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When death occurs

It’s not always clear when the exact moment of death occurs. When a person dies, you may notice that their face suddenly relaxes and looks peaceful.

There are many different beliefs about what happens after death, but those nearby may sense that consciousness has left.

It’s impossible to predict how you’ll react to the death of someone you care about, even when you know what’s going to happen.

You may go into shock or cry. You may carry on as though nothing has happened – or try to do so. You may go through many different feelings and emotions after a person has died, even in the first few minutes and hours. There’s no right or wrong way to feel and react.

If you’re alone at this time, you may want to ask family and friends, or a faith leader, to come and support you.

If you and your family are at home when someone dies, you may find that when you call the GP they’ll ask what time they died.

Customs or preferences at time of death

If a Marie Curie Nurse or another healthcare professional is present, they’ll check the person’s care plan to see if there are any religious or other customs or preferences that need to be observed. Please tell them if there’s anything they should or shouldn’t do. They’ll respect your wishes and those of the person who has died.

Last offices or laying out the body

Last offices and laying out the body mean different things to different people. Here we refer to care of the person after they’ve died, which may include washing the person’s body, dressing them in clean clothes and arranging their hair or putting on their wig.

You may find it comforting to carry out such tasks. On the other hand, you might find it distressing, or prefer to leave it to others.

If you have a Marie Curie Nurse, you can ask them to help you. You may wish to be present or you may prefer not to be in the room. There’s no right or wrong decision – do whatever you feel comfortable with.

Some religions – or your own preferences – may mean that you don’t want the Marie Curie Nurse to lay out the body. This should be in the care plan but do let the nurse know your wishes.

Any equipment, such as a syringe driver, should be left in place until an appropriate healthcare professional has properly recorded that death has taken place. This is known as formal verification of death.

Returning medications

It’s important that any medicines are disposed of safely. Ask the nurse or another healthcare professional about this. They will tell you to return any medications to a pharmacy. The pharmacist will make a note of any controlled drugs like morphine to show that they’ve been returned, before disposing of them.

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