03 Dec What To Do After Someone Dies
What To Do After Someone Dies
Nothing has to be done immediately after a person’s death. Take the time you need. Some people want to stay in the room with the body; others prefer to leave. You might want to have someone make sure the body is lying flat before the joints become stiff. Thus rigor mortis begins sometime during the first few hours after death.
After the death, how long you can stay with the body may depend on where death happens. If it happens at home, there is no need to move the body right away. This is the time for any special religious, ethnic, or cultural customs that are performed soon after death.
If the death seems likely to happen in a facility, such as a hospital or nursing home, discuss any important customs or rituals with the staff early on, if possible. That will allow them to plan so you can have the appropriate time with the body.
Some families want time to sit quietly with the body, console each other, and maybe share memories. You could ask a member of your religious community or a spiritual counselor to come. If you have a list of people to notify, this is the time to call those who might want to come and see the body before it is moved.
As soon as possible, the death must be officially pronounced by someone in authority like a doctor in a hospital or nursing facility or a hospice nurse. This person also fills out the forms certifying the cause, time, and place of death. These steps will make it possible for an official death certificate to be prepared. This legal form is necessary for many reasons, including life insurance and financial and property issues.
If the person was in hospice, a plan for what happens after death will already be in place. If death happens at home without hospice, try to talk with the doctor, local medical examiner (coroner), your local health department, or a funeral home representative in advance about how to proceed. You can also consider a home funeral, which is legal in most states.
Arrangements should be made to pick up the body as soon as the family is ready and according to local laws. This can be done by a funeral home or by the family themselves in most states. The hospital or nursing facility, if that is where the death took place, may help with these arrangements. If at home, you will need to contact the funeral home directly, make arrangements yourself, or ask a friend or family member to do that for you.
The doctor may ask if you want an autopsy. This is a medical procedure conducted by a specially trained physician to learn more about what caused the death. For example, if the person who died was believed to have Alzheimer’s disease, a brain autopsy will allow for a definitive diagnosis. If your religion or culture objects to autopsies, talk to the doctor. Some people planning a funeral with a viewing worry about having an autopsy, but the physical signs of an autopsy are usually hidden by clothing and other body preparation techniques.
Over the next few weeks, you may want to notify a few places about your loved one’s death. This may include:
- The Social Security Administration. If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, you need to stop the checks.
- Life insurance companies. You will need a death certificate and policy numbers to make claims on any policies.
- Credit agencies. To prevent identity theft, you will want to send copies of the death certificate to three major firms: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
- Banks and financial institutions. If your loved one left a list of accounts and passwords, it will be much easier to close or change accounts. You will need a copy of the death certificate if the person did not leave a list
Grief during COVID-19
Grieving the loss of a loved one can be especially hard during COVID-19. Due to physical distancing guidelines, visiting a loved one at his or her end-of-life and attending a funeral service may not be possible. It can also affect the ability of friends and family to come together in person and grieve in typical ways. The CDC offers information about actions you can take to help cope with loss and additional funeral guidance during COVID-19.
As time passes, you may still miss your spouse. But for most people, the intense pain will lessen. There will be good and bad days. You will know you are feeling better when there are more good days than bad. You may feel guilty for laughing at a joke or enjoying a visit with a friend. It is important to understand that can be a common feeling.
Mourning the Death of a Spouse
When your spouse dies – your world changes. You are in mourning—feeling grief and sorrow at the loss. You may feel numb, shocked, and fearful. You may feel guilty for being the one who is still alive. At some point, you may even feel angry at your spouse for leaving you. All of these feelings are normal. There are no rules about how you should feel. There is no right or wrong way to mourn.
When you grieve, you can feel both physical and emotional pain. People who are grieving often cry easily and can have:
- Trouble sleeping
- Little interest in food
- Problems with concentration
- A hard time making decisions
In addition to dealing with feelings of loss, you also may need to put your own life back together. This can be hard work. Some people feel better sooner than they expect. Others may take longer.
Finding a Support System
There are many ways to grieve and to learn to accept loss. Try not to ignore your grief. Support may be available until you can manage your grief on your own. It is especially important to get help with your loss if you feel overwhelmed or very depressed by it.
Family and compassionate friends can be a great support. They are grieving, too, and some people find that sharing memories is one way to help each other. Feel free to share stories about the one who is gone. Sometimes, people hesitate to bring up the loss or mention the dead person’s name because they worry this can be hurtful. But people may find it helpful to talk directly about their loss. You are all coping with the death of someone you cared for.
Charlie and Doug’s Story
Shortly after Charlie’s husband Doug died, his friends started coming over with dinners and memories to share. They would sit around Charlie’s dining table for hours remembering Doug’s humor and kindness. Soon, Doug’s friends were joining them with their own recollections. It was so much like old times that it almost seemed Doug had just stepped out of the room. Those evenings together helped Charlie, as well as the others, start to heal after their loss.
For some people, mourning can go on so long that it becomes unhealthy. This can be a sign of serious depression and anxiety. Talk with your doctor if sadness keeps you from carrying on with your day-to-day life. Support may be available until you can manage the grief on your own.
How Grief Counseling Can Help
Sometimes people find grief counseling makes it easier to work through their sorrow. Regular talk therapy with a grief counselor or therapist can help people learn to accept a death and, in time, start a new life.
There are also support groups where grieving people help each other. These groups can be specialized—parents who have lost children or people who have lost spouses, for example—or they can be for anyone learning to manage grief. Check with religious groups, local hospitals, nursing homes, funeral homes, or your doctor to find support groups in your area.
An essential part of hospice is providing grief counseling, called bereavement support, to the family of someone who was under their care. You can also ask hospice workers for bereavement support, even if hospice was not used before the death.
Remember to take good care of yourself. You might know that grief affects how you feel emotionally, but you may not realize that it can also have physical effects. The stress of the death and your grief could even make you sick. Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and get back to doing things you used to enjoy, like going to the movies, walking, or reading. Accept offers of help or companionship from friends and family. It’s good for you and for them.
If you have children, remember that they are grieving, too. It will take time for the whole family to adjust to life without your spouse. You may find that your relationship with your children and their relationships with each other have changed. Open, honest communication is important.
Mourning takes time. It’s common to have roller coaster emotions for a while.
Let major decisions wait, if possible.
Try to delay major life decisions until you are feeling better. You don’t want to decide to make a big change, like selling your home or leaving your job, when you are grieving and perhaps not thinking clearly.
Taking Care of Yourself While Grieving
In the beginning, you may find that taking care of details and keeping busy helps. For a while, family and friends may be around to assist you. But, there comes a time when you will have to face the change in your life.
Here are some ideas to keep in mind:
- Take care of yourself. Grief can be hard on your health. Exercise regularly, eat healthy food, and get enough sleep. Bad habits, such as drinking too much alcohol or smoking, can put your health at risk.
- Try to eat right. Some widowed people lose interest in cooking and eating. It may help to have lunch with friends. Sometimes, eating at home alone feels too quiet. Turning on the radio or TV during meals can help. For information on nutrition and cooking for one, look for helpful books at your local library or bookstore or online.
- Talk with caring friends. Let family and friends know when you want to talk about your spouse. They may be grieving too and may welcome the chance to share memories. When possible, accept their offers of help and company.
- Visit with members of your religious community. Many people who are grieving find comfort in their faith. Praying, talking with others of your faith, reading religious or spiritual texts, or listening to uplifting music also may bring comfort.
- See your doctor. Keep up with visits to your healthcare provider. If it has been awhile, schedule a physical and bring your doctor up to date on any pre-existing medical conditions and any new health issues that may be of concern. Let your healthcare provider know if you are having trouble taking care of your everyday activities, like getting dressed or fixing meals.
What Are the Signs of Complicated Grief?
Complicated grief is a condition that occurs in about 7% of people who have recently lost a close loved one. People with this condition may be unable to comprehend the loss, experience intense, prolonged grief, and have trouble resuming their own life. Signs of complicated grief may include overly negative emotions, dramatically restricting your life to try to avoid places you went with the deceased, and being unable to find meaning or a purpose in life.
Complicated grief can be a serious condition and those who have it may need additional help to overcome the loss. Support groups, professionals, and close loved ones can help comfort and support someone with this condition.
Does Everyone Feel the Same Way After a Death?
Men and women share many of the same feelings when a spouse dies. Both may deal with the pain of loss, and both may worry about the future. But, there also can be differences.
Many married couples divide up their household tasks. One person may pay bills and handle car repairs. The other person may cook meals and mow the lawn. Splitting up jobs often works well until there is only one person who has to do it all. Learning to manage new tasks — from chores to household repairs to finances — takes time, but it can be done.
Being alone can increase concerns about safety. It’s a good idea to make sure there are working locks on the doors and windows. If you need help, ask your family or friends.
Facing the future without a husband or wife can be scary. Many people have never lived alone. Those who are both widowed and retired may feel very lonely and become depressed. Talk with your doctor about how you are feeling.
This content is provided by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health.
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