After Death has Occurred

After you have taken the time to sit with your loved one’s body and say goodbye, a whole new chapter of life begins to unfold.

You may wish to contact a friend or family member to be with you if you are alone.  The presence of another person may help comfort you and give you someone with whom you can talk.  They may put the kettle on and allow you some time to recount your experience.

If you have an Expected Death at Home (EDAH) registered with Palliative Care Services, your next call is to the funeral home, but there is no immediate rush.  Take some time to experience all you are feeling and call when you are ready.  A death certificate will be signed within 24 hours.

If the death is not registered with EDAH, you should call your family doctor or palliative care physician to notify them of your care recipient’s death.  They must make the pronouncement and sign a death certificate.  If they are not available, please call 9-1-1 and emergency services will assist you.

Although it can be stressful for the family, any unexpected death at home must be treated by law enforcement as suspicious until deemed otherwise.  They must inspect the scene of the death before others are permitted near the body.   Police officers will make every effort to be efficient in their task and respectful of the family’s grief, but this task must be carried out. The funeral home cannot remove the body until police services have completed their work.

When you call the funeral home, you can indicate when you want your loved one’s body removed.  Sometimes there may be a delay if funeral home staff are tending to the needs of another family, but they are usually quite prompt.  Some people find it disturbing to watch as the body is removed from the home so you may want to step into another room.  Staff deal with this type of situation regularly and will notify you when their work on site is done. 

For your safety, it may be prudent to take any leftover medication to the closest pharmacy for drop off as soon as possible after your person had died. 

For some families, grief is a very private time; only the closest family members and friends will be notified and invited to visit.  You may wish to make some of these calls yourself, others can be delegated to someone you trust.  The retelling of the event may help you to purge some of the shock (even if it is an expected death) and begin to process your loss.  As their care recipient’s health is in decline, many caregivers will make a list of those who need to be notified of the death and their contact information, understanding that at such an emotional time it is sometimes difficult to think clearly.  There is nothing wrong with being organized.  This is a vulnerable time for you, so organize as best you can and elicit the help of others.  You may want to include notification to your Care Coordinator or private home care provider if you receive those services.

In most small Nova Scotian communities, it takes little time for news of a death to circulate.  Visitors will arrive to pay their respects to you and other family members.  There are no firm rules around how this plays out.  It is helpful to have a ‘second-in-command’ who can carry out your wishes, i.e., how to keep visits short, keep the coffee and tea flowing, organize the kitchen.  This person may help you stay hydrated and will offer (sometimes insisting) that you eat at least small amounts regularly.  They may be able to stay with you through the night and provide company if you can’t sleep.

You will become aware of how many people are uncomfortable and tongue-tied when there is a death.  Even though they may want to visit to pay their respects, you may find yourself comforting those who are terribly uncomfortable and don’t know what to say. 

Food is love.  When we as members of a community feel helpless, we bring food.  It is an offering of comfort.  Perhaps we feel that it is the only task we can appropriately shoulder for those who are grieving.  Rather than trying to organize the flow of food yourself, reach out to that person who has asked if there is anything they can do to help.  It is likely that they will feel honoured to be able to assist and relieved to have something active to do.