What to Do First When Death Occurs

The death of a loved one is overwhelming and each of us react differently as we go through our own process of dealing with a loss. In most instances, some level of arrangements is made prior to a death occurring. However, we frequently have families who contact a cremation service provider only after the death has occurred. Typically this is because the death was sudden or sometimes a family is simply not ready to deal with it beforehand.  In both of these cases, families find themselves having to make quick decisions to ensure their loved one is cared for properly.

Deaths occurring at a residence or nursing facility can be especially difficult when no pre-arrangements have been made simply because, unlike most hospitals, they are not set up to properly take care of the deceased. In some instances, especially with an unexpected death, families don’t know what to do, so their first call is to us. Recently, I had a family from Los Angeles call us first, before notifying the authorities. If you have never been the person present when a death occurs, it is perfectly reasonable that you would contact a funeral establishment first as you know that is typically a first step. However, a cremation provider or funeral home can’t assist until death has been legally pronounced by an acceptable authority (such as a physician or medical examiner).

In the vast majority of circumstances, there are trained and trustworthy professionals available to immediately help guide you in the right direction.

  • If death occurs in a hospital or nursing home and you are the first to be aware of it, alert the nursing staff. A doctor will confirm the death. The institution will need to know which cremation service to call and will take care of that task for you.
  • If the death occurs at home and is expected, call your doctor if he or she can be reached at that time. If you call 911, inform the operator the death was expected. If hospice is involved, notify the on-call nurse.
  • If the death was unattended and unexpected, no matter where it occurred, call 911. Police and emergency medical providers will determine the next steps.
  • If the death occurs far from home and there is a prearranged cremation plan, contact the creation service provider who has the prearrangements. They should help arrange transport of the body to their facility or help identify a local provider who can assist you.

Of course, the best way to avoid much of the anxiety is pre-planning the final arrangements. Families in Texas, Los Angeles and San Francisco who already have a working relationship with aCremation can get expert and compassionate guidance from our trained professionals, toll-free at 1-877-353-3626. That number is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Pre-arrangements greatly reduce the number of questions survivors will need to answer after a death. It also helps reduce uncertainty and fear of making a decision that goes against what the loved one would have wanted. aCremation has a comprehensive list of resources, including California- and Texas-specific forms and releases. When a coroner or medical examiner is involved, there are specific releases that will need to be completed by the Next of Kin or appointed agent. This is true in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and most other cities. Releases are available on aCremation’s website.

Mary Beth Barnett

About Mary Beth Barnett

Mary Beth Barnett is a licensed Funeral Director in Texas. Her involvement with aCremation began before our doors opened – researching how we could provide affordable cremations and still keep quality and service standards high. Through this process, she developed a passion for working with families who are going through one of the most stressful phases of life – planning for death.

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