Losing a Son to Suicide in Spain – Our Spanish Story with the aim to help other expats.
In March 2023 our son took his own life, he was 21 years old. Losing a son to suicide in Spain is something we never thought we would have to cope with. This is a post I thought I would never write, a post which has taken a long time to get together but I feel necessary to help others.
The purpose of this post
If you are reading this then I hope what follows will offer an insight into what happens, and will hopefully help get you prepared for the aftermath following the death of a family member in Spain. Although in truth very little can. Every situation is different and when we found out that our son had taken his own life our world was turned upside down.
The procedure following the death of a loved one in Spain is very different to that of the UK and is something that needs a degree of thought and preparation. There are things we could have had in place to make things easier. If you’ve been to a Spanish funeral then you may know what happens at the Tanatorio, behind the scenes however is very, very difficult especially if you have never done it before.
We’ll be discussing what to expect when, who you’re likely to be speaking to and everything in general. It’s like a blur, you’re in tatters after hearing the news and you will have no time to digest what has happened – being told is just the beginning of a 48 hour rollercoaster. This is our story.
Our move to Spain happened in 2004, we moved to start a new life not just for ourselves but for our son Joshua who was just two years old at the time. We moved to rural Granada where we renovated our property while living on site in a caravan, Joshua had the biggest sand pit any two year old could wish for and he loved getting bathed in a bucket using water heated by the sun. It was hard work and great times.
Over the years we settled into Spanish life although were never fully accepted – we were foreigners to the locals and always will be. Josh was different however, he grew up Spanish, fluent in both languages and did everything the Spanish kids do like school, sport, parties etc etc.
It’s amazing how fast time goes by, in 2009 our youngest son Nico arrived on the scene and before we knew it Joshua had celebrated his 18th birthday. There had always been issues, the kind of thing you put down to kids being kids, adolescence and the like, certainly not warning signs or anything to set the alarm bells ringing.
By the time Joshua was 21 he had the job, had moved out and had distanced himself from his family telling us he wanted to find his own way, we gave him space and let him know that we were always there and that he had a home to come back to if he ever needed it.
The day we were told
I will never forget the day we were told, we both lost something that day that we’ll never get back, not just our son but a piece of something else, a piece of you also dies. The knock on the door came at 14.30pm, it was the Mayor telling us that he had some news about Joshua.
I was slicing kiwi in the kitchen [funny the things you remember] when he came into the living room and told us to sit down. I knew as soon as he came in the door, you could tell by the look on his face, I was prepared albeit momentarily for the worst.
We asked what was wrong and he just came out with it ‘he’s dead’, best way I suppose, everything after that I can’t recall. This was the start of the rollercoaster, we’d buckled up in the car and it was starting to move, slowly gaining momentum before everything was about to go nuts.
Just one hour later [if that] there were two women also standing in our living room, the formalities were dispensed of immediatly then it was down to business, the main bone of contention was insurance, did we have insurance? Wait, hang on, we’ve just been told our son has died by suicide and you want insurance details an hour later? The talking became louder and increasingly rapid, it was less than professional to say the least.
The rollercoaster had picked up speed.
A funeral in Spain [what happens when]
The first thing to understand about funerals in Spain is that they happen fast, you may know this already but when it actually happens to you and it all becomes a reality things become very different. We were told our son had been found at 2.30pm on Thursday, by 9.30am on Saturday morning he had been cremated. To be honest my son’s funeral is the fastest thing that I’ve ever seen happen in Spain full stop.
Recieving the news: In our case it was the village mayor that broke the news but it could also be the Guardia Civil. There is no easy way to write about this part, you are just told and that is it.
Tanatorio: Expect to see the tantatorio owners very shortly afterwards. They will expect insurance details, the type of coffin you want, flowers etc and if you want anyone to say anything.
Funeral directors: The funeral directors will liase with the tanatorio people, bringing the deceased from hospital ready for people to pay their last respects. They will also organise the cremation which is what we opted for.
Cremation & Ashes: The funeral director will let you know when to be at the crematorium. Once there you will be asked to choose an urn. From there you may be asked to identify the body again which is done behind a glass wall. You will see the glow from the oven, there is no two ways about this part – it is emotionally challenging. Unlike the UK there is no subtlety, everything is very open, you see the coffin enter the oven and 5 – 6 hours later the urn will be delivered.
What not to expect
It may just be in our case and the way things transpired but we had nothing to do with the police whatsoever. Being a suicide it is classed as a ‘unnatural death’ but don’t expect any contact with the Guardia Civil or any police liason officers – you’re on your own on that score, all we had was the Mayor and two loud women who ran the tanatorio.
Do not expect any time to think, you are expected to hand over insurance details, policy numbers, NIE numbers, choose flowers… coffin, cremation or burial in the space of one conversation just after being told the news. There is no time, no sympathy, it’s a business and a situation that needs taking care of – how you are feeling is irrelevant.
One of us received three free one hour sessions with a psychotherapist which my partner took advantage of, after that it was an hourly rate which is expensive, the three sessions did help a little and we did manage to get an English speaker.
Other than that support came from a handful of friends, nobody in our village offered anything, nobody even asked. What did happen was quite the opposite with people demonstrating a level of nastiness you could feel while not a word was spoken.
How people were [& a personal note]
This is where we were really surprised. Less than 24 hours after we received the news about the death of our son we found ourselves at the village ‘tanatorio’ watching people come and go by the dozen, he was a popular lad. A handful of friends [both Spanish and English] arrived and stayed with us for the duration – for that we will always be truly thankful.
For the rest, the behaviour was shameful – tu sabes quien eres
When things like this happen you find out who your real friends are, we never expected help from people we hardly knew but it came, we never expected such reaction and genuine support from friends online but it’s there. We never expected to feel so unwelcome in our village but it has transpired to be so.
You can expect this from small rural communities, news spreads like wildfire as do rumours, unfounded information, half truths and stories. Unfortunately people believe what they hear and never stop to think if it is true at all and how it may affect others including grieving parents.
There is a stigma surrounding suicide, people get angry, angry at our son for leaving them. We’ve felt it too among an unimaginable number of other emotions some of which I never knew existed. For some this anger may spill over to you, not knowing how to conduct theselves at a highly charged emotional time sees people act in ways that may both surprise and disappoint.
For example, a lovely English lady who we only knew by sight and had said hello to once or twice, came by and offered to do our weekly shop as she understood it was too painful to go to the village ourselves. Five months later she is still helping us out this way. People are incerdibly kind.
On the other side of the coin, someone from the town hall forwarded us the Spanish Suicide prevention number two weeks after the event!
The Spanish culture had clashed with the English culture well before Josh’s death. The English culture was different, not Spanish and therefore WRONG, it was this that people did not like, the situation and everything that preceded it was our fault.
Losing a son to suicide in Spain is something I hope nobody has to go through, the passing of a child is hard enough but when you learn that Spanish paperwork is holding up the last words you will ever read from your child it becomes a disgrace. Our son’s body was released from Granada after 24 hours and we’d been told that he had left a note.
8 – 10 days was the timeframe we were given for the paperwork to be ready, the time elapsed and we were on the brink of calling our solicitor when the guy from the crematorium rang and said they still were not releasing the paperwork from Granada but he’d managed to get a copy for us which he duly delivered in person the same day.
CALL FOR LIFE: 024 [Suicide Prevention hotline Spain]
We really can’t knock that guy for his service in this instance but it does beg the question why is getting a suicide note for grieving parents so difficult and why does it take so long? It set our grieving process back 10 days right to the very beginning.
Paperwork after a funeral in Spain
What follows is a breakdown of what you might expect to happen, do bear in mind though that your own experience at this stage may be different to our own.
One month Two months on and we eventually receive the [corrected] death certificate or ‘certificacion del acta de defuncion’. This was all that we thought we needed for the bank to close accounts etc but we learned that some paperwork was missing and the paperwork we did have needed to be photographed and sent to the *gestor.
*The gestor was appointed by the insurance company – you cannot use your own if you have funeral insurance.
What we needed now was a piece of paper not just for the bank but also the notary so that everything is signed over to us like bank account and vehicle.
Autopsy report: The autopsy report can take up to 6 months but we found that you will need it or at least some information from it before then. The life insurance company requested a copy of the autopsy report – this involved going to court then back to the bank so that the bank could give the details to the life insurance company.
You may assume that when the report is ready it will be sent to you or that you will be notified – not so. In our case the report had been sitting in the court for 2 weeks, we could have been waiting months. It is best, if you can, to be proactive.
Signing at the notary: Signing at the notary requires 2 independent witnesses. You are signing for the ‘declaration of heirs’ . You then have to wait 28 days in case any wives or girlfriends etc come out the woodwork laying claim to the/or part of the estate. In the case of the deceased having a will the procedure will be different. [Charge €170,00]
The Gestor: Once the 28 days are up you then take the paperwork to the gestor and they then prepare the ‘impuesto de sucesiones y donaciones’ – This then needs to be taken to the land registry/tax office [charge €80,00]
The land registry: We handed in the ‘impuesto de sucesiones y donaciones’ we received from the gestor and the guy behind the desk went away and did something, what we don’t know but we then got all the paperwork back and that was that. Finished.
The bank: All of the paperwork is then given to the bank in order to close the account and deal with outstanding balances/receipts of insurance etc.
The vehicle: We decided to scrap our sons vehicle as it was not worth the aggravation of selling it. If you o decide to sell you will need to see the gestor again and have the name transferred over to you then again to the purchasers name.
Passport: While there is a lot of paperwork involved it is also important not to forget the seemingly less urgent things such as the passport. It is important that the passport is cancelled to prevent fraud etc, this can be done by filling in form D1 – further details on the UK gov.uk website
Our honest and best advice
Looking back at the entire situation we would have been lost if we’d had to take care of all of this ourselves, at a time when you can’t think straight you need help. As an expat dealing with the loss of a family member in Spain handling everything yourself doesn’t bare thinking about so our best advice is to have insurance or ‘seguro de decesos’.
Take the insurance out now if you don’t have it, I can’t stress how important this insurance is. While having a decent policy may give you peace of mind we’d also advise keeping the documents in a file, in the house so you can simply hand them over to the people who will visit very shortly after.
It is at this time you are most vulnerable so to have policy numbers and suchlike will help deal with the barrage of questions you will no doubt face.
Don’t sign anything unless you are comfortable knowing what it is you are signing for. The funeral director will ask for a release form to be signed – be careful here as this can in some cases form part of a contract and is unlikely to detail any prices for service etc. It can also affect what degree of control you have over the funeral arrangements.
Do not be told what to do or when to do it, do not be pressured, this is not about other people, business of efficiency – you are grieving and if you need to take your time take it, if you need to do things your way then do that.
What went wrong
Ayuntamiento [town hall]: It was the nearest court that the death certificate came from. It was sent to our town hall [ayuntamiento] and was then supposed to be picked up by the funeral guy who is based 40 minutes away, he said he wasn’t coming just for that so we had to go and pick up the certificate ourselves which we duly did.
**After closer inspection we discovered that the details on the death certificate were wrong [Fathers name/Mothers name and also address] we had to go back to the town hall to hand in the certificate we’d just picked up and get the ball rolling for a revised certificate. I cannot stress enough how much this kind of thing is NOT what you need at a time like this, the sheer incompetence, yet again is astounding but after a death it really does take it to another level.
After closer inspection we discovered that the details on the death certificate were wrong so we had to go back to the town hall to hand in the certificate we’d just picked up and get the ball rolling for a revised certificate.
The incorrect certificate then had to go back to the court where it had originally come from to be revised before coming back to our town hall to be signed and witnessed etc.
Two weeks later and we were still waiting, after chasing up we then discovered that the certificate was in another town with a larger court who had to do something else with it, we were also told that there was no point in pressuring them as this would result in them dragging their heels even more.
Now it might just be me but ‘dragging your heels’ shouldn’t even enter your head with an issue such as this and if it does then that questions the integrity of the Spanish system and some of the people who work within it.
My son is dead.
I do not care about mistakes, paperwork and delays.
The total time to receive the death certificate was 8 weeks, it should have been two weeks. Once again, this sets you back in the grieving process, like Spain and the fractured system that exists within it is slamming your head into the ground to reopen the wound just as your days are becoming slightly more bearable.
We also has an issue with the original copy of our sons suicide letter. The original copy was sent off to a different town and when we requested the original we were told it would be sent the following month to the local court.
We went to the court having allowed ample time only to be told the person who dealt with it was not there so we rang the following week to be told he too much work on as he’d just come back from holiday and he had too much paperwork. After questioning his humanity we eventually got through to the individual who we met later the same day at the court to begin digging through the files to find the letter.
There was no sign of the letter and it was established an hour later that the letter had not even been sent. Fighting every step of the way is something you need to expect.
Our time here is over
We can’t leave straight away but we are leaving. Living in our village is impossible. We no longer feel welcome.
Not that we ever truly did.
This post has been tremendously difficult to write, is has been near impossible to keep balanced but I do hope that perhaps in some small part it will help although at the same time I hope that nobody needs to seek out the information here at all.
The grief is massive, overwhelming and not something you can overcome, fix or heal more something that you have to learn to carry with you.
Post: Living with the grief