If Someone Dies at Home – What to Do Next
When someone dies at home one’s initial reaction is always shock. Whether it has been expected or sudden, one feels numb and disorientated. Sadness and intense grief follow soon afterwards.
Simple decisions seem overwhelming. When a loved one dies at home, especially if the partner is alone at the time of death, it is sometimes impossible to think of what to do.
The important thing is not to panic, remain level-headed and take stock of the situation – is the person really dead or have they just passed out?
When Someone Dies at Home – Stay Calm
- If the deceased is in bed and on his back, that is good. If the person died while lying on their side, turn the deceased on their back, and make sure the limbs are straightened.
- Take a few minutes for yourself. Let realization wash over you, say your goodbyes, and just meditate. Wait until you feel composed.
- Gently close the eyes if they are open.
- If necessary, put their false teeth in.
Time to make some necessary phone calls –
- First to the paramedics, especially if it is during the night. In South Africa it would be Netcare 911, or ER 24. They will have to come and pronounce the person dead, and fill in a report.
- The next of kin will need to be informed.
- Call a close friend or relative. If they could come and be with you in the first hours after death, it would be a big comfort.
- The funeral home needs to be contacted, as they will come and remove the body. By law, in South Africa, a death certificate stating the cause of death must be filled in by a medical professional. The funeral directors will also arrange for the death certificate to be filled in by the GP, taking the paramedic’s report with them.
- In the morning call the doctor, the employer, relatives and friends. Also the minister of religion or humanist – the person who will conduct the funeral.
Establish the Cause
If the death was expected, as in the elderly or terminally ill, the GP would be aware that death was imminent, and it would not be necessary to call the paramedics. The funeral home would fetch the body, and liaise with the doctor within the first 24 hours after death.
When someone dies at home and you are the first to arrive, a priority would be to look for anything suspicious, like forced entry, items missing, or suicide.
If you suspect foul play, or the death was caused by any kind of trauma, violence, or accident, call 10111 or the local SAPS (Police) They will organize the removal of the body to the State Mortuary for a post-mortem. Don’t move anything. Afterwards a cleaning company can be used to clean up the room if necessary.
An autopsy need not be done if the death was due to natural causes. However, sometimes the family wants one done privately, to bring closure to the sudden death of their loved one. A private autopsy, arranged by a funeral home, costs about R4000.
Important Little Aspects
Lastly, if you are responsible for taking charge of the time immediately after a death at home, remember some other important things too such as taking care of pets, checking the contents of the refrigerator, emptying rubbish bins, securing the residence and the removal of all valuable into safe keeping.
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