What Should I Do When a Death Occurs?

What Should I Do When a Death Occurs?

When a loved one dies, you’ll have to cope with a wide range of emotions. You may feel shock, confusion, sadness, loneliness, anger, anxiety, guilt, relief or any combination of these.

Yet while you’re experiencing these emotions, there are also practical concerns you’ll have to take into consideration. You’ll want to inform family and friends of the loved one’s passing. You’ll have to alert various government agencies and businesses as well. You’ll have to start planning the service, or even make decisions regarding what kind of service to hold if there has been no prearrangement.

Getting through the hours, days and weeks following the death of a loved one can be difficult, but this guide will walk you through the steps you need to take and give you back some feeling of control.


  1. Call your clergy, family members and friends to be with you after the death of your loved one. If this was an unexpected death, you should call emergency services first.
  2. Let yourself experience what has happened. You may want to say your goodbyes, touch or hold your loved one, or simply sit in quiet contemplation beside them. There is no wrong way to react. When family and close friends arrive, spend time telling stories and sharing memories. This will help you begin the grieving process.
  3. Take this time to honor familial or cultural traditions. For example, many cultures have customs regarding bathing or clothing the body. Falling back on these rituals helps us in many ways. It allows us to mark and honor the passing of our loved one; to reflect on the past, deal with the present, and look to the future; to deal with our sense of loss and grief and to build stronger bonds with others who have been left behind.

The First Few Hours or the Next Day

  1. Call the funeral home, mortuary or medical school about transporting the body. This does not have to be done the instant you become aware of the death, but when you’re ready to surrender the body—usually after the goodbyes are finished. If the deceased prearranged with National Cremation, one call to (855) 469-9474 is all that is necessary.
  2. Contact the people who can help arrange the service. There are a number of options for the final disposition of the body with burial, cremation and body donation being most common. If the deceased left no prearrangements, which should be outlined in his or her will, the funeral director can help you make decisions and plans about the disposition of the body and services.

The First Few Days

  1. Alert other family and friends, employers (if applicable) and faith and volunteer communities about the death.
  2. Notify the local newspaper of the death and include the location of the service and any special requests (donations, flowers, etc.) in the obituary.

The First Weeks and Months

  1. Obtain a number of certified copies of the death certificate. 10 – 15 are recommended, depending on the complexity of the estate.
  2. Contact the Social Security office.
  3. Contact the life insurance company of the deceased.
  4. Explore eligibility for Civil Service and Veteran’s benefits.
  5. Notify the lawyer or executor of the estate.
  6. Alert credit card companies.
  7. Cancel prescriptions, newspapers and other subscriptions.
  8. Cancel automatic bill payments.
  9. Seek help to work through the grieving process if you feel unable to cope.

Cremation services are a popular option chosen for a variety of reasons. Many families choose it for the low cost and simplicity, while others choose to reduce their eternal land use.

National Cremation is the nation’s oldest and largest provider of cremation services. We’ve been helping families like you make final arrangements since 1973.

If you have an immediate need, please contact us by filling out this form or calling (855) 469-9474. We’ll focus on the details during this difficult time so you can focus on what matters most.

If you need assistance prearranging your final wishes, please click here to contact us.

Special thanks to Samantha Maiden, service manager of National Cremation Portland/Tigard, OR for her support and contributions to this post.