After Death: What Happens Next?
Even when a death is expected, it can be difficult to prepare for the actual moment of death. Our role at Crossroads Hospice is to support the family through this time.
"It's our privilege to care for these patients and their families, and each one is unique," says Daniela O'Neil, Crossroads Hospice Assistant Clinical Director. "We honor their wishes and go by what they need."
The Final Hours
Leading up to the moment of death, you may notice signs and symptoms that death is imminent. Those signs may include:
- A surge of energy
- Decreased blood pressure
- Glassy eyes
- Half-opened eyes
- Irregular breathing
- Increased restlessness
- Purple mottling on the hands and feet
- Weak pulse
- Decreased urine output
Learn more about the physical and emotional changes that can occur shortly before death.
Families Saying Goodbye
During this time, families may stay with their loved one. If a patient is struggling, it can be helpful for the family to reassure them that they'll be okay and give permission to the patient to make this final transition.
Sometimes a patient will struggle to hang on while family is in the room, only to pass away as soon as loved ones leave the room for a moment, often as though the patient was waiting for that opportunity to leave peacefully on their own.
At Death: Physical Changes
When death occurs, the person stops breathing. There is no heartbeat and no response. The eyes and mouth are slightly open and may be gently closed. As the body's muscles relax, the bowel and bladder may release. This is a normal part of the process.
Our team provides post-mortem care including a full body bath. Any tubes or ports are removed. The patient is then dressed in clean clothing. The family is welcome to participate as much or as little in the process as they would like.
As soon as possible, the death must be officially pronounced by a registered nurse, physician, coroner or medical examiner. The person pronouncing death must then complete paperwork which certifies the time, place and cause of death in preparation for the death certificate. If the death occurs in a facility, they may have their own additional protocol for this process.
In the moments immediately after death, family members can take the time they need to be with their loved one's body. Some families sit with their loved one. Some share stories. Some perform a religious ritual.
There is no right or wrong emotional response.
It is okay to cry.
It is okay if you don't cry.
Every culture, every family, every individual has a different way of processing the loss of a loved one.
The Funeral Home
The funeral home is contacted after death is declared so they can transport the body. Again, families can stay with their loved one while his or her body is prepared for transport or they can have the funeral home handle this privately. Some families request that a rosary or other momento be placed with their loved one before they leave the home or facility.
A Time of Mourning
After the death of your loved one, the Crossroads Hospice bereavement team is available to anyone needing support. We also offer The Journey After, a booklet providing insight into the grief recovery process and support available along the way. Request a copy.
If you have questions about how Crossroads Hospice supports families after the death of a loved one, please call us at 888-564-3405 or visit our website for information on Grief Recovery Groups in your area.
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