Upon a loved one’s last breath, you may find yourself a little disoriented. Respect that otherworldliness. Families often just sit in silence for a while. Or share chuckles and sweet memories, tears and hugs. There is no need to rush to call the funeral director. A body can safely remain at home—or in a facility’s bed—for several hours.
Two things to do immediately
- Write down the time of death. This is essential for a death certificate.
- If your loved one is an organ donor, follow the instructions of the institution involved. Time is of the essence.
Within the first 30 minutes
- Close the eyes and straighten the limbs. (Before the joints start to stiffen.) Place a rolled towel under the jaw to keep the mouth closed.
- Call hospice if your loved one is enrolled in this service.
- Call 911 unless you are already in a facility or working with hospice.
Before you call the funeral home. Contact those who might want to pay last respects. You may want to wash or dress the body. If there are after-death faith traditions, contact clergy to come perform those rituals.
Call the funeral home only when you are ready for the body to be taken. They will come fairly quickly and things will move very fast. This call is the first step into your new life without your relative. Say your final goodbyes before they come. You may or may not want to witness the body’s removal in a body bag.
Once the body is gone
- Divide up the phone calls. Split the list so you call only those friends and relatives who were closest. Others can contact more-distant relations.
- Provide for dependents. If your loved one tended to someone else, make interim arrangements until a long-term plan for their care is mobilized. This goes for pets, too.