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elhenry April 10th, 2012 06:54 PM

What happens with a death at sea (& kudos to NCL)
Forgive me while I engage in a little writing therapy, but it did happen to us, and maybe others wonder (I would have) what happens when it does: my dad died during the March 31 sailing of the Jewel.

First, a major shout-out to the Jewel officers and crew, who could not have been more understanding or more helpful, particularly Dr. Devon Davis and Guest Services Manager Alfie and her assistant Julia. Also, kudos to our butler Theodore, cabin steward Cecilio and concierge Ruth (Dad was in a suite). We continued with the cruise and they helped as much as they could.

My dad had been in fragile health the past few years, as chronic diseases he had battled during his life caught up with him. But he did not appear significantly weaker or frailer than he had during the other cruises we had taken each year, and a cruise was a great vacation for him, as he could sit in a cabin and be waited on while other family members attended other events. And the Owners’ suite … wow, what a great cabin.

Dad had not been feeling well, had skipped dinner that first full sea day, and was sleeping on the sofa bed. Mom and my niece were in the master bedroom. I was in the connecting cabin. I woke up at 4:30 and did not hear him snoring. Not good. I opened the door and went to the bed. He was no longer with us. I could tell right away, but still checked for pulse, for heart sounds, for breath. I woke up Mom and Johanna, our family friend traveling with us. We waited for ten minutes, composing ourselves and saying goodbye. Then I picked up the cabin phone.

I forget what numbers I called, but I don’t remember a “911” or “emergency” button, now that I think about it. When I did get a live person to the reception desk however, I did not sugar coat the news, and within one minute, a nurse and an emergency team were pounding on the door. She ran in, looked at Dad and said, I’m sorry, I still need to do some work.

We moved Mom into the connecting cabin. The nurse wanted Dad placed on the floor, so I helped move him. This was an OS, so there was plenty of room; I have no idea what they would do in a regular cabin. She performed CPR, as crew members came running in to assist. They had a portable shock machine (I don’t know what they are called, even after watching numerous hospital shows). It kept saying, “No charge recommended”. Of course none was recommended, he was already gone, but they were just doing what they had to do.

By this time a stretcher had arrived. I’m not really sure who was in the room. Stephen from England, who was a security officer and also most respectful and helpful, said I would need to put on some clothes (the NCL bathrobe had come in handy) to go to the medical office.

I was ushered into the doctor’s office. Dr Devon came in after a few minutes to tell me what I already knew. She was very kind and professional, but needed to ask me Dad’s symptoms and medical history for her report. Brian the hotel director and Alfie the guest services manager and others whose names I don’t remember came to offer their support.

What next? The ship would call the Coast Guard and the Port Canaveral police, and the coroner. They could not tell us what would happen until we arrived closer to port.

Back to the cabin, where Stephen told us, as gently as possible, that we needed to take what we could out of the cabin because he needed to seal it off for the police investigation. We woke my 11-year-old niece, Karen, and told her she needed to go to sleep in the next cabin. We grabbed passports and regular clothers for the day and left.

Alfie offered a choice of temporary cabins in addition to the connecting cabin, so we could move out a little more comfortably. Mom and Johanna moved to the connecting balcony and I moved some of our stuff to the temporary cabin. The suite had yellow “caution” tape criss-crossed over the door. Now you know when you see that on a cabin at sea!

Back to the doctor’s office, where I spent some time with Dad. I used Dr. Devon’s office to call my sister at home (still only 6:45) and also call other family members.

Back to the connecting cabin where I made phone calls from that cabin (which did appear on our bill, but were promptly removed.) Karen awoke and we told her our sad news. She was sad, but with the resilience of an 11 year old, she went back to sleep.

NCL had canceled the shore excursions we had scheduled and our money was refunded. But a new crisis: I had left Karen’s bathing suits in the now closed room. If Karen was going to be stuck on the ship on such a day, she at least had to be able to use the pool!

Alfie to the rescue. We walked over to the ship’s store, which was still open because we were not yet docked, and looked at bathing suits. She helped Karen look through the selections (not extensive for an adult sized 11 year old) but we selected a bikini with the promise that Karen would wear a t-shirt over it. We were never charged for the bathing suit; thank you, Alfie,

The Port Canaveral police arrived soon after. They asked all the necessary questions, which I answered, and I didn’t even choke up until the end. Then they went next door to examine the cabin. After about fifteen minutes, they came out and said they were releasing the cabin. They were also releasing the body to the medical examiner’s office, and we would need to wait for the ME’s office for further directions. Officer Scarlett left me his card with number, in case I had questions. Both officers were professional, but understanding.

By now it was 1:00 p.m. and we went to the buffet for some lunch (my first meal of the day) and took a pager that I had been given earlier. If you are ever given an NCL pager, they don’t work on the top outside decks. As I was leaving the buffet, I heard a lady talking to the “washy washy” girl asking about the Henry party, so I identified myself. It was Sarah, the ship’s port agent for Port Canaveral.

I’ve always seen the ship’s agent identified in the Freestyle Daily, but never understood what they do. Now I know. She assisted with everything we needed in port. She asked if we had planned to have Dad cremated, which we had. She asked if we wanted to have it done in Pennsylvania or Florida. I had not thought about the option of Florida. I felt much better with Dad’s ashes, rather than his body, traveling in the hold of the plane.

But first we had to talk to the coroner. The ship was trying to page us again, but I didn’t know it. I was using Sarah’s phone to talk to my DH at home. The staff captain came looking for us, but I wasn’t getting off that phone until I was done talking to DH. Finally, back to the Medical Center to talk to the coroner’s staff and answer the same questions. Then Dad was released from the ship.

At this point, we had decided that it would be better for Mom to continue the cruise with family and friends present, and it would also be the better way to honor Dad. If someone needed to accompany Dad home on the plane, I would do that. We had a funeral home in Pennsylvania ready to pick him up.

Sarah took us to a funeral home in Port Canaveral, fifteen minutes from the ship, that specialized in cremation. We left from the crew entrance without our access cards, and with Mom in a wheelchair. As we left the ship, I saw them taking Dad in a stretcher to an ambulance. Sarah tried to shield us, but I didn’t mind, and I saw two crew members take off their caps in respect as Dad was transferred to the ambulance. Thank you, crew members.

We completed the necessary forms at the funeral home to have the ashes shipped to Pennsylvania and the death certificates shipped to my mother’s home. And I found out I had worked with the funeral director’s father twenty years ago. Small world. He said that the ME would probably release Dad the next day, and he could take it from there. I was not needed to accompany the ashes, so we all would be continuing on the cruise.

Returning, the Port Security did not want to let us back onto the ship without our pass cards. Sarah called the security director, Steve, who escorted us out, and he waved us in; security tried to wand my mother in the wheelchair, and he stopped them. Thank you, Steve. We saw K-9 dogs sniffing crates, and Sarah told us that all provisions loaded at US ports were inspected for contraband. Ship’s security asked us for our cabin numbers, and there we were, back on the Jewel, and without Dad.

Julia escorted us back to the cabin. Seeing the other wheelchair, she asked if we wanted to store Dad’s wheelchair for the remainder of the trip, and we accepted gratefully. Cecilio asked if we wanted the sofa bed opened, and I said yes, I would sleep there. I do not know if this would have happened without our family tragedy, but Johanna and I, in the connecting cabin, were given all the privileges of the OS. Someone from NCL checked in every day, particularly Ruth and Dr. Devon.

I will write a review of the Jewel separately, without mentioning these events, so as not to distract anyone’s anticipation of this lovely ship. Dad’s last meal was lunch at Cagney’s, and I know NCL loyalists will agree, there are worse ways to spend your last day on this earth. If you have any questions about the process, I don’t mind, please feel free to ask. Anyone who has made it this far, thank you for reading. And next time you are on the Jewel, drink a toast to its crew and to my Dad, a good man, a brave man, and best of all, a man who loved his family unconditionally. I miss you, Dad.

el henry

Warmer Climes April 10th, 2012 07:02 PM

God bless.

sstrong April 10th, 2012 07:02 PM

This is an incredible story. Thank you so much for sharing. I am very sorry for your loss!

Frick_&_Frack April 10th, 2012 07:03 PM

El - Though I do not know you or your family, please accept the heart-felt condolences of myself and my DH. Thank you so much for sharing your Dad's final cruise with us and for letting us know that, in a time of great need, NCL was there to provide you and your family with care and support that was, indeed, priceless.

I hope that you and your family enjoy many more cruises in memory of your Dad.

Heidi & Bob

Medtech2 April 10th, 2012 07:08 PM

Please accept my deepest sympathies for your loss. I know first hand how cathartic writing can be. I must say that when it is my time, I want to be on a cruise.

Again, deepest sympathies...

planktin April 10th, 2012 07:08 PM

Thanks for sharing. Your strength and grace are amazing. I am so, so sorry for your loss.

Maryr1 April 10th, 2012 07:08 PM

What a lovely tribute to your father. I am sure it was hard to write this but thank you for sharing. For those of us with elderly parents who still enjoy cruising, it is comforting to know that if something like this happened we would have an idea of what to expect. I am sure that your father enjoyed his last bit of time on earth surrounded by his family, in the luxury of a beautiful cruise ship. My 86 year old mother has often said it would be a wonderful way to go-and I know she means it. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family. I wish you many happy memories to comfort you. Kudos to the crew for how they handled this.

turning40withMickey April 10th, 2012 07:11 PM

Thank you for sharing.

russianmom April 10th, 2012 07:11 PM

My prayers to you and your family.

I will raise my glass in a toast to your Dad on Saturday as we sail under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

cacj April 10th, 2012 07:11 PM

I am trying to type through tears, your post is so touching, and I send you heartfelt condolences. So sorry for your loss.

www3traveler April 10th, 2012 07:12 PM

I am so sorry for your loss. You are in my thoughts and prayers. I lost my husband over 4 years ago and at times it still hurts. Wishing all the best. Mandy

unclepig April 10th, 2012 07:12 PM

I am so sorry for your loss. Glad to read, though, that the Jewel crew treated your family with such compassion and respect during this difficult time.


sstrong April 10th, 2012 07:19 PM

Thanks again for sharing, and my condolences once again for your loss. After I read this, it occurred to me that the procedure might be wildly different if a death occurs several days out at sea far from a U.S. port. I wonder what happens then? Is burial at sea an option? I bet there are some lifelong diehard cruisers who would actually prefer that.

DMH15 April 10th, 2012 07:21 PM

Dear Cruise Critic Friend:

I read your entire post and teared up. Your love for your dad is evidenced in every keystroke.

I cruise with my mom, a widow, and I could certainly feel for you as our parents get older, especially those with health issues, make us realize each day is precious. I am so glad you were there with your mother.

When my mother and I cruise we always remember to take a framed photo of my dad.

Thank you for taking the time to write such a comprehensive, informative and sweet post.

youngestof9 April 10th, 2012 07:22 PM

oh I have tears streaming down my face. Please accept my most heartfelt condolences on your loss. You're right, Cagney's sounded perfect. It can be so cathartic to write and I feel privileged to have read your story. God bless.

Turtles06 April 10th, 2012 07:22 PM

I am very sorry for your loss. My sympathies to you and your family.

I'm not at all surprised to hear how well the Jewel's staff and crew responded, but still very thankful that they did.

spunkyhungry April 10th, 2012 07:22 PM

I'm so sorry that your dad died. :( At least his last few days were probably good ones.

dutchess43 April 10th, 2012 07:23 PM

What a wonderful daughter you are. You handled yourself in such a great manor it is indeed a tribute to your parents that they raised such a fantasic daughter. Please except my heartfelt sympathies for the passing of your Dad.

CRUZIN'NANA April 10th, 2012 07:23 PM

So truly sorry for your loss. At least you can be comforted by the fact that your Dad was with his loving family one last time, experiencing something that he truly enjoyed.

Thank you so much for sharing your touching story with all of us here at CC.

God Bless you and your family.

Pikaia April 10th, 2012 07:24 PM

I am so sorry for your loss. Much love to you and your family.

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