As executive director of the Lake Chapala Society since 2010, I have often remarked to others that the absolute worst part of my job is dealing with the death of the people I get to know as a result of my job. It affects me.
Earlier this year, several deaths occurred that involved single people living alone. What happens when the body is found? I’m not going to go into the legal protocols here. My interest lies in what occurs in the first 24 hours from a personal point of view.
Pat Doe has not been heard from in a week. Not answering the phone. Not responding to emails. Not being seen on the street. Red flags loom upon the horizon.
Getting into a house is not that hard. The courage to enter a house not knowing what awaits you is far more difficult. Now, you are confronted with your worst fear. The body of your friend, acquaintance, neighbor, or complete stranger is there.
In this community, what we know about our “friends” may be next to nothing. We know them, we enjoy them, but in many cases the depth of the relationship may in fact be superficial.
The next instinct is to inform someone. This is what my sermon is really about.
Besides authorities, who should be contacted and where do you find them?
Do you rummage through the house? Not a good idea. The first thing a local or international authority does is call the Lake Chapala Society and ask if we have the deceased in our registry. They know that the Lake Chapala Society has been administering a community service for decades for just these situations. You may find yourself contacting us instead. It’s called the LCS Post Life Emergency Registry.
Unfortunately, not everyone registers, and that is a damn shame. Single people living in this community are remiss not to do it. Over and over again, I get a phone call. About half of the time I can help. The other 50 percent of the time, the friends, acquaintances, neighbors or authorities are left in a real bind - making a sad and tragic situation even worse because it is so unnecessary to have not left behind one little trail for others to follow.
All foreigners at lakeside should register, but single people even more than others. The service is open to any and all. You do not need to be an LCS member to register. LCS works with both the American Legion in Chapala and Guardian Angel to maintain one single database lakeside where authorities and others can refer to. We can access the data 24 hours a day if need be. Authorities have my personal phone number.
Therefore, regardless of your location, there is access to this very important and humanitarian service. A onetime filing fee of 50 pesos is collected when you turn in the form. You can update it at no charge as many times as required.
The form is comprehensive in scope but it is not mandatory to fill it out in its entirety.
I compliment those in this community who have had the difficult task of following up with an unexpected death and with nothing to go by. The few times I have had to do this personally, I can assure you that fumbling through other people’s personal belongs is eerie and uncomfortable. It feels like a violation on top of another violation. But it’s the only thing you can do. For those of you who know this experience, you know that of which I speak, and I applaud you for your service to assist in this intricate situation.
My plea to all foreigners here: please be aware of this important lakeside service administered by the Lake Chapala Society. Encourage your friends to use it. It’s most needed at the most unexpected times. Believe me, it’s worth its ethereal weight in gold when the tragedy strikes.