This is a tough one. But that’s why you are here. To learn.
My loved one is expected to die. If she dies at night do I need to call the ambulance and the police?
This is a question I’m often asked, when visiting dying patients in their homes.
"What do we do when ___ dies?
You do not have to call the police or the ambulance, if it is an expected death, or if someone has a terminal illness or if the person Is elderly. This is not an emergency, there is nothing for anyone to do right away.
Please don’t rush to do anything, sit with your person, and be there with them, this is a sacred time, which you will never get back.
You may want to call family or friends to be there with you.
After your loved one has died, if you can, it is advised that they are laid on their back, with their arms either, across the chest, or by their sides. Preferably using one small pillow under the head. If the bed has a raised head rest, then lay it flat.
The room should be kept cool, you can have air conditioning turned on, or a fan, if it’s cool outside you can open a window. Some people feel opening a window allows to soul to be released.
Your family member, or friend that has died, will loose their body warmth and become cooler to touch, their colour will probably become pale at first, then you will notice parts of the body becoming waxy looking and bluey grey and/or blotchy discolouration will occur.
Approximately 2 hours after death, rigor mortis begins to occur in the muscles of the face, and progresses to the limbs and body over the next few hours, this causes the body to harden and become stiff, after around 8 - 12 hours it becomes immovable. This is temporary, for around 24 - 72hrs. The funeral services will be able to move your loved one when the rigor mortis / stiffness wears off, so please don’t worry, if they aren’t in the position you would like them to be. The funeral services will also be able to assist with washing and dressing too.
You can touch your loved one, and lay next to them if you want to. Pets that are around will sometimes want to be close, they are often sensitive to what’s happened.
There are some things you can do after death, but nothing has to be done, you must do what feels right for you. There is no right or wrong way, it is all personal choice.
You may like to wash your loved one, and dress them, or you may be ok with leaving them how they were when they died. The funeral services can help you with this later, if you prefer. Sometimes your loved one may loose body fluids, you can put a small incontinence pad in place, if they don’t already have one on, if you want to.
You may wish to spray their favourite perfume or aftershave, or apply deodorant.
If your loved one has jewellery on, you may wish to remove it, if you want to leave it on, or have help to remove it, discuss this with the funeral services when they arrive.
Sometimes when rolling your loved one , they may have secretions come from their mouth, a small hand towel can be placed on the side of the mouth, you are rolling them towards, just in case.
Some people die with their mouth remaining open. You can put a small rolled towel or pillow under the chin, to hold it closed. Or you can gently tie a bandage or something similar, placed under the chin and tied over the crown of the head, to bring the mouth together. If you want to.
Their eyes may also be open, they may close if you gently shut them. Sometimes, if someone has lost a lot of weight, the area above the eyes looses the fat deposits, and the eyes won’t stay shut, some people lightly tape them shut, or the funeral services will attend to this for you.
If your loved one has a catheter or medicine pump, the person attending to do the assessment should remove these for you.
If children have been involved, they too can still be involved, I have been to many deaths, when the children are present, up on the bed with the dead person, or playing in the room. Try to explain to them what’s happened , in words they understand. Being present helps them understand and grieve in their own way.
When you feel ready you can call the Gp, Palliative Care Team or a service who have been involved, that are happy to do the assessments to confirm your loved one has died. The assessments check for heart beat, respirations, pulse and the eyes reaction to light. And nil response to pain stimuli.
Only call the funeral services after you have the paperwork that confirms your loved one has died, as they need this paperwork to be able to take your loved one to the funeral home.
If you are expecting your loved one to die, it is helpful to check who will do the necessary assessments. If it’s the GP , you would have to check they do house calls, if they don’t, they can hopefully advise you of a GP that does.
I hope this helps to explain what you need to do when someone dies, and those things you can do if you choose to.
Please feel free to ask any questions, if there is anything you are unsure of.