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What to do when someone dies at Christmas

A bereaved man takes in sad news, in a room decorated for Christmas

Time comes to standstill when someone you loved dies, but even at Christmas time, help is just a phone call away. Dedicated funeral directors are always on call when the worst happens and the festive season is no exception.

“Families deserve our services on Christmas Day just as much as any other day,” says funeral director Scott Watters.

“Christmas is a very special, family-focussed period, and losing a loved one at this time of year deserves every bit of support we can give.”

Although contacting a funeral director during this time of year is a call that no one wants to make, it can be reassuring to know that help is at hand and can advise you on what to do when someone dies at Christmas.

What to do if someone dies unexpectedly at home

If a loved one has died unexpectedly at home, call 911 as quickly as possible to ask for an ambulance and the police.

When the paramedics arrive, they’ll be able to confirm the death of your loved one. The cause of death also needs to be verified by the nearest available doctor. Once a medical professional has pronounced the death of your loved one, you should start to think about which funeral home to use for their funeral arrangements.

Apart from taking care of your loved one until the day of the funeral, the funeral home will also file for a death certificate. In most states this must be done within 72 hours.

An unexpected death may need to be reported to a coroner, who will investigate the cause of death. They may need to hold a post-mortem or inquest for this to be done.

If you’re expecting someone’s death

If the death was expected, perhaps due to terminal illness, your loved one’s doctor needs to be notified as quickly as possible. When the doctor arrives they’ll be able to confirm the death . You may then call a funeral director of your choice to remove the body, and start arranging funeral plans.

“We are the ambassadors of the funeral care industry. It’s our duty to help bereaved families whenever they need it and provide a complete range of advice to friends and family at such an unfortunate time” says Scott.

If someone dies at hospital or in a nursing home

Most hospitals have their own morgue that will take care of looking after your loved one’s body until the funeral director arrives. The hospital staff will be able to assist you with some of the initial arrangements, such as contacting the funeral home.

Getting a death certificate

To get a death certificate you will need to provide the chosen funeral director with your loved one’s personal information within 72 hours of your loved one’s death.

Ordering a copy of the death certificate will cost a fee, which can vary widely between states, from approximately $10 to $40. Additional copies are then usually cheaper.

Coping with grief at Christmas

“Everyone is unique, and deals with grief differently” says Scott, “but Christmas is filled with heightened emotions so dealing with the loss of a loved one over the Christmas period can be especially difficult.

“Having support from family, friends and community is invaluable and no-one should feel isolated and unable to express their grief. Having lost my own father just before Christmas in 2003 I know sometimes we need to find ways to still make Christmas special for children and other family members so, if it feels right, raise a glass, toast the season and celebrate life.”

For more information on the grieving process, our Help & Resources may be able to help.