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A Loved One Has Died - What Now?


There are few greater heartbreaks than when a family member or other loved one dies. The grief and shock can sometimes be overwhelming. The last thing most people want to think about is making phone calls or funeral arrangements. There are some steps that should be taken soon after the loss of your loved one, although most things do not need to be done immediately. We hope the following guide will help facilitate this process during a painful, stressful, and emotional time.


(1) First and most important, you need to take care of yourself. Nothing about these moments is easy, and all the emotions you feel are okay. Do not deny them or hide them. It is okay to grieve and even get angry. And, depending on the circumstance, it is also okay to feel a sense of comfort and relief. During these initials moments, you will have to deal with the reality that your loved one is gone. But, you are still here and your loved one, almost undoubtedly, wants you to continue to live your life to the fullest with them always in your heart.

(2) In the next immediate minutes and hours after your loved one passes away, you do not need to do anything. It is okay to sit with your loved one for a while, even if your family member died in a hospital. Just let the hospital staff know if you need a little time or if there are any religious rituals or customs that you would like to observe before your loved one’s body is moved. It is important to give yourself time to call your pastor, priest, rabbi, or other religious advisors, as well as close family members or friends whose presence will be comforting.

Note: One exception is if your loved one wanted to be an organ donor. In this case, the hospital where the death occurred, or if the death occurred at home, a nearby hospital should be notified almost immediately so the appropriate steps can be taken. If you are not sure, check your family member’s driver’s license or health care directives. Even if your loved one has signed up for organ donation in a state or national registry, family members are responsible for making a final decision if a doctor lets you know that your loved one’s organs are medically suitable for donation.

(3) As soon as you can, you should obtain a legal pronouncement of death by a doctor or hospice nurse. If no one is present who can make an official pronouncement of death, the body may be taken to the emergency room where a doctor can make the declaration. Barring the need for further medical examination or autopsy, a declaration will enable a death certificate to be prepared. A death certificate is a legal form that you must obtain before some of the later steps can be taken.

(4) Make arrangements for the body to be picked up, typically by a funeral home. If your loved one died in a hospital or nursing facility, the staff may be able to make those arrangements for you. Your loved one may have already chosen a funeral home and made funeral plans, but if not, the choice of a funeral home will be made by