The family of Shirley Straker-Taylor, the 80-year-old woman who passed away on a Caribbean Airlines flight on December 13, is appealing to the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs to assist in expediting the return of her body to Trinidad and Tobago.
Straker-Taylor’s niece Charlene Wilson told Newsday that her aunt was returning to TT for the first time since the pandemic started to celebrate Christmas with her family when she died on the flight, which had to be diverted to Puerto Rico as a result.
She said since then, the family has been trying to have the body repatriated to TT, but have been getting the run-around from the TT consulate in Puerto Rico.
In a letter to Caricom and Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne, shared with Newsday, Wilson said,
“Over six weeks have passed, and despite our family having complied with the authorities in Puerto Rico and done everything that was asked -submitted all required paperwork, coordinated with the funeral homes in both Puerto Rico, who have been nothing but professional, and the one in Trinidad (Allen's) who is ready and waiting to receive the body, as well as with the airlines to transport the body from Puerto Rico to Trinidad, the hitch or proverbial 'fly in the ointment' is the TT Consulate in Puerto Rico.”
She said the family was constantly being asked to submit, edit, or translate documents by the consulate.
“The latest requirement is that the official documents, including the death certificate, which is issued in Spanish, are translated into English to be sent to the Trinidad and Tobago consulate in Washington D.C. for approval, to be sent back to Puerto Rico. We fully understand that the covid19 situation has slowed things down and that the process may take longer than usual, but this should be an urgent matter.”
She made it clear that the family was not asking for financial assistance, as it was able to bear the costs. She said they are prepared all it takes to bring their beloved aunt’s body home, but it felt like they were running out of time.
“My cousins have had to spend days in Puerto Rico dealing with paperwork, had to fly back to Miami to have a PCR test to come home, since at the time they could only find lateral flow (Antigen) testing in Puerto Rico. As you can well imagine, the expenses are adding up, yet we are not complaining about that, she passed on, but she is family. I am writing to you in the hope that you or someone in authority would heed the plight of my family and intervene on our behalf.”
Wilson said she had been told that it took three months for the body of a Trinidadian drowning victim in Puerto Rico to be returned to TT.
Speaking to Newsday, Wilson said the death of her aunt was sudden and has left the family in a state of shock. She said contrary to speculation on social media, her aunt did not have covid19, was fully vaccinated and had a negative PCR test before boarding the plane.
“My cousins who were with her on the flight said she was laughing and acting normal. They said she ate something, drank water. She wanted to use the restroom and it was while waiting to use the restroom she started to get difficulty breathing and just passed away. My cousin was in a daze, they were in shock. According to the relevant authorities, she suffered a cardiac arrest which was documented as her cause of death.”
She said the family was sorry for the inconvenience caused to the other passengers who were stranded in Puerto Rico, but no-one could have predicted what happened.
“In addition to watching our aunt take her last breath in their presence, my cousins now had to bear the guilt of her death being the cause of the other passengers being inconvenienced and stranded in PR for almost two days. No-one gets on a plane saying I’m going to die today.
“My aunt was an outgoing and vibrant 80-year-old, who is originally from Guayaguayare, who was very much looking forward to coming home for Christmas. She hadn’t been home since the pandemic started, where normally she would have travelled to TT from where she lived in Florida twice a year. This took everyone by surprise.”
Wilson, who works with the United Nations Department of Safety and Security, based in New York, said she normally takes care of the TT delegation when it visits. She said the ministry’s website says, 'all competent authorities treat matters of this nature with the utmost importance' however this unfortunately does not appear to be the case.
“The consulate, by their inaction, is inferring that we unceremoniously cremate our aunt in a foreign country, which as Roman Catholics, is not in keeping with our religious beliefs and custom of having the body present for Funeral Mass. We fully understand that the covid19 situation has slowed things down and that the process may take longer than usual. But where is the utmost importance when needed? Where is the empathy and compassion? Is there no respect or value for dignity in death?”