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How to Help a Family After a Death

November 12th, 2010 by – Marijke Durning

When a patient dies, the nurse’s immediate physical tasks may be over, unless he must do the after-death care, but his psychosocial care of the family and friends may continue a while longer. Not everyone is comfortable talking about death, but it is a reality and one that most of us deal with every day. So what can nurses say when families ask them questions about what to do after a death?

Here are some examples:

Funeral homes

If the death was expected, the family may already have made arrangements with a funeral home. Or, regardless of how the patient died, the family may have pre-planned funeral arrangements. If this is the case, the family must contact the funeral home to get the process going. If the family does not have arrangements, they must choose a business that they feel is best for their needs. Choices may be made based on location, for the convenience of visitors; the size, if many people are expected; religious beliefs; and family tradition, just to name a few.

The family needs to provide the funeral home with information about the deceased, such as the name, age, where the body is located, and a few other details as requested by the individual funeral directors.

Death notice

Not all families choose to put a notice in the paper (or online now), but those who do may choose to write it themselves or have it done by the funeral home staff. This is usually one of the services they offer.

Telling others about their loved one’s death can be very difficult. Sometimes it is easiest to ask one or two friends or family members to be the point person to give out information to people who ask about the upcoming service if there is to be one.

Burial or cremation

If the family hasn’t discussed this before the death, it could be a touchy subject. Unfortunately, this can also cause rifts in families. There’s not much a nurse can do in the way of suggestions, but maybe just hearing them out can help them make their decision.

Death certificate

Death certificates are valuable documents that must be kept safe. If possible, the family should get more than one copy because many of the needed tasks, such as dealing with the bank to insurance usually requires a death certificate.

Who to notify

After a death, there are many people who should be or need to be notified:
Governmental agencies (governmental assistance,  car registration, licenses, anything official that was in the deceased person’s name)

Insurance companies if there was life insurance

- Banks and financial institutions, to close credit and bank accounts that belonged to the deceased person

Employers, to allow the employer to activate any benefits that may be provided by the company- Companies to whom the deceased paid bills, they will have to be settled, closed, or transferred

- Lawyer who holds the will, if one was written

Death, even when it’s expected, usually throws a family into chaos – some more than others. But if a nurse is able to answer some of their questions, this may make a big difference in how they remember their loved one’s last hours and death.

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Posted in Patient Interaction

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only, and is intended as a supplement, not as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.