Your First Steps When Someone Dies

The moment someones essence, spirit, consciousness, soul, whatever you are comfortable with leaves the room, it is a moment like no other experience.  People all experience it differently and there is no predicting how you will feel or react, but likely you will be lost.  Not unlike the first moment alone at home with a newborn child.  Now what?

Here is some down to earth helpful information.

You experience a death that is expected, and in a residential facility or hospital:

Let the nurse or staff know who you are using for your funeral service provider, and give them the phone number.

A staff person needs to make the call. As family, you may want to call us as well, to answer any questions you might have, set up an arrangement meeting or provide us additional information about your preferences. The facility will have a say in how much time you have with the body. If you wish to transport your loved one home from the hospital instead of placing the body in the care of a mortuary, talk to the mortuary in advance.  Everyone is different about letting go. While you know the animated part of your loved one is gone, parting with the body is often unexpectedly difficult.  Years ago, people were left in the parlor for friends and family to pay their respects. This also gave the bereaved time to adjust to the idea of letting go. We live now in a fast paced world, but this is a custom worth reviving. Explore your own feelings and ask for what you want.

Expected death at home or  with hospice – If  your loved one has been under hospice care, the hospice nurse will notify the medical examiner/coroner and also alert  the funeral service of your choice. Because hospice helps families have their dying loved ones at home, this situation best supports a quiet, dignified passing.  And allows, if desired, keeping the body at home for a time after death.

Expected death at home without hospice – Please call 911 and ask for the non-emergency line to report the death.  A police officer will come to the house to help you, and they will be notifying the medical examiner/coroner in your county. Even without hospice, a family has the legal right to take up to 24 hours before calling a funeral service. If you want more time, discuss this in advance with the funeral providers.

Unexpected death at a facility , hospital or nursing home – Let the nurse or staff know who you are  choosing  as your funeral services provider, and give them the phone number.  A staff person needs to make the call. As family, you may want to call as well, to answer any questions you might have, set up an arrangement meeting or provide us additional information about your preferences. The facility will have a say in how much time a family has to say goodbye, and may retain the body if the medical examiner needs to be involved. It can be more challenging for a loved one to be brought home under these circumstances, especially if there will be an autopsy.

Unexpected death at home, residential facility, or other location – Call 911 and ask for the non-emergency line. A police officer will come to the location and will notify the medical examiner/coroner in your county. Depending on the circumstances, your loved one’s body may be taken to the medical examiner/coroner’s facility so the cause of death can be determined. A family member should inform the medical examiner/coroner who you have chosen  for funeral service. This is an important step for planning that anyone should take.

Once the initial impact has lessened, you can begin to make decisions about cremation, memorials or you may have an advanced health care directive with information or your may know the wishes of your loved one.  There is no rule that says a memorial need to follow a death immediately.  More and more people find that waiting several months gives them clarity, time to reflect and create a way to connect again to their loved one.

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