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|Bereavement in Crete
A Personal Story
A Personal Story of Bereavement in Crete
By Allan Watson
This page focuses on the problems, feelings and reactions we are most likely to experience during serious illness and
after the death of a loved one.
This can be hard enough when we are in our own native country surrounded by the people we love and care for.
So how much harder can it be when we are in a foreign country away from this emotional, physical and practical
I can only explain with my personal story:-
My wife and I (both aged about 50) decided to take early retirement from the UK and set up a new life in Crete. The
property was found, the house in the UK was sold, the removal men in and out and - there we were - on the glorious
island of Crete.
The first task was to register with IKA. We had our E106 forms that provided us with health care to the same standard
as the Greek community for about 18 months. This was courtesy of the UK Government and the amount of National
Insurance Contributions we had paid during our working life.
Time passed by and then it was decision time. A serious one. IKA had run out, so, do we purchase private health care
or trust to luck, after all we are both fit and healthy. What could go wrong? After many thoughtful days we decided to
purchase the cheapest insurance option. The policy was equal to the Greek community care, GP, Specialists,
Government Hospitals, if need, all just a phone call away from the insurance company.
One day in September my wife complained of a pain in her left side and along with a high temperature felt bad. We
phoned the insurance company who provided us with a GP, her address and telephone number (and no they do not
normally make house calls). She diagnosed bronchitis, maybe pneumonia, but to be on the safe side - have an X-ray
and CT scan at a private clinic - all paid for by the insurance.
Various drugs were prescribed and, although they were available over the counter at the chemist, our insurance did not
cover them. During a period of two months we paid over 300 Euros for medication.
Time passed by and my wife felt better and we even managed a trip back to the UK for my father's funeral in
November. Then in late January my wife awoke with a very sore throat. Again we contacted our insurance company
who suggested a different GP. He sent us to a throat specialist who in turn prescribed medication - another 100
Ten days later we returned to the specialist who explained that her infection had cleared up but suggested we visit a
lung specialist, who was on the insurance company list. After finally finding him in Chania, and after a full examination,
he said my wife must have another X-ray and to return to him that same evening with the results.
After the X-ray, the staff were concerned about her results so they contacted our specialist who agreed to wait until we
got back to his surgery (Doctors usually only work 8 a.m. till 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. till 9 p.m.). He checked her X-ray and
said that we must go to hospital immediately.
Just because you have private insurance which may qualify you for the same treatment as the Greek community in their
Government hospitals - DO NOT expect any priority, but DO expect to do a lot of things yourself.
After an hour in the Emergency Department at Chania Hospital my wife was seen. Once the doctor had read the
specialist report and seen the X-ray, things started to move. Blood samples were taken and I had to take them to the
laboratory for testing. Eventually, I found the right room and was told to come back in one hour for the results
Days passed by and my wife had various tests both in the Government hospital and also at private clinics. I asked if the
hospital had the equipment for these outside tests and was told "yes, we have the equipment, but the results will take
The decision was taken to move my wife to Iraklion Hospital and I was asked if my insurance would provide an
ambulance for the journey. Telephone calls back and forth and the answer was No, my policy did not cover this
I was beginning to feel I was losing control of the situation. The language difference and the Greek administration was
becoming a problem. I phoned the British Consul in Iraklion and my worries were eased. The staff there were amazing.
Whatever help and assistance I needed they gave it. As I had insurance, financial assistance was not required which is
a good job because they cannot give any. They contacted my insurance company and explained the situation.
Two weeks after entering Chania Hospital we were speeding down to Iraklion. I say 'we'. My wife was in the ambulance,
blue lights, 120 kpm. I was following in my car trying to keep up, holding my wife's X-rays, CT scans, doctors' notes etc.,
which were given to me from Chania Hospital.
On arrival at Iraklion Hospital, again my wife disappeared as I was left to book her in. This took over an hour but would
have taken longer if it hadn't been for the help of an irate Englishman losing his cool and helping me with this crisis
(thanks Tony - Rethymnon). By this time my wife had been moved to the Cancer Ward and I found her on a trolley bed
in the corridor. Again, you have to see to things for yourself and as my wife was having difficulty breathing I managed
to find her an oxygen cylinder and mask. After 3 hours in the corridor a doctor came and asked what the problem was.
I would have expected the hospital at Chania to have let Iraklion know we were coming so that they would have a bed
The Cancer Ward has day patients, overnight patients, week patients and long term patients. We had to wait until a
day patient had finished their treatment before my wife eventually got a bed - 9 hours after leaving Chania.
My wife was diagnosed with lung cancer, throat cancer and bone cancer. She also had a fractured pelvis and any
movement was sheer agony.
Nursing staff had so many patients to deal with that I was left alone with my wife most of the time and to see to all of her
needs. This again is a Greek way of life in hospitals.
I caught a 24-hour flu bug at the hospital and was told to leave the ward due to infecting other patients. How would my
wife be looked after? Who would care for her needs? I was advised to employ a private nurse, which the hospital
provides. Fortunately my insurance covered this, but I required a form, signed by the doctor, stamped and double
stamped. This care was not cheap. For 24 hour attention it cost 500 Euros for 2 days. My insurance policy would
cover this on the proviso I paid for the service and would be reimbursed at a later date. I am still waiting for the cheque
five weeks later!
This gave me great concern. I had paid out over 1000 Euros for my wife's care in Chania Hospital, hoping to be
reimbursed. How could I afford to pay for her treatment in the cancer ward considering that Chemotherapy is in the
region of 1300 Euros a session, plus all the other drugs and I.V. treatments she required. Would the hospital refuse to
treat my wife in her time of need?
I contacted the British Consulate again and one of their staff came to the hospital to see my wife, myself, the doctors
and the accounts department. The accounts department required a fax from my insurance company confirming they
would be willing to pay all the bills. The said NO. I had to pay the bills and be reimbursed at a later date.
This was not an option.
The matter was resolved by expert persuasion, common sense, tact and diplomacy by the British Consulate staff whom I
now hold in very high regard.
My wife had various chemotherapy treatments and radiotherapy treatments over a period of time.
One problem I encountered was the hospital porters. They just expected my wife to hop out of bed, jump into the
wheelchair and be whisked off to the treatment room. I had to write in large Greek letters "FRACTURED PELVIS -
CANNOT MOVE", and physically show the porters this before they attempted to pull her from her bed and into the
wheelchair. Once they understood this, they were very sympathetic and treated her with kid gloves. Again, I had to
make them aware of her condition, but what would have happened if I had just popped out of the ward for a moment?
Unfortunately, my wife's condition deteriorated rapidly and she went into a coma for the last 24 hours of her life. She
died in my arms and passed away on 11th March 2005, 33 days after entering Chania Hospital.
After my wife died I was taken into an office with the doctor who had cared for her and began completing her death
certificate. Together with this and all her records of treatment I was sent to the accounts department to inform them of
her death. I was then shown to another office to acquire an 'exit' permit for my wife.
I found the mortuary and was told that my wife would stay at the hospital until I could arrange for a Funeral Director to
collect her. I contacted two very good Greek friends from our village and asked them to organize this for me. Three
hours later, my friends turned up at the hospital having done nothing.
I phoned the British Consulate again and asked for help. A Funeral Director in Chania was contacted and provisional
arrangements made for her funeral. I then left Iraklion Hospital to return to our home. My friends said I must go straight
to the town hall in Souda to record her death. There was some confusion as she had passed away in Iraklion, but as
we had lived in our village for 3 years and were residents, her death was registered in Souda, Chania.
At this point her death certificate was taken from me and not returned. (Editor's note: This was probably the Medical
Certificate of Death. On the basis of the Medical Certificate of Death the Registrar makes an entry in the Register of
Deaths and copies of this registry entry are the Death Certificate. You can ask for as many copies of this as you think
you will need).
I realised later that I would require numerous copies of this for various Government departments in the UK and in Crete,
for Income Tax, National Insurance, Pensions, Banks, Insurance Companies etc.
From our house in Megala Horafia I can see the village cemetery and I thought it would be fitting to have Corinne buried
there. Not so. The cemetery was full and only used for existing families from the village who had plots going back many
A grave was found at Souda Bay cemetery that I could rent. After 4 years, my Corinne's remains would be removed and
As cremation is illegal in Crete (Editor's note - a new law in 2006 legalises cremation in Greece but no crematoria have
yet been built in Greece @ December 2007) this appears to be the solution where graves are used more than once.
My wife died on Friday 11 March 2005 and the staff at the Town Hall could not understand why I did not want her buried
the next day. As it was a Bank Holiday on the following Monday, that left Tuesday or Wednesday. I said the latter as it
gave me time to visit the Funeral Director.
I visited my wife's burial plot and was distraught to find it was a concrete bunker.
Along with my Greek friend, we visited the Funeral Director, which was for the most part a small shop selling all types of
Greek funeral paraphernalia. He faxed the British Consulate a copy of my wife's death certificate and also her passport
details and then drew back a curtain to reveal many different styles of coffins - all black, with the exception of a single
pine one, which I chose.
I asked for the cortege to leave from our house and requested a black hearse. The options were silver, white or dark
I explained to the Funeral Director that I wanted the coffin lid closed, the flowers placed on top and no service in the
Church, just at the grave side. He obliged, but my Greek friend was not happy at this. I asked if he supplied coffin
bearers but was told that family and friends undertake this task. I was asked if I wanted "Peanuts and Metaxa" for
afterwards - I declined! (Editor's note - peanuts and metaxa are traditionally offered to those attending a funeral in
Greece, in the same way that tea and sandwiches may be offered after a funeral in the UK).
The day of the funeral came and many friends had arrived at the house which caused a minor problem for the hearse
due to the narrow roads in the village. We arrived at the cemetery and waited for the Greek priest, who, although he
had been contacted prior to the funeral, decided not to attend - no reason was given. I had arranged for an Anglican
lay preacher to conduct a service along with the Greek priest and, even under the circumstances, Corinne was buried
with the dignity she deserved.
A very dear friend of mine told me later that Corinne would have been looking down and having a good chuckle to
herself saying "that's Greece for you".
After a short trip back to the UK to visit family and friends who were unable to attend the funeral due to the speed of the
arrangements, I returned to live in the place we had chosen for our future life together, and also to put the finishing
touches to Corinne's grave.
A full slab of marble covering the whole of the grave costs between 1300 and 1500 Euros and as Corinne would be
moved later, I decided on marble surrounding the edges of her grave and a covering of small white marble stones
together with marble plaque and an inscription.
40 days of official mourning have passed and although I shall always be in sadness, I feel in some way to be part of the
Cretan way of life, even though I did not follow their traditions.
Please feel free to email your thoughts and comments to me at:
nostaw(@)otenet.gr (take out the brackets)
or even pay a visit to Corinne's grave when in Souda.
Born 18 August 1952, England
Died 11 March 2005, Iraklion Hospital, Crete
Buried, Souda Bay, Crete
|Living in Crete
General Information - Bereavement