Saturday 20 July 2019

Bringing Paul home

The family of a Balrothery man who died in Spain talk to Ken Phelan about how one extraordinary charity helped them to bring their loved one home

Michelle Rooney, Mary Coffey and Deirdre Hughes at the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust fundraiser in the Bracken Court Hotel
Michelle Rooney, Mary Coffey and Deirdre Hughes at the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust fundraiser in the Bracken Court Hotel
Glenn Uzell, Kate Rooney, Nicola Molloy and John Foy at the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust fundraiser in the Bracken Court Hotel

Going through bereavement for a loved one can be a very difficult and traumatic time for families. When the death occurs abroad however, bringing a loved one home can be a minefield of bureaucracy, red tape and unnecessary distress as one Balrothery family can sadly attest to.

One charity, the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust, helps families bring their loved ones home from overseas, and helps alleviate the burden of what can otherwise be a very long and upsetting process and the family of Balrothery man, Paul Coffey who died last September in Spain, will be forever grateful to the charity.

Speaking to the Fingal Independent, the Balrothery man's step-son Glenn gave an account of what happened when Paul passed away last year while on holiday in Guardamar, Spain, and how the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust helped his family cope with the ordeal of bringing him home.

Glenn said: 'Paul was on holidays with my mam, and they were looking at places in Spain to eventually retire to.

'On the last night of the holiday, they both went out for a meal, but he wasn't feeling very well afterwards.

'They came home and he didn't know if it was indigestion or something, and my mam told him to have a cup of tea and maybe that would help. He was a bit restless in bed that night, and then just passed away in his sleep after having a heart attack.'

'He hadn't been sick before that, and had a good bill of health, so it was just one of those things.

'My mam was surrounded by Spanish-speaking people who didn't have much English, so the whole thing was very traumatic for her.

'They were trying to get her to sign lots of different forms, and she didn't really understand what was going on.

'They brought my step-dad into hospital, and then to a funeral home; my mam was able to go up and see him, but the funeral home didn't prepare him or anything like that, so it was a really horrific experience for her.'

He said: 'The funeral home let him sit out for six or seven hours, which you're not supposed to do.

'It was around that time that a family member got in touch with the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust charity, and they were absolutely brilliant.

'They just stepped in and pretty much had their team on the ground very quickly and took over the whole repatriation process.

'The Trust managed to negotiate with the Spanish authorities to work on getting Paul home in a way that we could have an open casket here in Ireland, which was very important to us.'

Glenn says the family felt 'utterly helpless' when they found out.

Glenn was on the phone to his mother from Sydney, where he works, while his sister tried to comfort her from her home in Ashbourne.

Glenn's mam was alone in a foreign country, with only a worker on night duty on the night of the death to explain to her what was happening and to work as interpreter.

The assistance from the charity was vital, Glenn says, in both reassuring his mother and in organising the eventual repatriation of his step-dad back to Ireland.

The repatriation process itself was something Glenn's family weren't familiar with, and as they soon found out, was a quite expensive process, with the Spanish authorities having his mother sign off on fees totalling €11,000.

It was also the logistics involved, Glenn says, of bringing his step-dad home, as it would need to be cleared by customs and would require a special plane to accommodate a coffin.

The family would have to pay for the coffin, of course, and to make things worse, Glenn says the authorities in Spain were not handling things very well.

Glenn says: 'My uncle worked in Beaumont Hospital, and he was telling my sister about a charity that brings deceased people back from overseas, so she got in touch with them.

'We got a phone call from them soon after that, and immediately, they said they were on the way, that they'd get it all sorted and bring my step-dad home.

'All they asked was where he was, which funeral home he was in, and then they contacted the Spanish authorities to arrange the repatriation.

'The longest wait was with the Spanish authorities, and they were kind of messing about, but once the charity took over, it didn't take very long at all, and they had him home within a week.'

The death, Glenn says, was a big shock to the family, who are still coming to terms with their loss.

It was particularly tragic also, in that Paul and Glenn's mam had only married last year, having been together for 20 years.

Glenn says the family are eternally grateful, for the assistance the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust provided in getting Paul home and said the family would have been lost without them.

He says: 'It's been hard, because my step-dad's mam died in November, so his side of the family are taking it really, really hard because they had to bury their brother and now their mam.

'So, the end of 2018 was a really sad time for them.'

At the weekend, the whole family were united around a single cause and that was to thank the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust with a huge fundraiser for the charity which was held in the Bracken Court Hotel in Balbriggan on Saturday night.

Speaking ahead of the event, Glenn said: 'The whole family are rallying behind the fundraiser on Saturday, in order to raise enough money that we can bring someone else home.

'Myself and my wife did a fundraiser in Australia, and we raised $17,000 for the charity, which will go into the pool that we generate from the fundraiser in the Bracken Court Hotel.

'All of our family will be there on Saturday night and all of my step-dad's family, in terms of his sisters, cousins, uncles and everyone else, and we should have about 250 or 300 people there on the night.

'My mam was in shock for the first couple of months or so, because she had given up her job and everything because they were both planning to start a new chapter when they moved to Spain.

'When it happened, she really struggled, because she always had my step-dad here in the house. I think having us home for Christmas helped, but still it's very hard.'

Paul's funeral was held in Dardistown Cemetery & Crematorium, which, Glenn says was 'absolutely packed' on the day, between family, friends and work colleagues.

He was, says Glenn, 'one of the most happy-go-lucky people you'd meet in your life'.

A delivery driver with Tesco in Balbriggan, Paul had, in the short time he had worked for the store, gained a large number of friends, who all showed up at the funeral to pay their respects.

Glenn says: 'He was so unassuming, he'd never let you know he had so many friends in work, then he'd come home and look after my mam and would never want praise or anything.

'He was a great musician as well. He played in a few bands, and everyone would know him in the music scene.

'He used to tour with the bands, but he gave it all up to raise us and to be with my mam.

'You'd really miss him around the house. It's hard coming home when you've been overseas and him not being there any more, and obviously my mam is finding it very hard.

'The kids are all raised now, so that was Paul and my mam's plan, to find a place abroad to live in after they retired.

'It'll take a long time to get over it, but we really want to thank the charity because they really were incredible.'

The Bracken Court Hotel in Balbriggan played host to the family's fundraising night in aid of the charity on Saturday night, which proved a huge success. Organised by Paul's family, the event was held in an effort to help others going through similar difficulties and pay forward the kindness shown to them.

Fingal Independent