Death Of British Friend In Thailand
Death Of A British Friend In Thailand
Stick has requested submissions covering other topics than bar-girls, sick buffaloes, copious unknown other sponsors, etc.
Early September 2004 here in Bangkok, a good British friend of mine passed away at the tender age of 51, not much of an innings really. Alas, 2-3 years before, he had contracted HIV/AIDS believed to have been from a lady he associated with from the infamous Thermae Bar. He also had cancer of the liver – it was felt that one of these terminal medical problems exacerbated the other which accelerated his premature death.
The guy, Derek (not his real name), knew he was on his ‘last legs’ as he heroically put it asking me as his closest friend and confidante here to deal with everything, including all his last requests for the disposal of his body and personal effects.
Unfortunately he had become estranged from his family in northern England including his one and only child, his 22 year old daughter living in Rochdale, plus his aged parents still living in north Wales. He particularly implored me to avoid sending anything to them after he had gone. The day before he died in a Lat Phrao hospital, where he was even allowed to smoke in his private room (!), we had a farewell beer together as he was convinced he wouldn’t make it through the night. He was right for he actually died at 08:30 AM the next morning, when the hospital telephoned me with the news.
Now, the procedure here in Thailand when a foreign national dies in a hospital is that the embassy of the nationality involved has to be informed and then instructions awaited before anything can happen, like the body being removed. In the case of the British Embassy they could do nothing until after consultation with the next of kin, not me, but his estranged daughter in England. Further, it was my unpleasant duty to break the news. In order not to wake people in the middle of the night in UK I left doing so for a few hours before calling his daughter. Her mobile ‘phone was in ‘voice-mail mode and what I did not want to do was leave a message of this magnitude to an answerphone. I was able to contact Derek’s brother’s wife, who was half expecting the news anyway so that made it much easier for me.
Eventually, permission from the next-of-kin was faxed through to the British Embassy in Bangkok who then prepared a letter in the Thai vernacular (and at a cost of Bt.1,600) authorising the hospital to release my friend's body into my care. During all this time the hospital mortuary had stored the body in the freezer after suitably dressing him from his clothes which I was asked to select for this purpose, all of which was charged to the estate. Due to my friend’s very obvious dire medical condition at the time of death, no post mortem was carried out or even mentioned by the hospital.
On the day of the death it became my duty to collect personal effects from my friend's private room at the hospital and to sort out all of Derek's other possessions here. He had previously told me where his baht and a little Sterling was hidden. The cold, heartless, ghoulish management at his apartment building, anticipating the worst had already cleared out his room AND installed new tenants even before the old bugger had snuffed it. That, I thought, was terrible. Needless to say they retained his meagre security deposit inventing reasons why the money should not be repaid. I ask you.
Amongst Derek's possessions were dozens of packets of anti-HIV and cancer drugs (medication) of various kinds all obtained from the UK. The British Embassy did not want them returned, more they were concerned that they were disposed of properly. The copious amounts of HIV drugs were all donated to a foundation for HIV suffering children in Rayong with whom another good friend of mine has connections. The cancer arresting drugs were all given to a delightful lady doctor who works at the National cancer Institute here in Bangkok. I later discovered, or learned to my horror more like, that many of these surplus drugs are not available in Thailand and if I (or my late friend, too) had been caught with these drugs in my possession there could have been big trouble because I was told that many such drugs are considered narcotics here – and we all know how sensitive some Asian governments are about drugs, possession and trafficking.
Once I had the necessary authority to dispose of Derek's body the next stage in the cycle takes place. My pal had asked for his body to be cremated and for his ashes to be scattered on his favourite Thai paradise beach, White Sands on Koh Chang island.
A lady neighbour of Derek was a boon for she was able to guide me through the cremation ritual at the local Thai temple, or wat. Most wats are equipped to deal with human cremations. A simple, decorated, white plywood coffin was ordered from the
hospital from where we took the body, complete with a Death Certificate in the Thai language, straight to the wat, less than 1km away, where the funeral party was waiting. Cremation could not take place until the wat authorities had inspected
the death certificate – I suppose this guards against just anybody being taken there for cremation, hidden in a box, including the wife or girlfriend murdered the night before!
At the particular wat in Lat Phrao the cremation process has been brought into the 21st century with incandescent gas furnaces replacing, I guess, the former wooden pyre. A simple funeral ceremony was conducted by three monks and as principal mourner so to speak it was my prerogative to symbolically light the fire which was done by means of throwing onto the coffin a lighted splint in the shape of a lotus flower – beautifully made from wood slivers, seemed a shame to burn it.
The wat required a few days before I could return to collect the ashes. When I did so, expecting them to be like sand in a jar as is the custom in the UK, I was given a white material bundle which had a stony feel to it. I wanted to take the ashes home with me but my wife was spooked at the prospect and wouldn't have them in or near our apartment – ghosts and all that. I therefore arranged to collect the ashes on my way to Ekkamai bus station for my trip to Trad and Koh Chang – that took all day.
The following morning, early, I went down on to White Sands Beach to dispose of Derek's ashes in accordance with his wishes. When I tipped out the contents of the white bundle I was amazed to find the 'ashes' were smashed up bone fragments, nowhere near consistent in quantity with a human skeleton – hardly enough if it was a dead dog – so one wonders what happened to the remainder. Once this had been done I beat a hasty retreat as I didn't wish to be 'caught' disposing of human remains. Ironically, the day I travelled to Koh Chang turned out to be the last day of the rainy season last year (2004), October 12th. It then didn't rain properly until April 2005.
I hope this factual description of what happened to my friend was not too harrowing for Stickman readers. It will happen to us all in the end. My pal had his wishes granted and now lies on a tropical beach; how many others of us can say the same?
My friend died intestate (viz. leaving no formal Will) and such personal effects that remained, like photographs of his ex-wife, daughter, diaries etc., were all returned to UK and we gave all his clothes to Thai charities.
It is interesting that he wished his remains to stay in Thailand. One also has to wonder just what that was that you received….doesn't sounds like his ashes.