1. Forewords

Sounds bizarre doesn't it? Travelling with the dead... Well my intention is to tell you how I and my family coped with taking my father's ashes from Sweden to Yugoslavia (now more known as Serbia).

I will also give some pointers, hints and the like, together with what we experienced during the trip.

Those of who you thought I was going to talk about doing stuff with dead people, should maybe go somewhere else, like Google, because I will mainly deal with more serious stuff here. I will write in english so as to make this text more available to the world.


My father

My father, in an Autobahn queue somewhere in Germany 2001.


2. The background, where it all starts

Well, it all started back in late September in 2002, when my father got a stroke. A pretty serious one, but he managed to recuperate well enough to get permission to spend a weekend home, as is the practice in Sweden.

My father and I
My father and me waiting for the ferry in Rostock back to Sweden.

Unfortunately on the saturday (I drove him from the hospital to my parents home on the friday-evening) my mother, Georgina, called me in the early afternoon to alert me that my father, Jon, had gotten a heart-attack. After driving like a madman, I touched 120+kph more than once on the 4km-drive on the 50/70kph-roads to my parent's, and was probably lucky not to have an accident myself... In short, don't do this, even if the situation is really grave!

My mother

 My mother Georgina.

At my parent's I found the paramedics, and my father, on the apartment-hallway floor, with my mother all ashen-gray in the face and scared out of her skin. My mother is a staff-nurse so she managed to give him CPR until the paramedics arrived (no less than two ambulances arrived!) to take him to the Casualty Department (or ER) at the University Hospital in Uppsala, Sweden ("Akkis"). A bunch of neighbour-kids were standing outside talking loudly whether he would die. It's amazing what you manage to pickup even if stressed out beyond your wits...

Anyway, they took him in and an hour later they had stabilised him enough to be able to x-ray him to see what was going on inside him. They rolled him out of the prep-room and we (my mother and I) were allowed to see him for a short moment. I managed to say to him not to worry and squeeze his hand. He looked like he was far, far away and the comforting words probably had more effect on myself than him - I don't know if he ever heard me, he looked so far out. So, they rolled him away to x-ray him and we were shown to a private waiting room. I don't need to say how helpless we felt. Me and my mother spoke a lot while there. I learned that he had gotten chest-pains in the morning but that they had subsided quickly and that he had felt fine afterwards, how he had fallen down in the bathroom taking a shower, how she had given him CPR and how she'd known he'd gotten a heart-attack, how she'd called both me and 112 for help while giving him the CPR. He had been conscious enough then and there, to try to console her! He had even told her that his time had now come and not to worry... Me, I told my mother not to worry, as heart-attacks are easily taken care of, what with all the resources we have in the western world and on this University Hospital in particular etc. For myself I thought "please god, let it be so...". Little did I know...

After having waited for some hours in the waiting-room, it felt like days actually, the doctor in charge eventually came in and said he was gone. They hadn't been able to save him. My world shook then. I wonder if I didn't faint slightly, at least I know I faded out for a while. We cried. A lot. We hugged each other, trying to find comfort. I then called my girl-friend at work to tell her my father had died. She immediately left work (she later told me she'd asked her boss for permission to leave for a while under the circumstances and so on. The boss had only replied "Go" - stuff for a decisive moment in a Hollywood-movie), and came to the hospital and gave me and my mother some consolation. I'm very grateful she was there for me. We're happily married now.

At the hospital, the doctor and nurses told us he had passed out in the x-ray machine and that the emergency-staff had virtually climbed into the machine (I think it was some kind of biggish PET-scanner-like thing) to hook him up to fluids and stuff. Only problem was that when they had managed to stop one internal bleeding, another one started. They couldn't give him any "blood-thickeners" as is the normal procedure in cases like this because of his recent stroke. The autopsy later, showed multiple massive internal bleedings in the heart and lung-areas. His body had simply given up at that point, and nothing the medics did could have stopped it - his internal organs had become like sieves. Modern science can't fix things late that.

After this I took the mother home to my and my girlfriend's, Kristina, appartment where she lived with us for a few days. She felt she couldn't go back home quite yet, she didn't want to be alone in their big appartment for a while. Both me and her stayed home from work for a few days. Interestingly enough, the day after my father died, they called from her work to ask her if she could come back again soon as they were low on staff... I won't say what I thought about her boss at that moment... My own boss were however quite understanding.


3. Starting the burial procedure

Soon enough we started talking about what we were going to do about the burial, we had no particular plans at that point, except that my father had told my mother that he wanted to be cremated. This was specific. He had also said that he wanted to be burried next to his brother, who had passed away a few years earlier in some curious and relatively rare form of leukaemia. Why so many not-so-old people (fifty-something) from that particular village in Serbia, has a tendency to die so much is a disturbing fact in itself, but I will not digress...

My family are greek-orthodox romanians (the family is from an area quite close to the Romanian border in north-east Serbia) for the better part. My father was baptised in the local Uniate church in the little village of Marcovat, literally where the roads end. His brother was baptised in the local greek-orthodox church in the same village.

Being in Sweden now, we figured finding a Uniate church in Uppsala wasn't going to happen, so we decided on a orthodox funeral. Luckily, in Uppsala there is a small congregation of the orthodux church, Gudaföderskans Avsomnandes Kapell, with a locally rather well-known priest whome we called for advice on the funeral. Now, my father had specifically asked to be cremated. Anybody who knows something about the orthodox beliefs, knows that a cremation is a definite no-no. The bones must according to the beliefs be there so that God on the final day can revive all the dead (my personal thoughts are that if God now, is so great that he can revive a dead person from the bones alone, why would the actual cremated ashes be a problem for him?! I suspect this is something the church-hood has chosen to believe and thus impose on us...). Something the mentioned priest was fast to specifically advise against. He also mentioned that we would have a difficult task finding any orthodox priest who would agree to perform the rituals. I'm not not blaming anybody, not much anyway, but being so blatant about this fact is rather annoying. The priest in question is also a convertite. This may explain why the rules are followed so zealously. More on this later.

Finding this out, meant we were not going to get any help from the church which effectively left us with choosing between a civil funeral (one that we ourselves would perform) or just dropping the body in the cremator and have him scooped up afterwards... We chose the former. Of course. Which is where we got temporarily stopped. It was just to much at this point.


3.1. The practicalities

Soon enough though, the question of money was arisen - the paying of all this. Who was going to pay for all this? A delicate question for sure. My father's employer mentioned that all employees have a group-insurance. This included help with the funeral costs up to and including 18000 SEK in 2002. We gratefully accepted this help. Encouraged by this, we went through the insurance papers with my mother. Turns out that my father had ended some other insurance policy with one company, and had planned to get another policy, one with some other company which was cheaper and had better clauses. Only the stroke came in-between and everybody forgot about it. Thus no insurance. We were left with 18k SEK. So much for that.


4. Hunting for a funeral service

We soon discovered we would not be able to take care of all the formalities ourselves. There was just to much paperwork. We decided a funeral service would be of great help, but that also meant that the 18k-insurance would possibly not be enough. Therefore we scoured the yellow pages for services in Uppsala and found some likely ones. Two were found to have acceptable prices.

The first one was a very local one, by name of Fondkistan, to which we went first after having booked a time. The representative was very helpful and forthcoming, and the company had a very good base-price for a standard funeral. We wanted flowers on the coffin though, a nice coffin and a good-looking urn for afterward though. The transport from the morgue to the chapel was included in the base IIRC. We also wanted help with the clothing before putting the body in the coffin. This can be done by the relatives, but my father was rather big, so this was not an option. The "bigness" also called for a bigger than the usual standard-sized coffin. Also we needed a gravestone. All these extras were available, but was an addition to the base-price. We thanked for the offer and said we wanted to "shop around" for few days first, but that we would call back whether we decided to go with them or not. There was no hurry, the body was kept at the morgue, and it was possible to keep it there for about a month. The funeral with the extras we wanted would cost us about 16000 SEK at Fondkistan.

Next stop was the big national funeral-chain Fonus. We had booked a time there too, with their local representative, but on another day, as we felt two long ardous tasks couldn't be done in one day. Something we felt was a good choice afterwards. We asked for a price for the same setup as we had at Fondkistan. Turns out Fonus was about 2k SEK more expensive, but we chose to go with them anyway, for no other reason than a more professional feeling from the rep. Fondkistan was in no way lesser worth or less professional in any way, we just got a better vibe with Fonus. Case closed.

One of the funeral reps (don't remember which of them though) mentioned at a point that an estate inventory had to be done, according to law, and recommended a local one and with whome we went. It was about 4-5k SEK. We simply took all the paperwork to her and she fixed a nice-looking letter with all the inventories listed which we later sent a copy of to the Swedish IRS. It was a bit complicated as my mother wasn't married to my father, so everything had to be split between us, but since they had lived together for more than 30 years it she was seen more or less a wife by the law, and that was that. For example the profit from selling their appartment was to go half to me and half to her, while all my father's shares and funds all went to me, as I was the only "real" beneficiary as the law saw it. If they'd been married, all of the profit from the selling would have been hers. Anyway, since this was an inheritance both of us had to pay 1/3 of the worth in tax to the governmnet. That stung. It stung even more a year later when the government dropped the tax altogether on all inheritance cases...


5. The practicalities at Fonus

Fonus helped us chosing an urn, a coffin, flowers, setting up ads in the local paper, transport from the morgue, clothing the deceased and also booking a chapel for the funeral including bell-ringing which is an optional extra for whatever reason(...), along with an assistant representative from Fonus to be there during the funeral (he managed the cd-player with honour). And the (cursed) gravestone, more on this later as this deserves a paragraph of it's own... My mother bought a set of clothes to be used to clothe my father.

The chapel was free to book, as chapels usually are in Sweden. Booking a church would have cost, and since the orthodox church chose to igore my father we decided to ignore them too.

Me, being the computer-savvy guy in the family burned a CD with some converted tracks from mp3 to wav to be played at the funeral on a portable cd-player. Included were

  • Tom Jones - The green green grass of home
  • Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman - Time to Say Goodbye
  • Sarah Brightman - The last words you said.

The artists and songs were favourites of my father, and this being a civil funeral made it more okay to play them. The entire programme, or actually Kristinas's leads, can be found here [PDF, Swedish, 24 kB].

The entire service was to be performed by my then girl-friend, who has a theological education. The prayers were partially ripped and combined from orthodox sites on the web as well as from a specially bought orthodox prayer book. A friend of ours who had a professional camera and gear to follow, agreed to take about two reels of pictures from the funeral for a symbolic fee.

We put a motorcycle in the coffin, as my father wanted that too.

After the funeral service all four of us went to a local restaurant to have a bit to eat and trying to drown our sorrow.


6. Pre-burial planning and gravestones

Except for being cremated my father had specifically asked to be burried beside his brother Mihaj in Serbia. This meant we had to pick a gravestone in Uppsala, as we only had a limited amount of time to fix the actual burial practicalities down there. Four weeks to be specific, the normal summer-vacation time in Sweden for all three of us. In order to save time there, and to get the just right stone, we decided to get it in Sweden. We picked a stone of red swedish granite, mirror-polished on one side with a "Uppsala"-specific form which certainly stands out on the serbian cemetary, where next to all stones are black marble.

The graves

 Uncle's and father's graves. The stone on the right with the motorcycle is my father's.

We were to get the stone from the funeral home a day before we left. The stone was about one meter by 60 cm by 15 cm and weighed 80 kg. It took two big men and me from the funeral home to carry it five meters to the car. Sweat was dripping off of us afterwards... The car, a Volvo S40 from 1996 (now sold) noticably weighed down in the back afterwards. After loading three living people and one dead and their belongings in the car for the trip, the car had an entirely way to light front-part, and the gravestone is still the main suspect of a later-discovered broken front-spring - the roads to the village in Serbia were not in perfect condition, and since the car was heavily loaded, well, you get the picture...

Volvo S40

My Volvo S40, at my father-in-law's summer-cottage. 

Before we left Sweden in late july 2002, we had a plan of sorts. Immediately after getting to Serbia and the village there, the day after at the latest, we were to (in the listed order):

  1. Find and book a priest to perform the ritual
  2. Book somebody to dig the grave
  3. Book somebody to fix the ornamentals round the hole (see stone-pic above)
  4. Book somebody to make a fence round the grave
  5. Fix the food after the burial
  6. Fix flowers to the burial


7. Passing the EU and the former east-block

Going to Serbia in 2002 by car, involves travelling through the former east-block non-EU-member Hungary. A month or so before we left for Serbia I had e-mailed the Swedish Embassy of Hungary to ask about any particular rules involving "importing ashes of a deceased" as they called it. The prompt answer I got from the embassy representative in Budapest was that you did indeed need a certificate for the ashes, but that the paper you got from the crematory was enough, as long as it was at least translated to English, and ideally into hungarian as well. This certificate turned out to be a standard-document which stated that the staff who had performed the cremation had not stuffed anything illegal into the sealed urn (like drugs or pornography), complete with official stamps and signatures of the staff involved.

After calling the crematory to inquire about this certificate I was told this was not a problem at all, just call a week or so in advance before coming to pick up the stored urn and they'd have the certificate ready, including an integrated translation. It's apparantely a common thing to ask for from the customers side.

The crematory also included official documents about "exporting ashes of a deceased" from Sweden, which were to be showed to the customs, and again stamped and signed, before leaving Sweden. This happened to be customs office at the Trelleborg harbour before onto the ferry. We planned to travel from Sweden to Rostock, Germany, then further to Austria, Hungary and finally enter Serbia.

The documents stamped at the Trelleborg customs were valid in all the EU, of which Hungary wasn't yet part of in 2002. Therefore the addiditonal documents.

At the german customs (well kinda'...) nobody asked about the paper and nobody searched the car. Same thing at the Hungarian borders. Dito Serbian border. The incredibly hot weather at the time may have been a reason why this was; the custom guards preferred to remain in their ACed booths...


8. In Serbia

At the destination in Gudurica (the grandparents had moved here from Markovat many years ago), Serbia, there were all kinds of sorrow and stuff from the parents side. Understandable, my grandfathers had lost both of their children. Parents shouldn't have to burry their children. I hope I'll never have to...

My grandparents

 My grandparents, Valer and Ana.

The Marcovat house

The Marcovat house. 

My grandmother, as crafty as any romanian grandmothers are..., wanted to take control of the whole thing. At which point me and my mother put the foot down. We WERE to be in charge of this, and any help we'd need WE would ask for. Period. Grandmother took the hint after some time, although she "suggested" to book a whole band to play going to the cemetary, as is the custom in Yugoslavia. Also she wanted to make and post those dead-advertisements on every tree in the nearst town and village. Me and my mother took the more Swedish angle on things. This was our father and husband, and we had all lived in Sweden for a long time, and wanted to do it OUR way. Something that was initially frowned upon... Finally we decided that if she, the grandmother, wanted all this stuff (minus the band) she could do it herself, and we (mother, me and the wifey) would go to a restaurant afterwards and do it the Swedish way. This worked for us.


8.1. The Priest

So, the grandmother hinted we could book the village priest who incidentally lived in the town, Vrsac. It was a bit difficult to get hold of him, as he phones are still not very common in Gudurica, and our mobile phones only had coverage about one km away, up at the cemetary as it happened... Anyway, we found and booked the priest, who BTW had no problem with performing the burial with ashes in an urn, instead of bones in a coffin. To be honest, he was surprised and slightly disgusted that the swedish orthodox priests had refused. He mumbled something about rich bastards and brats, who don't have to deal with practicalities, and people in real need under his breath. I immediately took a liking to this priest! He understood very well why we had chosen to cremate my father, and he was quite common with this practice, as he had had "customers" who had come back from the USA in an urn, to be buried in the old country, as transporting a coffin is another completely different thing. More on this later. Anyway, the priest turns out to have been to school with my father in his teens. It's a small world... We decided on a date and time and how and what we were to do. Basically this was to be a standard burial ceremony in my grandparents atrium (kinda' atrium, nothing fancy really, more the balkan-kind, not roman) and he needed a table or stool to put the urn on and have place for the crucifix, some candles and stuff. That was it. Went pretty fast to settle this. We paid him a "voluntary" fee of about 100000 Dinars in advance.


The Gudurica atrium

The atrium in Gudurica. 


8.2. The Grave Digger

The grandmother again come to help and suggested the neighbour son, who was a handy-man and did the odd gravedigging for a fee. We gave him 1000 Dinars IIRC, and he was very surprised to get such a huge amount and discreetly asked if this was for real (in 2002 it was about 100 SEK). He fixed the grave anyway though.


8.3. The Ornamentals

Mile, the handy-man, had of course a buddy of his who worked at the gravestone company in Vrsac and was happy to introduce us for further business. In fact Mile was rather keen on making true for the fee he'd gotten, comically so. I believe this is where he got into his head that I was very well to do, rich and on a spending-spree. We wanted the people at the gravestone company to build sort of a small concrete border round the grave (see pic above) to mark it out and fasten our swedish gravestone to it (the gravestone was still in the back of the car; you don't move around 85 kg this way and that unless yo actually need to...). The craftsmen were pretty busy but promised to force things for an additional fee (to the already settled base-price) within two weeks, as we were short of time it would have been a question of about an additional month, something that was not an option.


8.3.1. Flowers and stuff

The two-week delay was somewhat of a major setback, but we felt that this would enable us to get the rest of the things fixed. Like the flowers and wreaths. It again just so happens that next to the gravestone company and the nearby cemetary in Vrsac are handful of small shops selling flowers. We spied out the various arrangements and picked a florist who made the best-looking wreaths. We ordered a few, to be done so and so, and few bundles of flowers and candles to go with. Things were picking up speed and we felt very efficient. Probably because neither of wanted to think so much about the upcoming burial...


8.3.2. The Fence

My mother wanted a fence round the grave, and according to grandmother, "rich" families often did this at the cemetary in Gudurica. So good ole' grandma' suggested a few places in Vrsac to check out the fencing-business. With the help of my younger cousin we went fence-maker-hunting. After a few first blanks, we were pointed to a craftsman who apparantely basically only worked with exile-yugoslavians (better pay) who wanted ornamental fences to their newly built summer-houses. He was very helpful and quite professional about it. The hungarian, as he happened to be, had several catalogues from which we could choose a pattern from. And so we did. The only thing was hat he couldn't do it until octobre, later that year, as he already had a previous engagement going on with an american woman who needed some enormous fencing around her house. We payed in advance, some 400 Euro IIRC - it was a handmade wrought fence therefore the price, and he promised to have it fixed as settled, and also agreed to have pictures takes when done and sent to us in Sweden.


8.4. The Food

We happily left the food-detail to grandmother, except for some requested table-cloths and candles we bought for her.


9. Burial Day

Having fixed all the necessities during the first week, we could relax a bit for week until the ornamentals were done. Problem with relaxing though, is that you start thinking... The week we had initially planned for settling down a bit turned out to be hellish. Lethargy paired with having nothing to do while waiting for the days to pass in order to bury ones father, is not a good foundation for good relations to relatives in any form, be it wife, mother or grandparents or various other people. I wasn't at my most pleasant mood during this week. I'll let it be at that...

Days passed in gloom and eventually came the day. The people grandmother had hired (for free, friends and relatives) started dropping in, in the morning and got busy with the food. My childhood friend's Robert's mother, Anica, was very good at consoling.

Robert, aka Robi

Robert posing in front of his maize-fields.



Robert's mother Anica.


She saw I wasn't feeling good about this at all, and did as good as she could, talking to me etc, in order to ease the pain. Some relatives came and started aggregating round the urn in a sort of wake. The usual wailing and crying commenced. I just felt completely out of place and just stood there for a while, feeling empty inside. After a while I just left and did something, don't even recall what. Maybe I watched some Star TrekStar Trek-episodes on my laptop or something. I phased out basically.

A few hours later before the ceremony was to start, I took out my dark-blue costume, a white shirt, a white tie and my black shoes. Brushed the suit and shined the shoes, and put it all on. It was very hot.

The priest arrived and we had a chat. Turns out he had studied in Germany in his youth at some conservatory or other and was quite the intellectual and very, very pleasant. Things became even more pleasant when he learned that my wife knew some greek (having had a theological education in Uppsala, Sweden) and also had performed the funeral ceremony in Sweden. The priest spoke english so the wifey and he could talk quite freely about this and that. Grandmother was mighty impressed and a bit awed, and I believe my wife gained some very high scores at that moment from grandmother. [Note: My grandmother had nothing against my wife, only grandmother had (she passed away mid-August 2006) some quite specific ideas about things... I don't hate her or anything such.]

So, the ceremony started. There was singing and stuff, kissing the crucifix (if you wanted to, I did - it felt the right thing to do then), and afterwards we marched all the way to the cemetary, while stopping at the greater road crossings (was about one kilometer) to perform some prayers. A custom I had no idea about. I carried the urn in the procession just after the priest and his one-man choir (his son). I was rather dazed during this, so I don't remember much of it really, only that I carried my fathers ashes and had the whole village looking at me (for whatever reason a lot of people had gravitated from out of nowhere, although we hadn't actually sent out any invitations. Maybe they just wanted to see the "rich" exile-yugoslavian coming to peace) as if they hadn't ever seen a son carrying his fathers ashes before. Come to think of, it maybe they hadn't. orthodox as they are there....

At the cemetary there was some more singing, and I was just about to put the urn in the hole (we had a neighbour/local handyman dig it) when the handy-man almost ripped the urn out of my hands, quietly wheezing something about that I shouldn't soil my nice two-piece dark-blue costume in the dirt, as I was a well-to-do-man. I was dazed by both the heat (it was an awfully hot day) and the emotions at that point, so I just gave it to him not saying a word. "Ashes to ashes, dirt to dirt..." the priest said, and tears finally came to my eyes after having hold them back all the ceremony and almost a full year, trying to be strong for my mother. In fact they welled up. "Cry me a river" has never been so true. Everything came loose, and I finally realised my father was dead. Dead... And he was not coming back. Ever.

As is the custom, at a burial you're supposed to throw down some dirt, flowers if you want, and coin or two to the deceased, for the ride with Charon over the river Styx. For some reason I was quite clear at that moment, but not completely coherent, as I almost panicked when I realised I hadn't my wallet with me, and thus no coins. My mother apparantely hadn't thought about it either, but had her purse with her, and gave me some coins. Two and/or five-Euro coins, while the other people threw in small copper change, it's a symbolic thing really. It's amazing what the brain choses to remember(...). I thought for myself he was going to cross the river in style, and then some, while crying my heart out. Well, humans and their emotions...

Everybody left while me and my mother stayed back for a while, then we also went back to my grandparents, said goodbye to everybody for now, and got some funny looks to go for our trouble, and went to the nearby town to a restaurant and the official swedish-style burial dinner, while the priest and the other assorted friends and relatives or something, remained at grandmother's traditional three-course funeral dinner. We made a quiet sortie, but felt better away from everything. We had even planned to excuse ourselves with "this is how it's done in Sweden yadda-yadda-yadda" and so on, in case somebody had an opinion about this. None did though, except for the funny looks. Like we cared... It was my father and my mothers husband, not theirs. So there.


10. Going home

We stayed another day or so in Serbia, until we felt we had some kind of closure on things. Then packed the bags, packed the car, went to the grave and said good-bye to the dead, went back to the grandparents and said good-bye to the still living and were on our way back to Sweden. It felt good going home again, but at the same time felt bad about leaving father there.

At the Serbian/Hungarian border a hungarian border-guard asked sweaty questions (it was VERY warm that day) about the prominently displayed GPS of mine on the car panel. We noticed he wanted to know more about this wonder, but it was just to warm, so he waved us by, without even checking our papers. Poor sod. I actually felt sorry for him.

Palm GPS Companion

The GPS Companion sleeve mounted on a Palm device. 

Halfway to Budapest, we stopped for dinner at a road-side restaurant and petrol station. After having learned that in Hungary the petrol filler nozzles don't automatically stop when the tank is full (I got a few litres running on the side of the car, and a few decilitres on my sandaled feet, and worried a bit about the petrol starting a fire - it had flowed down onto the hot wheels and brakes, so while drenching that part of the car in water intended for wasing the car windows, the gas attendant looked on suspiciously...), we went to the nearby restaurant where the waiter addressed us in Romanian. Go figure, we'd only talked swedish among ourselves, as the wifey can't quite follow the romanian dialect I and my mother speak. Upon asking how he knew we were romanians, he said we looked romanian. Hmmm... After dinner, we decided it was to late to continue anyway, so we crossed the highway to the motel on the other side and had a good nights sleep.

Next day, nearing Vienna, Austria, we decided on a whim to stay the night there, assuming we could find a hotel. Boy did we find one... We parked in a parking house a few hundred meters from the centre, and walked towards it. I had my GPS with me in order to get to the cathedral - Stephansdom - and back, as this was our first point of venture. Next to the dom, there was a hotel. What luck! Turns out to be a very good hotel too, meaning expensive. I asked for a double and a single room for the night. The concierge hesitated for a fraction of a second (enough to piss me off, and me give her a wry and offended look - it was quite noticable...) while she was taking in my sweaty disarrayed hair, my wrinkled tee-shirt, my baggy (and probably by now funky-smelling) shorts and worn but comfortable-for-walking Asics-sneakers - hey, it was a hot day and we'd been driving for a day! What did she expect?! We got the two rooms though, went for the car, drove it back to the hotel who promptly had it driven to their private parking and settled in our rooms for a quick refresh. Looking out the windows from the room, we saw we had a front-seat view of the cathedral. I forgave the concierge.

Next we went drink-shopping, it was still very hot, and then steered towards the cathedral. It was so very gothic and I loved every inch of it! Some guy played the organ, something Bachish, and it was a very big sound; it was oomph and tooots and ammmphs so that the hair stood up on my arms. It was very nice and I felt we had made a good choice of staying over in Vienna. On our way out we saw that the tower was open for visiting. So we bough tickets and went on our way. It was long and narrow, and we had to stay a few times to catch our breaths. My mother had a hard time on the climb, but insisted we should continue. Finally at the top we opened a door to a look-out spot, and found a giftshop. I laughed out loud and was embarrased with all the people there, all looking at me... A gift-shop was the last thing I'd expected to see all they up there! The climb down was easier and we spent the rest of the day with lunch, a guided fiaker-tourtour with a helpful young man and his horse in the evening and a dinner at a pizzeria nearby the hotel. Next day we left. It took the better part of an hour to find a way out of the accursed one-ways of Vienna. I was glad I had my GPS.

The following two days were quite uneventful and the most interesting was the hotel in the Berlin-outskirts that seemed to have been brought out of the seventies. It was all darkbrown wall-to-wall carpets, brown veneer and light-brown wallpaper and weird looking wide but short beds.

Next day we were in Sweden and on our way to Uppsala. It felt good to be back.


11. Closing thoughts

Was there anything we could've done better another way? Not really. Everything we could do in advance, arrangements etc, we had done in Sweden already, the rest was to be done, or could only be done, on-site.

Things to remember while you're still alive, is to have your papers in good order, meaning the papers at home for the estate inventory, letting somebody know about any insurances you may have etc. This may sound morbid and bizzare, but it will ease the pain on the ones who are left behind when you're gone.

So why didn't we take the father in a coffin back to Yugoslavia? Well, for one thing he wanted to be cremated, it was his wish. This alone would be be enough for a decision. Another reason would be that taking a coffin containing a deceased back to the old country would probably have meant it would have had to be flown down. This is a big exercise in papers, various documents, foreign country laws and rules. I checked up on this while researching our urn-transport. See below for a general heads-up:

  1. The plane ticket is rather expensive for the deceased, in addition to another three return tickets for the living.
  2. The coffin has to be sealed in place at the funeral in the country of origin by an official, and kept in an official "protected" site.
  3. The deceased's coffin must be put inside another sealed air-tight zink-coffin for the plane company to allow any transport at all.
  4. The zink-coffin must be covered in some kind of sack, or other cover, in order not to disturb the other passengers, should they happen to see it being loaded in the cargo bay.
  5. The coffin must be sent a month or so in advance in order for the customes to be able to inspect it.
  6. You need (excuse me) a shitload of various documents and inventory lists stamped by various officials.
  7. The coffin may be stopped at some airport for inspection by the customs for an indefinite time.

Basically all in all this is a no-go. If you live in Europe anyway, and are short on money for the funeral arrangements, you may as well take the car and the urn, for the simple reason that it's more practical this way.

As it is, it all cost about 25000 SEK for the funeral arrangements alone. Additional costs (the most significant ones) were petrol for the car back and forth to Yugoslavia, ferry-fees, food and lodging on the way there and back. This was about another 8-10000 SEK. We shared the petrol-costs though on three, so individually it wasn't that much, at least it was a moderate sum per capita. Total sum for the whole shebang (in 2002) was about 30000 SEK.


11.1. Final words

This was my experience with this whole thing, and is also a way to come to a conclusion with my father's passing away.

If you think you got some help from this write-up, please let me know! Also let me know what you think of this article, good or bad, or just a comment; you can send me an e-mail by sending me an e-mail using the Contact form.

Thank you.


//Sorin Srbu



12. Revision history

[Created 2006-08-27]
[Revised 2006-09-02]
[Revised 2006-09-03]
[Revised 2007-10-12]
[Revised 2018-03-03]
[Revised 2018-03-14]