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Looking after someone who has died

In the time immediately after someone has died, you might be tempted to phone a funeral director to collect their body as soon as possible. But if that person’s death was expected, wasn’t caused by a dangerous or infectious disease, and they’ve seen a doctor quite recently, there’s no need to rush. In fact, you’ll probably feel a lot better if you don’t.

Spending time with a person after their death can be comforting and healing. It can feel like an almost spiritual time; a few precious hours or days in which you can rest, take a breath and begin the process of coming to terms with their death before the flurry of activity that comes with planning a funeral.

Arrange to have a medical professional verify the death, and then go and get some sleep. The next morning, call your chosen funeral director, but tell them you’d like them to come in several hours or in a day or two. In fact, keeping someone at home for up to three days is quite common and neither complicated nor scary. Here’s what you need to know.

  • A person doesn’t suddenly become a biohazard just because they’ve died. Enjoy this time with them, just as you did before their death. Hold their hand, sit with them, talk to them if it helps you.

  • Turn off the heating in the room, and place sealed ice packs on the person’s stomach.

  • When no-one’s with the person, cover their body in a sheet, tucking it around the edges of the bed, and completely covering their face, too.

  • Close windows, even if it’s cold outside, to keep nature out. There’s very little that can go wrong, but flies are definitely not your friend.

  • If you’d like to, you can wash the person with water and essential oils, wash or comb their hair, brush their teeth and so on. It’s lovely to care for them in this way and will help you to know that they are ready to leave you when you’re ready to let them go.

You can find more resources on the website of Holly Lyon-Hawk, an award-winning Kent-based funeral director who supports families both before and after a death.

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