What To Do When Someone Dies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Families

What To Do When Someone Dies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Families
3 minute read

A loved one has just died.

You’re not sure what to do.

It’s overwhelming, and grief is knocking loudly (or maybe that grief has already moved in and made itself annoyingly very at home).

You might be reeling; you might still be in shock, even if this death was expected (it doesn't make it hurt any less), you might be feeling any number of things. There is no one way to grieve, no one reaction that’s recognizable for all, and the list of to-dos can feel like it’s piling up and quickly.

What do you need to do (especially within the first few hours)?

We’re here to provide a tether amidst the noise and deep waves. While we certainly can’t take away the pain, we can provide support and resources to help you navigate an already challenging time.

Firstly, if it’s helpful for you, we try hard not to give advice or shoulds, while there certainly are a few things that need to happen, your wellbeing is also of utmost importance. If it makes sense and you’re able, consider creating a little bit of space for yourself and this grief. Loss and grief are hard; there’s no way around that reality. Once you’ve taken the time, you need with the deceased, if you’re able, lean on your network to support tackling what comes next, the list.

Right Away & Within the First 24 Hours

  1. If at home and an expected death: call the doctor who was caring for the deceased person
  2. If at home and an unexpected death: call emergency services first
  3. Locate final instructions
  4. If applicable, deal with organ and tissue donation
  5. Contact funeral home/transfer service to arrange care of the deceased person’s body

Once the deceased body has been cared for, it’s also important to consider who else to call:

  • Family and friends
  • Both yours and the deceased’s work colleagues and employers
  • Executor
  • Religious organization

Once you’ve taken action on the critical components of the first 24 hours, you will need to consider the next steps, many of which are outlined below.

According to the Government of Ontario, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Who to call first
  2. Organ and tissue donation
  3. Make arrangements
  4. Burial permit
  5. Death registration
  6. Death certificate
  7. You may need to request multiple copies of the death certificate in order to:
  8. Cancel benefits
  9. Claim benefits
  10. Make a life insurance claim
  11. Sell the house of the deceased person, etc.
  12. Wills and estates
  13. Deeds and titles
  14. Finances
  15. Insurance
  16. Legal papers
  17. Personal information
  18. Who to notify
  19. Cancelling services etc.
  20. Driver’s Licence
  21. Parking Permit
  22. Oversee the deceased’s finances

This checklist by the Canadian Cancer Society is a clear and concise resource.

While this checklist is specific to Washington state, it may provide a helpful overview/guideline.

Once you’ve obtained proof of death, you will also need to inform the Federal Government. “It is important to report the death of a beneficiary to the federal government as quickly as possible to avoid benefit overpayments.” To learn more, visit their website here.

Caring For Yourself

While grief is a unique and personal experience, there is a range of emotions and reactions that may be recognizable. Some grievers find it helpful to talk about their experiences and seek out support. If this is of interest, consider:

CAMH shares a number of helpful resources in this PDF.

Moving With Grief

The grief experience impacts our physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual well-being, and it can sometimes feel like the sadness will never end. Accessing resources and support is one way to alleviate even some of the pain and sorrow.

As this quote wisely shares:

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.
—Anne Lamott

While we can’t ease the pain, we are here to support you navigate these difficult times. Our team of licenced funeral directors are on call for you and your loved ones whenever you need. To learn more and access additional resources, visit www.eirene.ca.

Disclosure: This content has been shared for informational purposes only.