What happens when someone you love dies


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When someone you love dies your whole world can change in an instant. Any range of emotions is normal during this time of grief and shock, from absolute despair and confusion, to a feeling of complete numbness. If you have just lost somebody close to you, then it might help you to understand the process of what happens when someone you love dies.

Here, we explain what you should expect in the coming days and weeks.

First steps after someone dies

When someone you love dies then there are some initial duties that need to be carried out straight away. You or their next of kin will need to…

Obtain a medical certificate

First, you will need to get a medical certificate from their GP or hospital doctor showing the cause of death, and you’ll need this to register the death. If they pass away in a hospital then the hospital will provide this for you. If they didn’t have a GP then you can call the NHS non-emergency number 111 instead.

Waiting for a post-mortem

If the death is reported to a coroner (or a Procurator Fiscal in Scotland) then the coroner may decide that a post-mortem is necessary to establish how your loved one died.

A death may be reported to the coroner for many reasons, including:

  • When the cause of death is unknown
  • If the death was violent or unnatural
  • If the death was sudden and unexplained

Once any inquest is finalised and the cause of death is known, then the death can be registered.

Register the death

Unless the death is reported to a coroner, then you will need to register the death within five days (or eight days in Scotland). You can register the death at any register office, but going to the one closest to where your loved one lived will help to prevent any delays to the process. Visit www.gov.uk/register-offices to find out your nearest offices and then give them a phone call to make an appointment.

When you register the death, you will need to have:

  • The medical certificate
  • Their full name, address, date and place of birth, and their occupation
  • Details about their pension and any other income from public funds
  • If they were married, the name and date of birth of their surviving spouse

Notify family and friends

When someone you love has died, it can be incredibly difficult and time-consuming to notify family and friends with the devastating news. To make things easier, consider calling only those people closest to you and your loved one. You could then ask some of them to call other people for you. It will save you the anguish of repeating yourself all day and also give your loved ones a chance to help you when you need it most, and that’s what everybody will want to do right now.

Check for a funeral plan

Today many people arrange their own funerals by arranging a pre-paid funeral plan. If your loved one took out a funeral plan during their lifetime then all you will need to do is call the telephone number on their documentation and the funeral directors will talk you through everything. All the difficult decisions will have already been made for you, and the main costs covered already.

What happens to your loved one

Your loved one’s body will be transported from where they died and usually taken to the funeral home of your chosen funeral director. After their arrival, their body will be bathed and disinfected, both for their dignity and for the safety of the staff and any family and friends who may wish to visit and view them.

You might decide to have your loved one embalmed to help preserve their body. Embalming the body involves putting embalming fluid into the bloodstream to delay decomposition. The technique is not used as much as it was in the past, but your funeral director will be able to explain the benefits of the process if you want them to.

Your funeral director will ask you about any clothing and other personal items such as jewellery and their glasses, which you might want them to wear. You can request that treasured items are kept with your loved one for viewing in the Chapel of Rest, for example, but have some or all of those items returned to you before the final disposition.

The final step is preparing the body for private or public viewing. Cosmetics will be applied and the hair will be styled according to your wishes.

Many people wish to visit their loved one after death, others choose not to; what you and your family decide to do is entirely up to you. If you do wish to view your loved one then your funeral director will be able to arrange this for you.


About the author

With a Masters from the University of Bristol, Jessica Hanson has worked in the funeral sector for several years, following the latest industry trends and writing about end of life planning. Jessica has previously written as a blogger for the Huffington Post, covering topics such as death positivity, understanding grief and how funerals are changing. You can find Jessica on LinkedIn and Twitter.