At the time of the death

There is no right or wrong way to feel after someone close to you has died. Everyone reacts differently. You may have known that your relative or friend was dying, but sometimes a person may die unexpectedly.

Your relative or friend may have died at home, or in a hospital or hospice. If you are alone when your relative or friend dies, you may find it helpful to have someone with you soon after the death to support you.

If your relative or friend dies at home, you will need to let the person’s GP or district nurse know what has happened. They will come to confirm the death. 

If your relative or friend dies in hospital or a hospice, a doctor or nurse will confirm the death. 

Once the death is confirmed, you can contact a funeral director. The funeral director can give you more information about what to do next.

If your relative or friend dies unexpectedly, it can be difficult to come to terms with. The ward staff or GP will talk to you and try to answer any questions you have.

When the person dies

There is no right or wrong way to feel when a relative or friend dies. Everyone reacts differently. You may feel shocked, numb or as if everything is unreal. Or you may feel relieved that they are now at peace. You may have known that your relative or friend was dying and been preparing yourself for that. But sometimes a person dies unexpectedly, and this can be a huge shock. You may have many different feelings.

Your relative or friend may have died at home or in a hospital, hospice or care home. If you are alone when your relative or friend dies, it may be helpful to have someone with you soon after the death to support you. This might be a relative, friend, religious adviser or someone from the health or social care team.

It is important to do what feels right for you. Do not feel that you have to do anything straight away or rush to get things done. You can spend some time just sitting with the person who has died.

If your relative or friend is donating their body, organs or body tissues, you should tell a doctor as soon as possible.

Many cultures and religions have ceremonies or rituals that are important when someone dies. A spiritual or religious adviser can help you with these.


If your relative or friend dies at home

If your relative or friend dies at home, you may be alone with them. You may not be certain that they have died, and you may be unsure of what to do next.

You can take your time, as you may find it difficult to think clearly at first. You may have some written information from the GP, district nurse, or palliative care team about what to do. Follow that if you can. If you are on your own, you may want to call a family member or friend to be with you.

You will need to tell the person’s GP or district nurse what has happened. They will come as soon as they can to confirm the death. If the person dies when the GP surgery is shut, you should call the out-of-hours doctor.

If the death is expected, the person’s GP will confirm the death and write a medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD). The GP will also give you a form called a Notice to informant, which tells you how to register the death.

If a district nurse or out-of-hours doctor comes, they will confirm the death. But only a GP who has seen the person alive in the last 14 days (or 28 days in Northern Ireland) can complete the MCCD. 

If the GP has not seen the person in this time, you will need to get the MCCD and Notice to informant form from your GP surgery. This may take a few days. You can call the GP surgery to find out when the forms will be ready for you to collect.

When a nurse or doctor has confirmed the death, you can contact the funeral director (undertaker). You do not need to do this straight away if you would like to spend some time with your relative or friend. Funeral directors are available 24 hours a day. They will explain what you need to do.

When you have the MCCD, you need to take it to the local registrars’ office to register the death.

It can be a shock to see the MCCD, as this may be the first time you see the details in writing. Some people describe feeling as if they are being told all over again that their relative or friend has died. You may want to have someone with you when you read it.

If you have questions about what is written on the MCCD, you may be able to ask your GP at the time. Or you could arrange to speak to them later.

From 2018, in some areas, a medical examiner will need to see and agree with the MCCD before the GP gives it to you. Your doctor can tell you more about this.


If your relative or friend dies in hospital or a hospice

Your relative or friend may be in a hospital or hospice when they die. You may or may not be with them. 

Even if their death was expected, you may feel shocked and numb and unsure what to do next. The care staff should support and guide you through the next few hours.

A doctor or nurse will confirm the death. If the death was expected, they will give you a medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD). You will need this to register the death. You may have to collect the certificate from the hospital the next working day. The nurses will tell you what you need to do.

After you have left the hospital or hospice, your relative or friend’s body may be moved to a mortuary. If you want to see your relative or friend, you will be told who to contact. The undertakers will collect the body from the hospital or hospice.

I knew the moment she had gone. I rang the bell and the night staff came in. And I said, ‘My mum’s gone.’ They checked her pulse and said, ‘Yes, she has.’ And they left me for a while and I just sat there holding her hands. It was very, very calm.

Georgina


If the death was not expected

If your relative or friend dies unexpectedly, you may be totally unprepared. You may find it difficult to believe what has happened. The ward staff or GP will talk to you about what has happened and try to answer any questions you have.

If the death was not expected, or if the person dies at home and had not been seen by their GP in the last 14 days (in England, Scotland, and Wales) or 28 days (in Northern Ireland), the death will be referred to:

  • the coroner (a doctor or lawyer who investigates unexpected deaths) in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland
  • the procurator fiscal in Scotland.

This is a standard procedure.

Most deaths that are reported to the coroner or procurator fiscal are natural. Sometimes, the cause of death is not clear. The coroner will decide if an examination of the body (post mortem) is needed to find the cause of death. If a death is referred to the coroner or procurator fiscal, the funeral may sometimes be delayed.

You can find more information about what to do after a death at:

The Bereavement Advice Centre has information on what to do when someone dies.


Caring for the body

The funeral director will arrange for your relative or friend’s body to be taken to the funeral home. Some people like to keep the person’s body at home before the funeral. The funeral director can give you information about how long the body can be at home and what you need to do.

The funeral director will take care of your relative or friend’s body. They will carefully wash and dry them, and close their eyelids and mouth. They will tidy and sometimes wash their hair. If you would like to, you can help the funeral directors wash and dress your relative or friend. Let them know as soon as possible so they can arrange this.

They may also ask what you would like them to be dressed in. This could be an outfit or jewellery that had special meaning to them.

You can tell the funeral director if there are any cultural or religious practices you would like to be followed.

Some people want to be embalmed. This is when the body is disinfected and treated with chemicals to help preserve it. The funeral director can give you more information about this.

Back to After someone dies

Practical tasks

There will be practical things to do after someone dies, but take your time and ask for help if you need it.

Funeral arrangements

Funerals allow relatives and friends to get together to remember the person who has died and say goodbye to them.