Immediately after someone dies at home

Here are points to guide you if you are with someone at home when they die. The main thing to remember is that there is no rush to do anything. Also, if you are in this situation there will often be nursing staff visiting the house who will be able to advise you.

  1. Note the time you noticed them stop breathing.

  2. STOP – take as much time as you need to do whatever you need to do. It’s not a time to “do the right thing”.

  3. When you are ready, call the GP or out of hours service within a few hours – they must visit to verify the death. Ask approximate time they will come.

  4. Don’t move the person’s body from the place of death, or remove any medical devices until their death has been verified.

  5. While you are waiting for verification of the death it is OK to

  • lay their body straight – their head can be elevated slightly

  • close their mouth – pillow under their chin or a scarf around their head

  • close their eyelids – place a bag of rice or pile of damp tissue over them

  • replace any dentures, using fixative if necessary

  • place a continence pad under their pelvis if there is not already one there.

  1. Be prepared that rigor mortis (natural muscle stiffening) may start after about 3 hours but more usually 6.

  2. Make plans for washing/ dressing their body if you are going to do this – either do it yourself or get help from a community nurse or a funeral director. This is not always necessary, depending on when a person was last washed. For some people this is a very important ritual, but does not necessarily need to happen immediately after death.

  3. Choose if and when you would like a funeral director to visit and/or for the person’s body to be removed. Note that there is usually an extra call out charge at night, and no practical reason not to wait until morning.