When the death of a loved one occurs and you are with them, you may notice:
- they stop breathing
- their face suddenly relaxes
- they may look peaceful.
It’s impossible to predict how you’ll react to the death of someone you care about, even when you know what’s going to happen. You may wish to respond in a way which is appropriate to you, in the moment. For some people, carrying out a particular ritual or ceremony is important, but others prefer to simply sit quietly and be with the person.
Once you are ready, use the following sections to help guide your next steps.
Checklist: Things to do in the first few hours and days
- Someone who is present needs to tell the person’s nurse or GP when the person dies. If the person is in hospital, care home or a hospice, speak to the team looking after them
- The doctor will visit your house and check for vital signs – this is a legal requirement. If death has occurred out-of-hours (during the night) you may be offered a visit in the morning, unless you feel waiting is too difficult (this process is known as ‘formal verification of death’)
- Everyone should respect any wishes the person had about how their body should be cared for, including religious and cultural practices, if possible
- Friends and family should call the funeral director, if you are using one. The funeral director will usually come and collect the body
- A doctor needs to certify the death by completing a ‘medical certificate of cause of death’ (this is different from a death certificate – see below)
- The death needs to be registered at the registry office. During the ongoing coronavirus situation, this can be done by a friend, family member or the funeral director. It doesn’t have to be done in person if you can’t go to the office. It can be done on the phone instead. The registrar will then issue the ‘death certificate’ and ‘certificate for burial or cremation’. These need to be given to the funeral director
- Look for a Will to see who the named executors are (the people who sort out the person’s affairs) and if the person left instructions for their funeral.
Funeral directors: how they can help
Your loved one may have made arrangements for a funeral director or you may have discussed this process with them. Funeral directors are incredibly helpful and offer several options to support you, including:
- Making all the funeral arrangements with instruction from you to make sure you get the funeral you and your family want (within the limits of the law and what you can afford)
- Making most of the arrangements, but you choose songs, music, hymns or readings
- Helping to organise just certain items or services such as the coffin or hearse.
They can also answer any questions you may have, no matter how unusual.
The body can remain in the house for a while if viewing is preferred and dependent on the deceased’s culture and religious wishes.
When the body is collected: what to expect
You can contact the funeral director once you’re ready. You don’t have to rush. They will generally come within an hour of being contacted.
You can ask the funeral director to come a bit later if you want a little more time to sit with the body, wait for family or friends to arrive, or simply to collect yourself.
Some people may find it distressing to see the person’s body being moved or watch the preparations beforehand. You may want to ask the funeral director what will be involved, as some people might prefer to leave the room.
If you don’t use a funeral director
You don’t have to use a funeral director if you don’t want to. You can contact your local council for information about arranging a funeral yourself.
This could be a traditional funeral or an alternative one, such as a natural burial in a woodland. To find out more, contact the cemeteries and crematorium department of your local council or the Natural Death Centre.