Who do you call when someone dies at home and you are shocked and confused? It can feel like your whole world has come crashing down. You may not know who to call or what to do. Let’s walk through the steps you need to take when a loved one dies at home.

What To Do When a Loved One Dies Unexpectedly at Home

First, it is essential to try and stay calm. Staying calm can be difficult, but it is vital to remember that you need to think clearly.

Calling 911 is your next step if the deceased was not under medical or hospice care for a terminal illness. Emergency responders may ask you on the phone to check for a pulse. They will also stay with you on the phone until officers arrive at your location so that you know what to do.

Law enforcement will want to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death. They may talk with you and get a statement about what happened. If they come to your home for an unexpected death, they will also contact the medical examiner’s office.

NC General Statutes § 130A-383 states that someone (usually law enforcement or medical personnel) must notify the county Medical Examiner if an individual suddenly dies:

  • From violence, poisoning, accident, suicide, or homicide 
  • When they had been in apparent good health 
  • When unattended by a physician (or an authorized medical worker)
  • Occurring under any suspicious, unusual, or unnatural circumstance 

When NOT to Call 911

Death is not unexpected or sudden if your loved one was under hospice care for a terminal illness. It may feel that way to you, though. 

There is no need to call 911. Instead, contact the medical agency that was caring for your loved one. The hospice workers will pronounce the death. They have the authority to declare death without calling law enforcement or the medical examiner.

Are You the Next Of Kin?

After contacting officials or medical personnel, it is crucial to notify the deceased’s family members or close friends. They may want to come to the house immediately or also want to help with arrangements.

Whoever is the next of kin (NOK) legally will decide what to do next. According to NC Law NCGSA § 130A-420, this is the order in which you can find the next of kin who will make decisions about the deceased individual:

  • An appointed person over 18 in a healthcare power of attorney or other written legal statement under North Carolina law such as a preneed agreement, a will, or a legal statement signed by two adult witnesses. Or by a signed DD Form 93 laying out who their body goes to after death
  • The court-ordered guardian 
  • Surviving spouse
  • A majority of adult children 
  • Parents 
  • Majority of adult siblings 
  • Majority of the individuals in the classes of the next degrees of kinship
  • Someone who exhibited special care and concern for you, who is willing and able to make decisions about the disposition of your body
  • Public official
  • Institutional representative
  • Any other person willing to assume responsibility

Call Your Local Funeral Home

You may call your local funeral home if you are the next of kin (NOK). They can take care of most of the following steps you need help with. An established and experienced funeral home will understand your stress level and help alleviate your fears and anxiety.

In addition, they will start the entire process for you. A funeral home can do all of this and more for you and your family:

  • Contact the coroner or medical examiner to pronounce the death
  • Come to your home and transport the body to their facility after the next of kin gives permission in person.
  • Order death certificates so that you have what you need to close accounts and handle estate matters
  • Help you and your family plan for what will happen to the body of your loved one. Some options include cremation, green burial, and traditional burial.
  • Work with you and your family to plan a funeral or memorial service honoring and celebrating the life of your loved one.
  • Act as the crematory (if the funeral home is also a direct crematory provider) and allow you to participate in the process
  • Act as host for any services you may have, including visitations, wakes, and funeral or memorial services.
  • Help the grieving at a funeral or memorial to feel welcome and comfortable
  • Offer a chaplain to officiate any services you choose
  • Help you choose urns, caskets, or other items you may need
  • Recommend the best cemetery for your loved one
  • Give you recommendations for grief counseling, including free options
  • Recommend services to memorialize any cremains into jewelry or lockets, or other options for remembrance
  • Help with publishing an obituary to notify everyone
  • Do hair, makeup, and clothing you pick out
  • Set up a LiveFeed of any services for your home-bound or hospitalized loved ones

Why a Funeral or Memorial Matters

A funeral or memorial is a time when all of the friends and family of a deceased individual come together to grieve. Without a time together, loved ones struggle to understand what has happened and begin the mourning process.

Having dedicated time to share memories of the deceased and support one another during this difficult time is crucial. A funeral or memorial also allows you to begin saying goodbye in a safe environment.

For some, attending a funeral or memorial is not possible due to distance or other circumstances. In these cases, ensure that your funeral home can offer a LiveFeed of the service and stay in contact with your loved ones who attend by watching instead of going in person. It’s crucial to talk with and express your feelings of loss while also listening to other loved ones who may be struggling with deep sadness.

You may find that attending the funeral or memorial of someone who died suddenly and without warning is more difficult than you might expect. It is common for loved ones of those who experienced a sudden death to feel guilty, as if they could have done something to prevent it. These are all normal reactions to an abnormal situation. Talking through feelings of guilt can help you understand how better to process them and move forward.

How to Deal with Your Emotions

Handling the shock and anxiety of a sudden death does not happen overnight. You will need to talk with a counselor, chaplain, pastor, or understanding friends about what happened. Talking with those who are also grieving your loved one is essential. They will most likely feel a similar range of emotions.

You may not feel the same again for a while, if ever. However, it is crucial to understand that grieving has stages. You need to let yourself feel how you feel. If you’re anxious, let your loved ones know. When you are afraid about the future or lonely, talk with those who care about you. If you don’t know who to talk to, see a counselor or write in a journal.

In time, you will find a new perspective on what happened. After a period of months or years, you may realize that you no longer think of your loved one with sadness. Instead, you may find that you remember your good times together or focus on how they loved others. 

The process of grieving the death of a loved one is individual. It can take months to years for you to work your way through the effects of a death. Spending time with others who will listen and not act judgmentally about your struggle can help tremendously.

We Can Help

The funeral or memorial service is only the beginning of the process of grieving and working through your emotions. If you have any questions or concerns about what to do, please do not hesitate to contact us at Renaissance Funeral Home & Crematory. We can help assist you through this confusing and challenging time. We are here for you. Contact us today and find out how we can help.