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A cat joins mourners at the ceremony for a Swedish pauper on Phuket

A Phuket Death: The Abject Loneliness of Gabriella

Friday, June 11, 2010
Gabriella's Goodbye Photo Album Above

IT WAS the kind of Phuket funeral everyone dreads. There was not one single mourner. Not one.

After 60 years on planet Earth, Gabriella Rose-Marie Strand was being farewelled by two people who were both paid to be there: the undertaker and his assistant.

The leader of the four Phuket monks who were about to chant a ceremony for Ms Strand decided this was not proper, not riap roi. Usually, when even the poorest Thai is farewelled, mourners can be found. People understand this basic need. They come to funerals because they sense what it means to be farewelled by no-one.

But for Gabriella Rose-Marie Strand, a luckless Swede who spent the last years of her life as an international freeloader, a tropical island holiday hobo, no mourners came today.

Sixty years, probably a full and active life if not a conventional one, and only two people at her funeral. Two people, both paid to be there.

Reporter Chutima Sidasathian made up the numbers because she is a Buddhist, and because the monks asked her to join the ceremony. She poured the small jar of ritual water that would later be splashed outside to nourish a tree at Phuket's Get Ho temple as a sign of renewal.

The monks chanted. A cat, perhaps sensing the awesome loneliness of Gabriella in her final moments, wandered in and took its place, lounging among the mourners.

Around the monks was the setting for a much grander funeral to come, with a shiny golden casket already in place and scores of wreaths. But in Gabriella's case, the symbolic white thread that is always a key part of Buddhist cremations ran from the monks and out across a tiny courtyard to her coffin, a container as simple as her life had been in recent times.

She and her Swedish companion, Bjorn Lennart Lundqvist, made at least seven trips backwards and forwards between Sweden and Phuket in the final years of her life, apparently enjoying their flights to the sunshine and their freeloading escapades.

Gabriella died covered in sand, we were told by the man who washed her body clean for the last time. In all probability, she spent her last night sleeping on Phuket's Patong beach.

Somehow, despite the reputation of Sweden's social services to help every citizen in need, the system in the end failed Gabriella because she enjoyed putting it to the test.

She died alone, apparently collapsing in a Phuket shorefront restaurant. Then, according to the single-page official document marking her death, she suffered fatal electrocution when her leg contacted live wires under a refrigerator.

At today's funeral, the farewell for a most regular companion, an apparent soulmate, Lundqvist is nowhere to be seen. He may not even know that Gabriella is dead, which would be sad.

But talk has it that he has moved on, still living close to the edge in Thailand, but with a new companion.

We watch as Gabriella's remains are consigned to the flames. The chipboard top of the coffin is removed first, probably because it can be reused.

Tonight her cremated ashes will be on a bus to Bangkok, with the undertaker. Soon, she will be on her way home to Sweden.

There will be no more sunshine in Phuket for Gabriella, who died alone and had no-one to mourn her.
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Comments

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Really sad ending. At least in your report, she becomes a memory for some.

Posted by Lena on June 11, 2010 19:25

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I find it strange that she collapsed, and then electrocuted herself, surely the logical assumption was she was electrocuted and then collapsed, or would that carry too much implication that some Thai safety standard had been broken.

Either way RIP.

Posted by LivinLOS on June 12, 2010 09:01

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This is a sad story, but death by electrocution from a fridge?

If someone died in a restaurant due to poor electrics, shouldn't something be done to the owner?

A tragic waste of life, when its over, for stupid reasons.

Posted by Tbs on June 12, 2010 09:31

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RIP

Posted by John on June 12, 2010 12:18

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RIP the last years of her life were so tragic, you would think the Scandinavian government would at least of sent some to Phuket to collect her ashes. Most of us are lucky that we have a good government that would bend over back wards to help us out, in our time of death.

Editor: The undertaker came from Bangkok to represent the Swedish embassy. The embassy paid her outstanding medical debts and will repatriate her ashes.

Posted by Jamie on June 12, 2010 18:15

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sorry i meant to say she was from Sweden not Scandinavia :)

Posted by Jamie on June 12, 2010 18:17

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You could simple tell us when she had her funeral, than be critical that no-one showed up.

Alan, can you please refrain to where you picked up that the Swedish welfare system failed?

I'll ask as a Swedish Citizen to thank you all for showing respect, even if she failed herself, we can still show sympathy and try make sure this won't happen again.

I'll thank the Swedish law system, for my grown up, my time in school where I did learn a lot, what I became and how I look at life, how the system have taken care of me at bad times, this is what I wish for each Thai.

Thailand is meaning Freedom, but where is the word for Responsibility ? Maybe the Thailand, land of smiles means Freedom without responsibility ?

Being self critic is a first step to move forward.

Editor: Anders, our coverage of this tragedy has triggered interest in the sad farewell of Ms Strand and the Swedish welfare system. Swedes interested in attending her funeral could have done what Phuketwan did, and called the Swedish embassy. Nobody else did. Fingers are now being pointed at the Thai authorities, and that's unfair. The Swedish system failed to take due care of this citizen and allowed her on seven occasions to take a flight to Phuket to continue her life as a beggar. We consider that both the Thai system and the Swedish system failed Ms Strand. We hope Ms Strand's legacy is that this never happens again.

Posted by Anders on June 14, 2010 10:50

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"The Swedish system failed to take due care of this citizen and allowed her on seven occasions to take a flight to Phuket to continue her life as a beggar."
Hi Alan

What did Swedish Government fail in?

Should they not allow her to go to Thailand?

Please elaborate on this.

Editor: Hello Niels. I haven't said anything about the Swedish government. But you mention them. Swedish and Thai authorities were unable to prevent Ms Strand leading a life as a beggar on Phuket. I have been told by a reliable source that there are scores like her, from Sweden and from other countries. Several Swedes on Phuket have pointed out that they would prefer this situation did not arise. I happen to agree. And there are most likely Swedes in Sweden who would also like to see a more sensible solution. Are you about to suggest a good idea?

Posted by Niels C. Jensen on June 14, 2010 14:53

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"The Swedish system failed to take due care of this citizen and allowed her on seven occasions to take a flight to Phuket to continue her life as a beggar."

Sorry I meant the Swedish authorities/system/wefare system. But call them whatever you want. I just want you to elaborate on what they should have done to prevent this.

Should she not be allowed to go to Thailand?

And no I am not going to suggest anything.

Editor: I'm not prepared to make a judgement either way, Niels. But seven trips to Phuket to live as a beggar seems like six too many to me. This is an issue for Swedes and Thais to resolve.

Posted by Niels C. Jensen on June 14, 2010 16:21

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Nice to see you refrained from again calling her a 'Scamdinavian'.

Editor: Cremations are no time for wordplay. Many comments have been moderated on this thread because the authors fail to share a sense of what death means.

Posted by Jens Heer on June 14, 2010 16:37

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Okay, maybe I read you wrong. But I read the article as you have already judged the Swedish welfare system, and partly the Thai system for this case.

I really don't think that is the case, I think the case is the actions of one single individual.

And what could or should we do about that?

Editor: People in both the Swedish and Thai systems were aware of this for at least 18 months. To me, something should have been done. A lonely death covered in sand . . . . Ms Strand should not be forgotten. The reasons why she was able to live as she did should be examined in Sweden and in Thailand and the right kind of action taken to ensure there is no repetition.

Posted by Niels C. Jensen on June 14, 2010 17:41

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And who moderates you, editor?

Editor: I can't imagine you'd ever ask a question without knowing the answer, Seona. But if you don't have something to add of relevance to this particular thread, then it may be better to choose a more appropriate place. Just about any other thread would do.

Posted by Seona Mathers on June 14, 2010 20:06

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"The reasons why she was able to live as she did should be examined in Sweden and in Thailand and the right kind of action taken to ensure there is no repetition."

I think the reason is quite simple. She lived like a free Swedish citizen, and she decided to go Thailand.
I don't know which action could or should be taken to prevent this.

What I know is that there are people who choose another lifestyle than I think is the best. But I don't see it as mine nor the states to tell people how to live. That is up to the single individual.

I am myself Danish, and I know that there in Denmark are several people who have choose a life outside "normality" and for me, that is their choice to take. As long as they don't harm others and respect the basic rules of society.

Editor: I agree. Unfortunately in Ms Strand's case, she begged from Thais who could not necessarily afford to give, she borrowed from others with no intention of paying back the money, and she quite deliberately did not pay her bills. To me, that's where the line is drawn. She is no longer here, and I have no wish to disturb the good memories that people probably also have of her. One is free to lead the life one chooses, but it shouldn't be at the expense of others. That's the lingering issue, really, whether a socially-aware country should allow its citizens to travel, knowing they are going to rip off others in a less prosperous place. She bent the rules of moral obligation and perhaps the rules need to be redrawn to take account of others who will follow. She may have even kept doing it because she realised she would never suffer the consequences. And that's probably where the obligation on the part of Sweden and/or Thailand should have become plain quite some time ago. There's a big difference between a free spirit, and a freeloader.

Posted by Niels C. Jensen on June 15, 2010 15:01

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I don't see how or why Sweden or Thailand authorities should act in this case. The Swede chose to live as she did.

Nothing could nor should be done about that. She chooses her lifestyle. Even others disagrees with it.

As long as she act on the right side of the law she can do as she like. Just as anyone else.

In Denmark for instance some people live outside the welfare systems. Without any income even they could have one from the state. But they choose differently.

That's their choice. They are not doing anything illegal so they are allowed to do as they like.

Personally I don't believe Sweden or Thailand did anything wrong. The authorities did know her case and offered her help and guidance. But she did not want.

What is there possible more to do?

Editor: Help her.

Posted by Niels C. Jensen on June 15, 2010 15:37

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"There's a big difference between a free spirit, and a freeloader."

Correct! But you are very much allowed to be both as free citizen in Sweden. Your free will is absolute.

Editor: Well then, perhaps some allowance needs to be taken of different cultures when Swedes travel. I suspect 99.9 percent do . . .

Posted by Niels C. Jensen on June 15, 2010 15:42

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You say the authorities should help her. How should they help a person who does not want help?

Editor: Benign intervention. People suffer from many conditions beyond their control, yet there is still help available. In this case . . . nothing. Seven trips, backwards and forwards. No intervention. No significant help. Is that the way it's supposed to be? I think it was a failure of authority. Who is responsible for protecting a Swede in Thailand? Sweden, and Thailand.

Posted by Niels C. Jensen on June 15, 2010 20:32

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Yesterday you were gleefully indulging in wordplay about the dead woman. Yesterday she was a "holiday hobo" and a "Scamdinavian". Suddenly it's all: "Many comments have been moderated on this thread because the authors fail to share a sense of what death means."

Quite hypocritical.

Editor: It's such a shame that neither you nor the Thai or Swedish authorities reacted appropriately to our accurate and pointed headings between Christmas 2009 and Ms Strand's death. Now, you find a voice. Now, you shoot the messenger. Well done, Simon.

Posted by Simon Smith on June 15, 2010 22:16

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Again I don't see where the authorities failed. I know that had contact with her several times, but I also know she kept on her way of life. As you said she travelled from Sweden to Thailand 7 times.

But if intervention is the way - then there was only one possibility, which was not possible. But that was to imprison her or in another way or regulate her free will.

Fortunately that is not possible.

And I know that the case is different when Thais are going to Scandinavian as tourist. It can be indeed be very difficult they have to prove this and that and a lot. That is a shame for our countries. That's at least the case for Denmark.

Posted by Niels C. Jensen on June 16, 2010 09:35

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RIP poor lady.
Unrelated, but it cracks me up how so many of you complain on this comment page!
Why can't you just read the news and move on?
Why so many spiteful comments directed at the editor with EVERY SINGLE STORY?
In the interest of not being like the rest of you, seeya!

Posted by getonwithlife! on June 17, 2010 10:38

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The reason this woman could travel back to Thailand again and again..is that the social workers back in her home country..Sweden..do as they always do..pay out cash without any control what so ever. They helped her to travel. She had no money..how did she afford the air tickets in the first place!? Nahh..It might sound harsh..but she was a freeloader & a thief..I do not feel any sympathy what so ever. Her "ex-boyfriend" will surely keep on the same track until he end up the same way..The only question I have is..why do not Thai authorities prevent people like these two to enter the kingdom?

Editor: There is no co-ordination between Swedish and Thai authorities, that's why.

Posted by Swede on June 18, 2010 06:27

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Alan,
What a beautiful and melancholy article. It made me cry for Phuket's "scamdinavian". Your photos of her Buddhist service were lovely and I think that even though her body was not tended to by those she knew, she could not help being pleased with her beautiful funeral, cat and all. Well done.

Posted by Doretta on June 19, 2010 16:48

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If you are going to Bum, where would you do it? In the Ice and cold or a Tropical Paradise........

Editor: Fred, Nobody is questioning the logic from the point of view of an international freeloader . . . but if you are going to live off the generosity of others, perhaps it's best done in your own country.

Posted by Fred on June 25, 2010 10:11

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I agree. We have 10,000,000 free loaders in the USA.

Posted by Fred on June 25, 2010 11:06


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