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Laying To Rest

Published by Kayleigh Oliver on

After building a life in the United Kingdom, having children and grandchildren, some from the Windrush generation decided to return home to Jamaica to be with their remaining family and live life at their own pace enjoying their retirement.

When the unfortunate news of their death is informed to their families, many of the children make the journey to Jamaica to put their parents to rest. A final sign of respect. However, the systems within Jamaica are known, even to this day, to “move slow”. This means that a simple task of filling one piece of paperwork can take three times as long as it can within the UK. For all the moaning that we do over here about our bureaucratic systems, believe me, Jamaica is on another level.

This series of posts speaks from one woman’s journey to bury her mother in Jamaica between 17th June 2015 to 1 July 2015.

We hope that by sharing this, anyone else that will go through a similar situation will be more prepared and be ready for any challenges that await you.

How To Bury Your Loved One Abroad

Let me tell you about my experience as a first generation Caribbean descendant born in the UK trying to lay my mum to rest in Jamaica.

A week after we learned of the death of my mum, my family arrived on Wednesday 17th June in Jamaica. The first document we needed was a medical certificate. We eventually collected this on Thursday from the Alexandria police station six miles away.

However, when we first got there, the front desk officers said they weren’t aware of any document. The Sergeant then informed the staff that there was an envelope addressed to the family in the office.

Once retrieved, we took the medical certificate on Friday 19th June to the funeral parlour in Browns Town nine miles away.

When we arrived at the funeral parlour, we were told that we also needed a Form N, The Registration (Births and Deaths) Law, Part B – Certificate for Burial after Registry ‘pink form’ from the local town registrar which was down the road from the local town police station. This meant that we would have to return back to the funeral parlour once we had obtained the form.

Digging

Saturday 20th June was grave digging. My dad, grandmother, and grandfather are already buried on our land. I employed a builder and he brought four workers with him for the task. In addition, we had about 25 onlookers, including babies and young children, who we are supposed to give food and drink. The materials for the funeral plot (including delivery) cost J$31,800.00.

Back To Town

On Monday 22 June, we returned to the registrar to get the pink form. At this point he asked us for i.d. for my mother. The only i.d. I had was an out of date passport. I told him that I would look again but would have to return on Thursday 25th June. This cost J$300. The deputy registrar had no change from a J$1000 and as my sister only had J$200 he reluctantly accepted this. The deputy registrar also informed us that we would need permission from the Parish Council to bury my mum on her own land and this would cost us J$2,500

In the way back to the car, I checked the form only to find out that the registrar had put the incorrect surname on the form, so I went back in and got him to change it. Unfortunately, I failed to check any other information at this time.

We proceeded to the funeral parlour and I gave them the programme and the ‘pink form’. To our dismay, the clerk discovered that the registrar had put the incorrect date of my mother’s death! She telephoned him and asked us to get it amended on our return journey home. The registrar reminded us again about the Parish Council.

Unfortunately, we had a partial blackout on the night of Tuesday 23rd June. We had to call out an electrician on Wednesday 24th June so we were unable to go out that day.

On Thursday 25th June we went back to the Registrar with my mum’s Electoral Registration Card and her i.d. This number was written on the back of the document in the Registrar’s book.

We then went onto the Parish Council, 17 miles away and I took with me the Property Tax paper for 2015 – 2016. The Administrator asked for the Title of Deeds. I explained that I did not have this document and I did not know how far my mum had progressed with the process. She told me that I would not be able to go ahead with the funeral unless I found a Justice of the Peace (JP) to verify that it was my mum’s land. At this point we were finding the whole process frustrating, stressful and the various departments unhelpful at a time when we were grieving for my mum. I told all this to the Administrator. I didn’t know a JP and was not prepared to go back home again 17 miles away. I also explained that I was due to fly back to the UK on the following Wednesday, so we would go ahead with the funeral on Saturday 27th June. She then took the address of the property to do a visit and told us that it would be J$2,500. The computer was not working so we given a manual receipt.

We went back to the funeral parlour to deliver my mum’s clothes, and pay for the funeral package costing J$160,000 this included:

  • Casket
  • 100 Programmes
  • 2 Radio Announcements
  • 1 Wreath, Storage
  • Preparation of the Body
  • 1 North Coast Time Paper Announcement
  • Unfortunately, there wasn’t a funeral car available for the family so they reduced the cost by J$10,000.

Friday 26th June was Nine Night, traditionally in the UK people normally bring food and drink to the grieving family, men bring drinks and women bring food. Not so in Jamaica, they expect the family to provide food, drink and a ‘band’. The minimum cost for a band was J$30,000. The food was soup, fish and bread and the cook charged us J$7,000 for the nine night and funeral.

Saturday 27th June was the day of the funeral. We were told by a frantic relative that we needed to ring the funeral parlour. I was informed by the funeral parlour that they had now incorrectly spelt my mother’s forename. They had put a ‘H’ instead of ‘M’. Nothing else could go wrong!

Church Service And The Graveside

The funeral service was held at the church my mum attended and sang in the choir since she returned to Jamaica. A donation was given to the Pastor/Deacon in an envelope from the family.

We sang songs at the graveside and when my mum was buried I collected the pink form from the Pastor/Deacon.

On Monday 29th June I was told that our local Post Office could provide the death certificate. So I took a short walk to the Post Office to be told by the substitute post mistresses that the post mistress had taken the registrar books with her. She lived about three miles away. She then examined the ‘pink form’ and told me she had not issued it and I would have to go back to the registrar in the nearest town another 3 miles away.

Luckily an officer from the Parish Council was at the registrar house. I presented the pink form and asked for the death certificate. Surprise, surprise I was told that the officer was collecting the paperwork from the registrar. We would have to go the Parish Council to apply for the death certificate. The cost of this would differ depending on the time to deliver:

J$4,500 (2-3 days)
J$3,000 (7-10 days)
J$2,000 (6 weeks)

This application would go to Spanish Town and then be returned to the Parish Council.

I then went to the Tax Office to get a Taxpayer Reference Number (TRN) for myself. This required me to provide ID (Passport) and I was issued with a temporary number until my card was ready. This enabled me to transfer a Retailer’s Licence J$2,500 into my name so that we could reopen my mum’s Groceries/Liquor Store. This was an efficient department and only took half an hour for the TRN and Retailers Licence.

I also went to the bank to close my mum’s account and transfer the balance to my account. This was a one and a half hour wait which they apologised for, yet they were the only establishment that offered their condolences/sympathy for my loss during this time.

Costs

The costs below do not include air fares, spending money, hire car, groceries etc

Registrar = J$300
Material for grave including vault = J$32,000
Suit – FREE
Lace cap J$650
Underwear J$500
Handkerchief J$80,
Funeral package = J$160,000
Extra wreath = J$13,000
St Ann’s Bay Parish Council J$2,5000
Deacon/Pastor for funeral service at Baptist Church J$2,000
Application for death certificate: J$4,5000 [2 – 3 days], J$3,000 [7 -10 days], J$2,000 [6 weeks]

Total spent J$210,030.00
Total spent £2,250.50

 

Calderwood to Alexandra = 11.5km/6 miles, 15 minutes
Alexandra to Browns Town = 15.5km/9 miles, 22 minutes
Browns Town to St Ann’s Bay = 28.7km/17 miles, 38 minutes

So What Do You Think Of This Experience?

I think it’s safe to say that no one should have to go through so much unnecessary back and forth when trying to carry out a funeral. This is an extremely emotional time for anyone and to make the entire process more difficult for the family is inexcusable. So from this ordeal, it’s obvious that the Jamaican government needs to refine their process, make things clearer and ensure adequate staff training to reduce and try to prevent time and financially costly mistakes such as spelling mistakes on these essential forms.

This was the process within the parish of St Ann in 2015. I can’t speak for the rest of the Jamaican parishes, they may have been more organised and helpful. But, you’re stuck with where you live unfortunately.

Since 2015, I’m hoping that this parishes processes have greatly improved so that one of the worst times in a families lives is handled in a timely and more respectful manner.

Suggestions for Improvement

The department’s in Jamaica need a centralised system that’s up-to-date and secure with staff that are properly trained to use it.

Information in the form of a website or mobile app should be set up with all of this information in order to guide the bereaved through the process quickly and without additional stress through this time.

Spelling mistakes on these documents may happen (because we’re only human), but they should not occur so many times. Feedback on service should be kept to measure these occurrences and the service received. This will highlight issues that need rectifying and provide a list to create a plan to fix them.

Details about all requirements with contact details for people that would be useful at each stage should be documented here.