Preparing for a Home Death and Funeral

Many of us would like to die in our own home. Although it may not always be possible, it is far more likely when one is prepared. Much of this information also applies to a death in a hospital or care facility, as the body can be returned home.

If the death of your loved one is expected within a few months, your physician or nurse practitioner can issue a Notification of Expected Home Death (EDITH) form. If the person dies of the expected cause, there is no need to call 911; you would simply inform your health practitioner during office hours that the death has occurred. If you have serious health issues, you can initiate and have your physician or nurse practitioner sign a No Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (No CPR) form. With this document in place, when the death occurs of the expected cause, it is not necessary to call 911. Instead, the steps on the back of the form would be followed. Without either an EDITH or No CPR form, a death would be treated as sudden and unexpected. When 911 is called, this sets into motion a system that is beyond the scope of this article.

Prior to a death occurring, having the after death paperwork prepared is helpful. Gather the information and documents needed to register the death with Vital Statistics, and fill in the necessary forms as much as you are able. Obtain a Private Transfer Permit Application and complete this as much as possible, including a signature from the executor. DeathCaring Collective volunteers will likely be available to assist with this, and you can refer to “Documentation Required When A Death Occurs” on the website. A burial or cremation cannot take place before the death is registered, and it can only be registered during regular business hours. Preparing for and streamlining the documentation process can be critical in dictating how long a body must remain in the home before the burial or cremation can take place.

Keep in touch with your network of friends, family, death doula, and/or volunteers, and let them know you need their support. Determine who you would like to be there with you when or shortly after the death occurs. If you have the energy, arrange support for others you anticipate needing it as well.

Ask your dying loved one if they have requests for religious or spiritual support, and arrange this. These beliefs and rituals, even when dormant, can bring comfort in the final days, as can pictures or objects treasured by the dying person.

Keep in mind that sometimes a ‘gatekeeper’ is needed for the death journeyer. This is to ensure their limited time and energy is used wisely. Those who would like to spend time and say good-bye may need to be prioritised, scheduled, and limited in order to honour the needs of the one doing the important work of journeying into death.

If the body will be washed and dressed in the home, have supplies ready for this. The DeathCaring Collective has a kit that can be borrowed with everything you might need. This is where a group of experienced volunteers, whom you could meet ahead of time, can be extremely helpful.

If the body is to be shrouded, material for this can be obtained. If dressed, these garments can be decided upon and made ready. If a casket is to be built, this work can begin. Remember that if a natural burial is chosen, the clothing and casket must be biodegradable and, preferably, locally sourced. There are caskets on the island available for purchase.

Prepare a list of the people you would like to be informed after the death has occurred, and give this list to someone willing to make the calls. Social media can be a helpful way to let the community know about a death, but better for close family and friends to be informed in a more personal way.

It could be helpful for the dying person to simplify their estate by giving things to their beneficiaries before their death, rather than have the executor do so afterward.

People often die with their eyes and mouth open. After death, be prepared to gently close the eyes; you may need to place something soft on them. Tying a soft scarf gently around the head, or tucking a pillow under the chin, will close the mouth. After a few hours, they will remain closed. Be aware that the time with a body right after death is precious. Do not rush or allow anyone to rush you. Be present, take your time, breathe deeply. The veil between the worlds is thin; you may find yourself in a liminal space. Most cultures see death as a process, not just a moment in time. Allow the process to unfold; be quiet, be gentle, be reverent.

There are many ways, including tasks on the list above, to distract ourselves from the pain of losing someone dear to us. Be present. Don’t be shy to ask for help, do your best to show up as much as you are able, take good care of yourself, and savour each precious remaining day. Even when death is not foreseeable, may each of us appreciate our finite days on earth.