Last Sunday, I received a phone call from young North American man who informed me that his housemate, an older man named Christopher Colin Sutherland, had passed away that morning.
Mr. Sutherland, a fellow U.S. citizen, had been suffering from emphysema and other respiratory problems for some time; his friends had been urging him to go see a doctor earlier that week, but he refused.
Mr. Sutherland’s friends had also encouraged him to write a will, but he refused to do that, too.
I was called on the morning of his death because I rented the house to him on behalf of my sister, who was out of the country. Mr. Sutherland’s friends gave money to the police to have his body transported to the morgue in Managua, which is standard procedure (the body waits there until the family or loved ones claim it).
I learned that Mr. Sutherland had a son living in the United States and I was given several contact numbers from his cell phone. Since I have a Vonage phone where I can make unlimited calls to the U.S., I volunteered to try to help and locate the son.
I made perhaps 12 phone calls and was the bearer of bad news to several friends who were saddened to hear of Mr. Sutherland’s passing. But no one was able to locate his son. No one even knew his name. Some folks called me back and wanted to talk about their old friend and learn the circumstances of his death. They all seemed surprised to hear that he was living in Nicaragua (many had trouble pronouncing the name of the country and most had no idea where it is on the map).
Still, Mr. Sutherland had friends who cared about him. I was also in touch with the U.S. Embassy. They were finally able to locate and notify Mr. Sutherland’s son. I felt my job was done.
This is the second time this has happened to me in two months. Another renter, David Johnson, died after being taken to the hospital by an ambulance when he suffered a heart attack. That same day, he demanded to be released from the hospital and taken “home” to my rental house—this after he ripped out all the IVs and other monitors attached to his body.
He died the next day. Mr. Johnson had one friend in the U.S., but no family.
In both instances, I had to deal with the police and make sure funds were provided to transport the body to the morgue. I know at least three other friends of mine here in Granada who have had to deal with similar situations after the death of a friend or foreigner who was renting a house from them.
We as a foreign community here need to think about how to deal with these deaths, which could become increasingly common as older expats move down here in the later stages of their retirement.
Darrell Bushnell, head of Amigos de la Policia, and I met with officials from the police department here in Granada and we have been in touch with the embassy in Managua. We are looking at ways to set up a protocol to handle the deaths of expats here and how to protect any money and belongs they might have so that they get to their next of kin.
The last two deaths that I mentioned were both U.S. veterans, so perhaps the American Legion can participate and help out when the deceased are veterans.
Anyone who has any suggestions or experience with this issue, please share your thoughts with us below this article in the comments box.