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India Association of Western Washington

                               
                                Senior Support Services                                          

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Immediate Tasks at Imminent or After Death

The time immediately following the death of a loved one can be overwhelming and emotional, with grief and bereavement complicated by a seemingly endless number of tasks. The immediate days following the death will be focused on the funeral or cremation and memorial service arrangements. Many people find it difficult to be sure they have taken care of everything. A checklist of things to be done almost immediately by the survivors at imminent or after death of a loved one is provided here.

 

If the person is in a health care facility such as a hospital or nursing home or at home under Hospice care, the staff may be able to inform the family that death is imminent. In that case, the immediate tasks should be started. Since several tasks need to be performed immediately, other willing family members and friends should be assigned different tasks. One person, preferably not the surviving spouse, should take responsibility for the coordination of tasks with due consultation with the surviving spouse.

  • Funeral Home Selection

Hopefully, the person at the end-of-life has made plans as described in Elder Planning and prepared a Quick Reference Binder as described under Estate Data Organizer.  If death is imminent or occurs suddenly, the family should locate the Quick Reference Binder or any other documents that may contain instructions on the person’s wishes regarding the last rites. Other important documents (e.g., life insurance policies) that will be needed later should be located also and carefully saved. If no plans had been made, some family members may know the wishes of the deceased, or the family or community traditions. If previous funeral arrangements have not been contracted with a Funeral Home (undertaker), one should be quickly selected based on the deceased’s known wishes, proximity, recommendations of others, location of the crematorium or cemetery, and cost. A list of undertakers should be readily available in the yellow pages. A list of Funeral Homes that some of our seniors are familiar with is presented here. The health care facility, if any, may have recommendations also. The undertaker will want to know the details of the last rites, flower arrangements, memorial service (if any) and times, types of casket, container for ashes if cremated etc., to estimate the cost. The undertaker will take the deceased, wash and dress him/her, and prepare for the last rites. If the death occurs at home under Hospice care, their staff may do these steps. A family member can choose to participate in this procedure.

The undertaker will help you fill out all the necessary papers to obtain a Death Certificate from the County. The typical personal data that the County will require is presented here. About half a dozen original Certificates should be obtained for various tasks.

 

  • Informing Relatives and Friends

If death is imminent, the potential survivors should inform the people that should be notified immediately. The person may have left a list of people who should be informed, hopefully in the Quick Reference Binder. If the deceased had an email account and left a password, the Address List can be a source. A large number of interested folks can be informed by one email as soon as death does occur. But, those who must travel and be present for the last rites should be contacted by phone as early as possible. The oral or written notice should state if the final rites (e.g. cremation) is a simple private ceremony with only the family and close friends, or others are also invited. If a Memorial Service is planned for another date, that information should be also included. If the deceased had indicated a wish for no public ceremonies, it should be stated that no funeral is planned per the deceased’s wish.

If an obituary is to be published, the local newspapers should be contacted.

  • Organ Donation

The patient or the deceased could have opted to donate organs or tissues. This may be indicated on the driver’s license, if he had indicated it to the licensing authority. He may have also told the family. If any patient is in the hospital and is considered brain-dead but on life sustainment, or is dead, the hospital is required to inform the proper authorities. If the person had indicated in the driver’s license that he is a donor or has registered with the Tissue Bank, the concerned authorities will automatically contact the family. If the person is dead, organs cannot be used; but cornea and tissues may be useful. If the person is at home, the family can inform the physician, the staff of Hospice or the Funeral Home that the person is a donor. If the person has not already indicated that he is a donor, the immediate family members may also choose to make the donation. Once the body is dressed and prepared for the funeral, there should be no visible damage.

In rare cases, one may have instructed that his/her body should be donated for research or education. If that is the case, the receiving institution should be promptly informed. If there has been an autopsy, body damage from an accident, or certain organ donation has been made, the institution may not accept the body.

  •   Final Rites

Depending on the wishes of the deceased or the customs of the family, the deceased may be cremated or buried. Since most Indian Seniors are Hindus, the deceased will most likely be cremated with a Puja.

Hindus from different parts of India follow different rituals for cremation process. Since the Indian community in Western Washington has a lot of diversity, it is difficult to recommend one process. However, for convenience, a simple ceremony is suggested here. Also, a publication by National Council of Temples (U.K.), Hindu Funeral Rites, outlining various aspects of Hindu funeral ceremony and customs is provided for your reference

For the final rites ceremony, an available and acceptable priest or pujari should be chosen. If the family does not know one, some friends who have lost a family member previously may be able to provide names. For priests, a list of local temples are provided below:

Temples that have confirmed provision of last rites/funeral services and availability of their facilities for prayer meetings are listed here.



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