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
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 http://1.usa.gov/pmCfsR
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.