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When a Death Occurs

A woman holding the hand of her spouse

When a Death Occurs

Many questions and concerns can come up between the time of death and when the family sits down to make arrangements. Below is helpful information on what you may be able to expect or actions that can be taken when that time comes. 

Once the Death Has Occurred

Depending on where the death has occurred, there will be different steps taken to contact the funeral home. If the death is at a hospital or while on hospice, please check with the staff as to when the funeral director can be contacted. If the death was unanticipated, call 911 first to go through the proper emergency procedures.

Keep in Mind: The funeral director or answering service may ask questions to be better prepared for transport and preparation. These include:

  • Have any pre-arrangements been made with the funeral home?
  • Has the body been released by medical personnel / emergency services?
  • Are there any family members who wish to see the deceased before transport?
  • If so, when would you like for the funeral home to arrive?
  • What are the family’s desires for services? Is embalming or cremation requested?
  • Has the family given permission to embalm if needed?
  • If the body is located at a residence, are there steps? Where is the deceased located?
  • What size is the deceased?
  • Where should the funeral director park upon arriving at the location of the deceased?
  • Who is the family’s point of contact and what is a number where they can be reached?
  • Is there a church or clergy member that could be contacted on the family’s behalf?

Please feel free to notify the funeral director of any other questions or concerns you may have during this time.

The Removal

The funeral director will arrive with a removal vehicle, usually a hearse or van, within an hour or so of being notified. The family should be given an estimated timeline and informed of any possible delays (distance, traffic, weather, etc.) during the initial call.

The funeral director’s equipment will include a removal cot, sheets, gloves, and other items necessary to make a safe and dignified transfer from the location of the deceased to the removal vehicle. Before beginning the transfer, they will check with the family as to their wishes to leave the immediate area, stay and observe, or even assist in the removal. There is no right answer. Family and friends should do what they are comfortable with.

The body will be typically wrapped in a sheet or placed in a pouch for transport. There are buckles, similar to a seatbelt, that will secure the deceased to the cot. Finally, a zippered cover will be placed over the deceased. This is all done to provide safety and dignity to the deceased.

The funeral director will bring paperwork to be filled out by the family. These forms often include authorization to embalm, authorization to cremate, a property form (for any items or clothing being taken with the deceased), and notice of removal form.

Keep in Mind:  Some families like to send some items with the deceased at the time of removal. These Include:

  • Clothing and undergarments for the deceased to wear during transport
  • Clothing and undergarments for the deceased to wear during services
  • Jewelry (including wedding rings, glasses, rosary, etc.)
  • A recent photo of the deceased, which can be very helpful for the preparation of the deceased and obituary
  • Blankets, pillows or bed sheets

None of these items are required, but if they are included, please communicate with the funeral home where each should go (example: bed sheets should be returned, transport clothing can be discarded, etc.) The funeral home will provide a property form to record all items being taken with the deceased.

Before the director leaves, it is a good idea to have a plan in place for the next steps. When and where will arrangements take place? Does anyone need to be contacted (clergy, other family)? Does the family have some tentative service plans in place already? If there are other questions, feel free to ask them as well.

Sometimes after the funeral director leaves, new questions or thoughts arise. Many also feel compelled to start making “arrangements” now – coordinating flowers, food, participants, etc. Feel free to write down any desires or ideas you might have to be shared with your funeral director at the time of arrangements. They will be happy to address any concerns, help coordinate the different components of the service, and take care of any other details on your behalf.