The Last Gin and Tonic

So what do you want done with your body when you have finally drunk your last gin and tonic? Yes, I know that this is not the cheeriest subject to read, but it has to be said and the issue has to be faced. This is an area that few expats consider, and recent personal experiences have alerted me to some of the dangers of ignoring the issue.

I have to admit that this is not an area that I have given too much thought too either. Burial and cremation sound rather old hat, burial at sea rather more romantic, but I am not a good sailor. Then there is embalming; I rather fancied being pickled in a very large vat of fine malt, but one of my friends thought it would be a waste of good malt.

For expats, the choices are rather limited. The obvious choice is, of course, cremation. It is quickly done and dusted, if you forgive the pun, and then your loved ones can scatter your ashes in a favourite place, or, after quite a lot of bureaucracy and additional expense, you can be popped into a special container, flown home in style, preferably not by a certain low cost Irish airline, and scattered lovingly somewhere in the country from where you tried so desperately hard to escape.

There is burial of course, but in many countries, this is not burial in a green and pleasant churchyard, which appeals to many, flooding aside. In many countries, ‘burial’ means merely being popped into a kind of filing cabinet for the length of time that has been paid for. So what happens after expiry of the 25 or 50 years that the inheritors of your estate have begrudgingly paid for? Yes, you guessed it, out you come! I leave the rest to your imagination.

Then there is the option of leaving your body to medical science. This could be either for transplanting various bits and pieces to people who really need it, which would be very useful. Alternatively, your body could go for medical science and be used by student medics to examine various body parts and tissues. Now, I am not that altruistic, and personally I find this all rather distasteful. However, I know that many, and particularly those who have been in the medical profession, find this idea appealing. Should this be the case, I urge intending donors to carefully check out all the facts before registration and to read the small print about the medical institution’s right to refuse your body when the time comes. Sometimes, it may be that, in cases such as cancer, they do not wish to have the body, or simply that they have too many.

One forgotten impact of the financial crisis is that there are often more donations of bodies for medical research than are needed in some countries. Quite simply, donors sometimes donate their bodies to escape high funeral costs, as the receiving institution usually pays for the final disposal of the body. In turn, this has meant that there is often a surplus of bodies and an intended well-meaning donation is refused when the time comes. This can cause enormous unexpected financial problems and distress for the families of the departed.

Funeral costs are very high in many countries, and it is wise to take out a funeral plan to pay for these costs. Premiums are usually very reasonable, and the earlier such a policy is started the cheaper the premiums will be. When the time comes, the existence of a funeral plan can take away much of the stress of arranging and paying for a funeral. In Spain and the Canary Islands, for instance, funerals usually take place within two or three days of death, which can make the release of funds to pay for it very difficult. A funeral plan helps to ease many of the problems that expats often face.

Meanwhile, get on with your life in the sun, but recognise that each day, as well as each gin and tonic, is a bonus. I promise that I will write something a little cheerier next time.


  1. My aunt donated her body to a Medical School. Unfortunately, the Hospital did NOT follow the proper procedures for preserving her body for transfer to the medical school; so the Medical School rejected the donation.
    We quickly contacted other institutes to see if we could donate her body to another place. We immediately determined that the dead bodies of those are 60 are not usually accepted as donations. The Medical School had a restriction on accepting older bodies and would have refused to accept her body in any case, but did not disclose that to her when she signed the papers for the donation years earlier.
    The end result was major unplanned expenses: a funeral, burial plot, headstone, trips for relatives, costs for hotel rooms, etc .
    My husband has decided that he will be cremated. His ashes are to become part of a man made reef off of Florida. As a former surfer and scuba diver, he will be forever where he was happiest – in the Ocean.

  2. Thank you for your interesting comments, Marie. We had a similar situation in Spain recently.

    It seems that the body was rejected because a) it was cancerous and b) the university had too many in storage. Leaving bodies to medical science is popular in some countries, because it usually means a free funeral service and cremation. This has been a popular option in recession hit countries over the last few years.

    Sadly, the terms of acceptance are often not made clear to donors, which can lead to considerable distress and uncertainty when the donor dies.

    I think your husband is wise to make his wishes perfectly clear before his passing; many retired expats do not. I hope it will be a long time before he becomes part of the “man made reef”!

    All good wishes.


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