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        Friday, November 03, 2006
        Morbidly useful tips
        Be'ene yederese ayidresibachihu (may what happened to me not happen to you)! But should it happen, hopefully what I went through would help you somehow.

        I just returned from Ethiopia after burying my young brother, who used to live in the US. His death was so sudden that my sister and I didn't even know what hit us when we embarked on the gruesome procedure of dealing with the proper authorities to have my brother's body examined, moved to a funeral home, have a memorial service in the US and transport him to Ethiopia… It required pausing emotions for practical purposes several times per day, and the physical and mental toll of that is more than I can bear to discuss here.

        Anyway, here is what I learnt and I want you to learn in case… Forget the be'seme Ab, ayadirs (in the name of the Father, God forbid…) bit and try to be practical. It can happen, and I wish I knew all this before it happened.

        - The police deals with only close family – parents, siblings, uncles, aunts and grandparents.
        - If such close family members are not present, please use your imagination so that the deceased is sent off with dignity. You can be a sister, brother, auntie or uncle temporarily.
        - If you're handling the situation until a close family member arrives, make sure you take the following information from the police: address of the morgue where the body is going to be sent and a case number (Oh, how I hated this part – using a number to identify my brother…).
        - What the medical examiner would be able to tell you right away is if the death was caused by violence, drug or medicine overdose. The specifics of a natural cause take (I don't know it is state specific) 30-90 loooong days. You know how folks in Ethiopia first ask "Min hono ne'w?" (what happened to him? I learnt that saying that it's a natural death, but the details are not yet known is opening up a chance for some speculation which can be hurtful to loved ones. So go with "libun ne’w" (it was his heart) especially if the person has never been sick in his life.
        - While dealing with officials, make sure one person follows the case.

        From discovering the body to funeral

        Trust me, one week felt like eternity although everybody told us how lucky we were to make it to Ethiopia in a week (considering we lost a day because it was a public holiday and there was a weekend in the middle…) What happened was that the police transported my brother's body to the medical examiners office, they performed the autopsy, put him in a morgue until a funeral home started the process.

        Selecting a funeral home was what drove us almost crazy. Before we knew it, three processes with three funeral homes were separately started and it spun our head before we decided to start a fourth one and run with it. My advise to you, if you're going to Ethiopia for the funeral, pause your sorrow until then and be on top of the gruesome process in the US. When you take a break to mourn, you're forcing others to take over and before you know it you have to deal with several people for just one thing…

        No mystery behind funeral homes

        What messed us up was not knowing the details of funeral homes’ operations and the different types. Just from my conversation with a bunch of funeral homes we learnt that there are mainly two types. Those who just deal with official documents, embalming, dressing, casketing the deceased, hold/arrange memorial & funeral services. The other type adds shipping the deceased anywhere in the world. Make sure you ask if they handle shipping themselves or if they have a company they work with. Big difference in the process and price.

        People who recommended funeral homes to us all used the first type therefore they had to deal with a shipping company. They specifically told us to go to Ato XYZ, "who is the sole transporter…." "Ethiopian Airlines works with only him….", "the Embassy in DC gives him the appropriate documents in a heartbeat…"

        Bollocks, crap and non-sense!

        Coincidently, we chose a funeral home which also handles the shipping. Until the last moment, we didn't believe that they would ship my brother's body to Ethiopia on the same flight as us… We were quite annoying in asking the director 3-4 times in each meeting and followed by telephone calls at least twice a day making her guarantee that the three of us are flying Ethiopian at the same time and we arrive in Addis at the same time…. The answer was all, "yes", "yes" and "yes". And regarding getting the documents from the Ethiopian Embassy, you can do it yourself for free or pay a whapping $500 for the funeral home to do it for you (may differ from home to home - still $500 to send a car to the Embassy and collect a one page letter!!!)

        Another confusing factor was the price difference from one funeral home to the other. The difference we found out was location, location, location. Cheaper ones are located in a not very pleasant part of town and it might feel like an insult to the deceased to have a ceremony in an unpleasant area. Besides, the services offered my be incomparable unless you pay attention to details. The major factor is transportation. If a funeral home doesn't handle transportation and works with a company that does, like Ato XYZ's, what seems like a 100% increase in price definitely goes down to only 20%. As the saying goes "a funeral ceremony is for the living" so whatever works for the relatives and friends.

        No cutting corners

        There are strict regulations in transporting the remains of a loved one from the US to Ethiopia. The remains or necessary documents from the examiners office are ONLY RELIEASED to the funeral home AFTER YOU SIGN A CONTRACT with the funeral home. If you want to rush the initial process, ask for the funeral home to fax you their contract which you can sign and fax back. Ethiopia has regulations about the type of casket, how it should be shipped and regarding communicable diseases… The funeral home should have all the information and the nice thing about that is if they mess up, it's their responsibility.

        Pinch yourself to remind you that funeral homes are there for the business and pray for a director who is at least excellent in pretending that they feel your pain. Ours was very warm and she didn't even bat an eye lash when we asked her to call my brother by name – not "the deceased" or "the remains of your brother". Very helpful that was!

        Services of a funeral home that also ships the deceased

        1. Transfer from place of death/morgue to the funeral home
        2. Embalming, dressing, & casketing deceased
        3. Filing consulate/embassy papers & necessary authorizations, notify social security, securing the death certificate and obtaining certified copies,
        4. Deceased placed in a sealed 20 gauge batesville casket
        5. Four hours of visitation in our chapel or your church prior to ship out
        6. Air tray to house casket during shipment
        7. Scheduling flight arrangements with the airlines
        8. Transportation to an Airport

        Be prepared to give the following information about the deceased to the provider for issuance of a death certificate and transport the remains.

        - Name, Home Address & Telephone Number
        - Length of Residence in State
        - Gender & Race
        - Occupation, Title & Employer
        - Social Security Number
        - VA Claim Number
        - Driver's License Number
        - Passport Number
        - Citizenship
        - Date & Place of Birth
        - Time, Date & Place of Death
        - Name & Birthplace of Father & Mother
        - Membership in Organizations
        - Marital Status
        - Immediate & Underlying Cause of Death
        - Whether an Autopsy Was Performed
        - Survivors' Names & Contact Information

        If you don't have any of the "insignificant" information for Ethiopia, such as social security number, driver's license number etc, don't sweat. Just tell the funeral director that you can't find the information, and they will put N/A (not available). Trust me, if it's not available, it's not available and there isn't a damn thing they can do about it. However, make sure that the name of the deceased is spelt exactly the same way and the birth date is the same in ALL DOCUMENTS. I can't stress how important this is. We, Ethiopians, are used to our name being butchered in the US, but this is one time where you should make sure that the spelling is consistent.

        The other conflicting information that we were getting was regarding the passport. A shipping agent was trying to convince us that Ethiopian Airlines needs the passport of the deceased…. Bollocks! The Embassy holds the passport and gives the accompanying relatives a "To whom it may concern" letter. I repeat, THE PASSPORT REMAINS AT THE EMBASSY IN DC. All you can do is make a copy for emotional purposes.

        Hope this has been useful. It sure was difficult writing it.

        Related links

        Morbidly practical tips from the US Federal Trade Commission
        A morbid list of funeral homes by state
        Morbidly free obituary services
        posted by Fikirte @ 1:30 PM   Digg!
        • name<="c116267847925840854" id="c116267847925840854">

          At 5:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

          Sorry to hear about the loss of your brother, may god give you and your family strength as you deal with your loss.

        • name<="c116268121301065358" id="c116268121301065358">

          At 6:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

          egziabeher yatnash

        • name<="c116284071087192445" id="c116284071087192445">

          At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

          Bless you for thinking of others in your time of grief.

        • name<="c116360930682952877" id="c116360930682952877">

          At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


          May God be with you and your family at this difficult time. My Condolences!

        • name<="c7387085164528780948" id="c7387085164528780948">

          At 7:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

          I am currently going through the same process of shipping my loved one overseas and your blog gave many useful information that i would have otherwise missed...Sorry for your loss and my hearts are with you and yours.

        • name<="c6767087842609551792" id="c6767087842609551792">

          At 6:08 PM, Blogger Fikirte said…

          And my heart is with you and yours!!!! I'm glad I posted this and that it was useful. My condolences.

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