When A Loved One Dies In Your Home

That's a morbid topic on the best of days, but something that's been on my mind of late. I have an elderly mother who visits and stays with her children regularly and a husband who sleeps much more than he used to. 

I'm a pragmatist at heart and I like to be prepared. Part of preparation is to make sure my loved ones live a healthy lifestyle while under my roof, but death comes for us all even when we do everything right.

I've often wondered what I would do if I woke up to find my husband dead. Who do I call? Many people today die in hospitals or under hospice care which handles (and hides) everything that goes on in the background.

When my father died, he was in hospice. With one phone call, the hospice people were there in minutes and took care of all the details. 

It's my sincere hope that when we die, we die in peace. It doesn't always happen that way and that's something we have to remember.

Should you find a loved one unresponsive check their vital signs.

  • Are they breathing?
  • How is their color? Has it paled or turned waxy-looking?
  • Are their pupils fixed and dilated?
  • Has the mouth fallen open? Upon death our muscles loosen and the jaw muscles could relax.

At this point it's time to call for the authorities and intervention, both to confirm your findings and to allow your loved one to receive after death care.

No matter what you think has happened you must call emergency personnel, be it paramedics, police, or fire department. All three can get you the help you need. 

If your loved one has signed a "do not resuscitate order" you must have it on hand, otherwise paramedics are required to administer emergency procedures. 

Doctors and registered nurses (depending on state law) can pronounce death. Police, firefighters and paramedics can declare death, but they can't legally pronounce death. Check your local statutes for the correct medical representative.

It seems harsh to put someone through semantics, but let them hash it out. By now, the one(s) left living are numb and overwhelmed. Give yourself a few minutes to recover before making other decisions.

  • Once the body is removed, it will be sent to the morgue if no autopsy is needed, or the hospital if they need a pronouncement of death or if the loved one is an organ donor. 
  • Although state laws vary, in the US the city or county coroner must be notified of death.
  • Contact the mortuary to make arrangements for burial or cremation.
  • Contact friends and family. If it were me, I'd contact a trusted friend first to help me navigate decisions, and be my shield when I need a break from people. During times of crisis, I've sometimes been that friend. It's easier for the person not directly affected to vet questions and be a sounding board for decisions.
    We are terribly overwhelmed by a loved one's death and we might not be in the right frame of mind to make sensible decisions. Having a levelheaded friend or family member can help you stay grounded. 
  • Take care of pets or dependents. In my case, if my husband died before me, my pets are safe. But if you're handling the death for someone not living with you, make pets and any dependents your top priority. Pets will be confused and nervous. Make arrangements for them as soon as possible.
  • Contact the employer (even if the deceased is retired). There could be benefits from insurance policies.

These are the immediate things that need to be done. The next steps are more tedious which is why you want a trusted friend or family member with you.

  • Plan the funeral, burial, or cremation. Don't do this alone, but don't take the whole family with you either. If this is for a spouse, you'll know best what they would've wanted.
  • Write the obituary. Speaking from experience, this is remarkably cathartic. 
  • If the person who died does not live with you, make arrangements for someone to keep an eye on the home. When obituaries come out, so do the con artists. Don't leave the home unattended or allow it to look unoccupied.
  • Scammers are vicious and without remorse. If you didn't call someone directly, do not talk to anyone who calls you in reference to the recent death in the family. If it's legitimate, the people who matter will find a way to reach you.
  • Get your death certificates from the funeral home. I'd get a dozen to be safe. You'll want to do this as soon as possible before things get too hectic.
  • If there's a will get it to a probate court.
  • Contact the Social Security Office to stop or change benefits.
  • Contact any life insurance companies to start the claim process.
  • Notify voter registration to take that person off the rolls. 
  • Notify the bank(s)--though it's likely they already know.
  • If you don't live in the house of the deceased, contact all utility, postal, and phone services to cancel or redirect service.

Forms and contacts

Before the worst happens, know your assets. Start by writing down all passwords and contacts. This way should you die before your loved one they can access your computer and your accounts. 

Keep all your important papers together. This includes birth and death certificates, copy of the will, marriage/divorce certificates, Social Security information, insurance and financial documents.

Make a contact list of important people including the person's accountant or financial advisor, banks, insurance companies, doctor, phone, and utility companies. You don't want to be scrambling around trying to find out who was employed by the deceased. 

After it's all over

Is it ever really over? Probably not for a long while. Each of us grieves differently. While I'm very quick to make decisions, I am very slow to let go. I know this about myself, so it won't surprise me if I take a while before I move on.

The important thing is not to make any decision hastily. I'm always saying that if Greg left me first, I'd sell this house in a New York minute, but I know that's not true. 

I wouldn't want to live in such a big house alone, even with all our pets, but I wouldn't leave right away. I'd want time to do a proper search for a new home and hold a thousand-and-one garage sales getting rid of all of Greg's tools. When one half of you leaves there are a myriad of interlocking details involved in letting go and moving on.

Grief is such an odd creature. It holds and molds us all differently. No matter what happens, once you've done all that's required and necessary, give yourself time to make decisions for yourself. You don't owe anyone anything more at this point, so do what's best for you in your own good time.

Your loved one would want nothing less for you.

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Mike Keyton said…
Passwords! Thank you for that 😀 mind you, Bernadette laughed - my passwords are largely illegible and scattered all over the placev
Maria Zannini said…
Mike: My problem is that Greg will update his passwords but either won't write it down or forgets to tell me to write them down in my book. That's crucial long before we ever die.