bodies for up to 14 months.
ITV News also surveyed 120 funeral directors – they too have had to keep bodies for up to eight months because families struggled to pay.
The latest industry research shows the average cost of a basic funeral in the UK now stands at £4,078.00.
How does this compare with Spain? Back in January 2018 a couple called Bob and Pat posted this message on Expat.com: ‘We were stopped in Carrefour by 2 female sales people selling death plans. They said Spain is the most expensive place to die and we need a 20,000 euro plan. Is this true?’.
This prompted a flurry of replies from people who insisted that Bob and Pat had been lied to; that the cost of Spanish funeral is, in reality, more in the region of €3,600.00, and in some regions far less.
The problems reported on by ITV simply don’t exist in Spain because the law here requires burials or cremations to take place within 48 hours of death – and most Spanish families have funeral plans or insurance.
Furthermore, greater numbers of Spanish people are opting for non-religious funerals. This is in keeping with the rapid secularisation of Spain since the dark days of the Franco regime.
Last year the website ThinkSpain reported that while Catholic funeral services and wakes are still in the majority, secular funerals are rapidly increasing in number, especially in large, cosmopolitan cities.
Cataluña is the region with the highest number of secular funeral ceremonies in Spain, which fits in with a recent survey showing that as many as 55 percent of the region’s residents do not identify with any religion at all.