Death in a Family- Here Are the Steps to Take

Coping with the death of a family member- step by step of what to do after the death of the loved one – that you have given care…by francy Dickinson

Caring for Parents thru End of LIfe Issues

My kind brother-in-law has just passed and I wanted to share some thoughts about what to do “after” the passing.

You think about the now when you are in the middle of care-giving. You worry about the medications, the water intake, the pain levels, the transitions to the commode, the pillow adjustments. Ice for a dry mouth, cold press for a fever, light message for aches…light music for calm and 20 minute visits from friends. You try to keep down the exhaustion of all-nite care that wakes up to all day care. You make the calls to Hospice; you arrange for bath ladies, cleaning staff, nurse visits. You listen to the oxygen intake and check for the machine PSI levels. You grind up the pills put them in applesauce and encourage the patient to swallow. There is a lot on your plate..out of hours…you are living moment to moment…so when the end comes…you sit back in dis-belief.

Are they gone, you wonder? As the breath is no longer straining…the quiet starts to settle down. The patient’s body is relaxed and the usual noise of the activity is gone. Or maybe you wake up with a start; realizing that you have not checked the patient in 20 minutes and you paddle over to their side to find them unusually quiet. It takes a few moments to have the mind set…that they are gone. Fear may come at first, but really the odd feeling of ending comes over you. You take in your breath, you touch a body that is now simply empty.

That is the odd feeling that comes next…you realize the body that had been so full of life and fight for life…is now empty. If you have not experienced being with a body of a person that has passed, it’s always hard the first time. But I wish I had the words to tell you it is NOT scary, it is very right. You just know; the fight is over and the final breath has been taken and it is time for peace and quiet.

You may think you have to run to the phone and call for help. But its best to just take a deep breath and be calm. You can touch them…they will still feel warm to touch and you will adjust their hair and fold their arms…or close their eyes. If they are in bed you can adjust the bedclothes to be tidy, if they are in a chair you can cover their lap with a blanket like they are just resting. Make them ‘presentable’ is what I think – so the family will see them and feel the experience is not so sad.

Your loved one is gone now, on to their next step through the door that appeared to them in the end. There is no rush to do anything. Caregivers are so tired at the end of life journeys that they need to just take time to regroup their mind before they take actions. You can just sit next to the body for a while, or take a little nap until the time to begin the calls starts. There is no race now, there is no time limit…you move on your own schedule and experience your own feelings in the quiet.

Dying at home, when you use Hospice is considered a normal death. You can call your family and let them know the senior has passed and tell them if they want to view the body, they need to come by within a couple of hours. If it is early in the morning and I find most of the deaths happen very early in the morning from 1-4AM…you can simply wait a few hours before you call and wake up your family. They will be expecting the call..they will react differently each one. You call only your immediate family that would want to view the body before it is removed.

Then you call the funeral home that is going to take care of the body. You ask them to come and pick up your loved one and give them a time. That way your family can come and see the body and then the funeral people will remove it into their care.

The next step is totally individual; I start to move around and clear up the immediate area. I remove all the pills, lotions, salves, patches, oxygen, needles or any other care giving things. I put them into the trash bags. Your next call is to hospice and they will take down the death time and ask you when you would like all the equipment to be removed. It’s best to ask them to pick up the equipment the next day because today will be very busy and you don’t want to miss the truck that will come to load-up the bed, commode, wheelchair, etc. They will also tell you they can not take the pills or other medications back. They have been charged to the Hospice account and paid for and they are yours. But they are very, very dangerous and before you have people coming in and out of your home…you need to remove the medication and put it into a plastic bag.

Here is a website that will explain what to do with the medications: Consumer Updates > How to Dispose of Unused Medicines

Now the basics have been done:

  • You have remained calm and taken your time to inform immediate family of the passing.
  • You have cleared the area around the body and adjusted the body for viewing.
  • You have called just immediate family members to come and view the body and told them the time range.
  • You have called the funeral home and made a time for the body pick-up.
  • You have called Hospice and reported the death and time and asked them to schedule a pick up of all the equipment the next day.
  • You have cleared out all medications and understand how to carefully dispose of them before others start to come into your home
  • You call your own spiritual support, what ever your tradition or faith requires of you to do. If it is cleaning the body; wait to do all of that with those that will join you for the ritual. Don’t over do…you are tired and you need to remain calm and just live the moment of quiet between you and your loved one.
I always find that being busy keeps me calm. So I tend to shuffle around and get the area cleaned of all signs of the care that has been given. I like to make the area feel more like my home again. I just put things in a plastic bag to deal with at a later time.
I have a personal ritual that I find an area by the body, like a side table. I find a picture of my loved one that has just passed and I put it on the table. I put a small tea candle next to it and light it up to bless the passing. I go outside to my yard and pick a few ferns, flowers or leaves to put in a small glass jar. This is my small area of honor for the past loved one. As the guests come to view the body and are in high distress you have given them a visual to concentrate on and allow them to remain calmer. After the body is removed I move my little honor table to a front hall or some place that I pass and each day for a week or as long as I need. I light a candle and just allow the love to flow through me onto the loved one that has passed. It’s my ritual…but I would be pleased to have you share it – in your own way.
The day will be a blur in the end. People will be coming in and out and you will be going over to the funeral home and you need to do that with a family member that you can trust to help you with the decisions you will have to make. A tribute obituary needs to be written and I often ask one of the visiting family members to do that…you can edit it and make it as small as you like. The obituaries can be expensive in the papers these days so be aware of your words. Add a simple picture that will represent your loved one, when they knew the most people. That might be 10-20 years before if they are 80+ . You are trying to bring the old friends and co-workers attention to the passing of their friend…so help them with a picture that looks like they remember.
I will not go into the funeral details now, I have a review of that coming in an eBook. It is too complicated…but I do want you to be ‘of mind’ money is money and spending over your budget can wound you deeply when you are in a state of sadness. Be wise and ask a trusted friend or family member to help you.
You do not have to call anyone else if you need rest. You can ask a family member that has not been doing the care giving and is refreshed and able to make calls to extended family and friends. If your faith requires you to make immediate decisions; then allow someone from your faith family to handle the details of the coming days.
Care-givers give so much to the loved one during the fight at the end of life…that they need to be cared for after the fight is over and the calm of passing comes into light. You need to keep yourself rested, drink water, eat food and try not to talk non-stop. Be gentle with yourself so you can process the passing and experience the grief that all family members feel. When my mother passed, I was her care giver in her last day and hours…it was hard for me to stop that thought pattern…and return to her daughter…that loved her and grieved for her passing. Be gentle on yourself…ask for help. Let others take over the complications and heal your own heart.
I thank you for your service in love to your spouse, family member or dear friend. How loving and kind it was for you to put your own life on hold…to concentrate on another journey to the end of their life. You deserve and will all have my appreciation. When you have taken that journey with someone; you always remember those steps and appreciate others that are taking them at this time.
I send a special love to my family that had surrounded my brother-in-law with so much love and care…and in their brave fight to the end…and the rejoicing of his life and memory that we are sharing now. francy
PS Please know that Hospice has wonderful written booklets to help you with the end of life issues. I so appreciate all that they do and I encourage you to use their services instead of facing the hardship of end of life – all alone. Taking time to read the information in your hospice package may seem overwhelming, but they have been there thousands of times before…use their experience to ease your transition through care giving to death issues. Your journey is always your own…your loved one is always different from anyone else…but certain steps are simply best to be taken to keep the process as gentle for you…as the care giver as it can be. Blessings, francy