What to Do When Someone Dies
The death of a loved one is always a shock, whether sudden or after a long illness. Here’s what to do when somebody passes away.
While we pray that a person who has passed away will rest in peace, for the family the time after death is stressful as so many things need to be done — aside from grieving.
If the loved one is a Catholic and about to die, call the parish priest for administration of the Last Rites. If death occurs before the sacrament could be administered, call the priest (or, if in hospital, the chaplain). The Roman Ritual includes prayers that can be said in the presence of a dead person, and a priest or deacon may bless the body with holy water.
Immediately after a loved one’s death, don’t reach for the phone. First take time to cry, pray and reflect, in silence or with those around you. Once you have done that, inform those who need to know.
Then comes the admin: Is there a will? Where is it, and who is the executor? Is there a life insurance? A funeral plan? Is the bank account which covers day-to-day expenses in the deceased’s name? If so, that may cause all kinds of cashflow problems as it’s not legal to draw money from a deceased’s bank account. But the surviving spouse can approach the bank for access to a credit facility in their name to pay for funeral or living expenses while the estate is being wound up.
When a loved one who is Catholic is about to die, call the parish priest for administration of the Last Rites. Call him also if death occurs before the sacrament could be administered.
A doctor will have to certify the person’s death. If the loved one died in a hospital, hospice or care facility, let them know which funeral home you would like to appoint for further arrangements. It’s an important choice to make. Make sure the funeral home is duly registered and accredited. Funeral homes should have 24-hour service. First, schedule a time for the funeral home to collect the deceased’s body.
The funeral home usually liaises with parishes, cemeteries, crematoriums and so on, to make sure that all arrangements go smoothly.
Planning the funeral
The funeral arrangements require much thought: Where, when, how? Will there be a vigil or wake? Ideally, all of us have written down our funeral and burial preferences, leaving copies in a safe but accessible place, with family members and, if possible, with an attorney. Don’t include these wishes just in the will, which may be opened only after the funeral.
Tony Wyllie & Co Funeral Home, based in Cape Town, suggest that it is important to reflect on the life of the loved one. How would they have liked their life to be celebrated? If the funeral is going to be in a Catholic church, this involves also the question of whether to have a full funeral Mass or a service. The programme of the Mass or service, including the suggested readings and hymns, must be discussed with the parish priest. Who will deliver a tribute or eulogy? Speak to the priest about whether he allows such tributes during the Mass or service, and if he does, at what point.
Once the parish has agreed to a date for the funeral, collaborate with the funeral director to plan the funeral or service, and the manner of burial. Funeral directors are, by the nature of their work, experienced in this and can give good guidance in arranging a personalised service.
Then prepare the obituary. What to include in the funeral programme? Share the funeral information in an appropriate way (bearing in mind the Covid restrictions, if they still apply). And on the day, remember the loved one, with grief but maybe also with gentle humour.
The funeral home usually arranges for the deceased’s death certificate. Once this and all other important documents have been gathered, the admin begins. The bank must be informed of the death, insurance companies contacted, memberships cancelled and so on. And the executor will wind up the estate, which can be a drawn-out process.
Don’t forget to thank those who have accompanied you on this journey of bereavement. And keep on praying for the loved one’s repose.
With thanks to Tony Wyllie & Co for important information.
This article was published in the November 2021 issue of The Southern Cross magazine