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Thursday, 4 February 2010

Dying Abroad in Spain: An Article by Keith Brown

Keith Brown (above), a reader in training from our Diocese in Europe, serving in the parish of St Peter and St Paul, Torrevieja, Spain, has written an article for the newsletter of the International Anglican Family Network (IAFN). The IAFN is a forum for the exchange of information about the challenges facing families in different countries and cultures across the Anglican Communion.

The latest edition of the newsletter deals with the difficult subject of how the churches in different parts of the Anglican Communion seek to respond to death. Keith writes a moving account of how the chaplaincy in Torrevieja is responding pastorally to this challenge. I am grateful to Keith for his thoughtful contribution to this international Anglican resource. His contribution also helps to raise the profile of our own diocese within the Anglican Communion.

Keith's article is entitled, Dying Abroad in Spain. Follow the read more link for the text.
Spain is the holiday destination every year for British people from all walks of life who enjoy the weather, the alcohol, food and the culture. It is often whilst on these holidays, that the dream sets in: retirement to Spain and those two weeks of fun, sun and relaxation for the rest of their lives. Some think out their future here responsibly, but many sell up everything in Britain and just arrive. Some, not yet of retirement age, turn up hoping to get a job and reinvent themselves – perhaps buy a bar or restaurant with no or little idea of how they are going to make it work. Little or no thought has ever gone into health-care for the family, which can be expensive if you are not on the Spanish health system, and death – what is that but something on the horizon? – No need to look at it now. If only they knew how many people will die during the next year from accidents, drugs, illness, or just old age. Not many people take stock and financially prepare themselves or their loved ones for this ordeal.

Most people who move or retire to Spain come as couples, and when illness or death strikes one of them they have no help from close family. They struggle on alone apart from friends made whilst in Spain. Here, in our small area on the Costa Blanca South, we are averaging 180 funerals a year. As a Reader in training, and having attended a bereavement seminar in France, one of my roles has been to act as Bereavement co-ordinator from the twelve Tanatorios/Crematorios in our Chaplaincy. Over the two years I have been taking funerals, it has amazed me how lonely the ones left are, once their family – if they have any – have returned home to England after the service. This often takes place within 24-36 hours of the death. I could see that we needed a support group for the survivors who seemed so far from their birthplace and former home. With the help of the Mothers’ Union, we have been running a Bereavement Group for a year, and each month our meeting brings new faces to our door, where over a cup of tea they meet other people in a similar situation to themselves and realise that they are not alone with their loneliness, grief and sometimes their guilt.

When requested, we attend hospitals for laying-on of hands to the sick and dying. Each member of our team has an area for which they are responsible and keep in touch with our bereaved between meetings by telephone. We respond at any time to problems. On one occasion about midnight, a widow, feeling guilty that she lived while her husband had died, drank too much wine and telephoned to inform me she was about to join her husband and kill herself. It’s amazing how quickly one can get out of bed, dress and drive 20 kilometres, to spend the next three hours with her – counselling, reassuring, praying and sobering her up. It’s all part of our Christian duty here in Spain. We telephone and make home visits for as long as we can to those who have been bereaved and have no one to share their lives with, when we in our Christian family have so much to thank God for.

A number of our bereaved now attend church, a number have joined the Mothers’ Union, and last year the Bishop confirmed a husband and daughter who joined the church after losing a wife and mother. We are still in our infancy in our work with people who have been bereaved but, with God’s love, help, strength and guidance, we shall go on to be there for those who have lost so much

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