Escape. Alone. Death.

The other day I watched out my window as a few friends of mine took off down the road in their golf cart. I had no idea they were going to the burial of an expat gentleman who had lived on the island.

Entrance to Babalu restaurant on Utila.

That evening I joined friends in celebrating their wedding anniversary. As the 6 of us were sitting on the rickety dock of one of Utila’s most charming restaurants, I heard more dismal news of the American gentleman who was buried just hours before sunset. This is how news travels around the island: checking out at the grocery store, getting a beer at sunset at local restaurants, playing volleyball with friends on a Sunday afternoon, getting the golf cart filled with gas, or picking up mail at the post office.

This 63-year-old American man had lived on the island for about 6 months. He stayed in an apartment in the middle of town. He rode a bicycle everywhere. I often saw him with snorkel gear heading through town mid-morning. One of my friends was introduced to him awhile ago and he mentioned his interest in learning Spanish. So, she was  meeting with him for about 5 weeks giving him lessons in español.

Apparently, the owner of the apartments had not seen him around in several days and noticed a staunch odor near his apartment. This last Monday he realized that he had better check it out and knocked on the American’s door, only to find no answer. He let himself into the apartment and found the man on the sofa. No breath left in him.

Efforts were then initiated to get the man a proper burial because his lifeless body was in bad shape. Usually, the deceased are sent over to Roatan where there are facilities for performing an autopsy. The challenge with this situation is that this man had no one else with him on Utila. He was here by himself, apparently distancing himself from his estranged family. There are no monies accumulated in the municipalidad here to pay for a deceased expat’s voyage to the neighboring island to receive an examination that would hopefully tell of his departure from this life. So, he simple gets buried.

No service. No honoring his life. No loved ones standing around wiping tears from their eyes. No sharing  memories of his life. No casket. No headstone. No hugs. No comforting those at a loss.

A grave was dug. His body placed in a bag and laid in the earth.  Strangers handling his burial. Strangers laying plants and fake flowers on his grave.

This made me sad. I’m used to being at funerals where life is celebrated and mourned. People tell stories of their memories with the deceased. People find comfort in one another at the loss of a son, daughter, mother, father or friend. Funerals are a time to acknowledge a person’s life on this earth. Even if there may not be wonderful things to mention about a deceased person, still their life is acknowledged at a funeral.

Jim had none of this. Maybe that’s what he wanted. Maybe he came here because he knew he was dying and he wanted to die somewhere far from “family” who didn’t accept him and love him for who he was. Maybe he was happy when he took his last breath. I’ll never know.

Utila cemetery and grave sight of American man who died here.