Losing a loved one can be the most difficult and stressful experience we ever face in our lives. Even though death is inevitable, it is rarely discussed and as a result, it can be overwhelming for us to think about what to do next even if the death was not unexpected. As much as we try to avoid discussing death, having some understanding can help us prepare for its eventuality. This would include having a basic knowledge of how to cope with the practicalities associated with death and knowing what to do next when someone dies.
1. Death Occurs
Dealing with the death of someone who dies in a hospital is slightly different from handling a death that occurs at home.
At a hospital, the staff will arrange for a doctor to issue a Doctor’s Certificate of Cause of Death. Family or close relatives will be advised on the necessary steps to take. Large hospitals have a mortuary where the body is kept until it can be transferred to a funeral home, however smaller hospitals or nursing homes are unlikely to have the facilities so it is important to make the decision soon so you can arrange for the necessary transport.
If your loved one died at home, it is likely they had a regular doctor who had discussed with you or any other close relative on what would happen in such a situation. Call the doctor and ask them to visit as soon as possible when you are ready. If your loved one didn’t have a regular doctor, you can call the ambulance at 000 instead. They will bring a doctor to determine the cause of death and issue a Doctor’s Certificate of Cause of Death. Remember that this certificate is needed for a funeral to occur.
On the other hand, if someone unexpectedly dies or you are uncertain if the person is dead, call 000 to ask for an ambulance and explain the situation as best as you can. If the death was unexpected, a Coroner may be required to conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
2. End of Life Wishes
If your loved one was an organ donor, it is vital that you act quickly as the organs are only viable for a limited time. You can check if your loved one is an organ donor by contacting the hospital to look up the Australian Organ Donor Register. Even if your loved one was an organ donor, you will need to provide consent for the process to occur. If your loved one was not an organ donor, you can decide whether or not to donate their organs.
Before making any funeral arrangements, it’s important to find out if your loved one had made any funeral arrangements. Usually, their solicitor or executor of the estate will have a copy of such details. All you will need to do is contact the funeral director who will handle all the funeral details.
Be sure to also check if your loved one had a funeral bond or funeral insurance. If they have any, inform the relevant party to work out the necessary next steps.
3. Contact Funeral Home
If your loved one had made no arrangements for their funeral, you will need to get a funeral director to arrange for the funeral details. Work with your funeral director to arrange details such as the transfer of the body from the mortuary, as well as the type of funeral you would like to hold for your loved one.
4. Arranging the Service
When making funeral arrangements with your funeral director, reflect on your loved one’s life and think about the best way to honour them at the service. This is the perfect opportunity to share details of how you want the funeral to be conducted.
5. Notify necessary parties
Once arrangements for the funeral have been made, inform relatives, friends, and co-workers of your loved one. Most of them will want to pay their last respects, be sure to provide them with the location, date, and time of the funeral.
In case your loved one had pets, make arrangements for their care.
6. At the Funeral Service
You may have been wrapped up in funeral arrangements and haven’t had a moment to mourn the loss of your loved one. The funeral service is your chance to grieve and say your last goodbyes. Celebrate and honour the life of your loved one.
7. Notify Organisations
Once you have the death certificate from your funeral director, you can start to notify the institutions and places your loved one has had dealings with. You can use this helpful checklist for a list of organisations to notify.
Social media accounts have an option for deleting or “memorialising” a deceased’s account. Deleting an account will mean losing all the photos of the account; consider making copies first if you wish to keep the photos. If you opt to “memorialise” the account, family and friends will be able to share messages to your loved one’s profile.
8. Remember your loved one
Continue to honour and celebrate the extraordinary life of your loved one whenever you can. At the same time, it is important that you take care of your mental and physical state. Grieve your loved one, but don’t let this grieve consume you to the detriment of your health. If you find you are struggling, there are plenty of places to seek out support and assistance, such as Beyond Blue, Griefline, Redkite, and Lifeline.
Check out our infographic on What To Do When A Loved One Dies here.