Hospice Care: After the Death of Patient, Part 2

| By Casa de la Luz

(Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a piece about what happens after the death of a hospice patient. Read the first part here.)

Before calling the mortuary, I ask if other family members will be arriving at the home to pay respects, and if there will be a viewing. We figure out the best time for the mortuary to pick up the body.  (The patient and family will hopefully have already selected a mortuary through previous conversations about final arrangements. The hospice social worker is available to assist in making funeral arrangements.) When I call the mortuary with the official pronouncement and the requested pick-up time, I also let them know if there are known infectious diseases. I also fill out a form with the deceased’s information that goes with the body to the mortuary.

I believe information helps, so I explain to the family what happens next. When the mortuary staff arrives, they will meet the family, get the form the nurse has filled out, and look at the room arrangements so they can move the body gracefully. They leave briefly and return with a gurney. Family may observe the body transfer if they wish. The body is wrapped in a plain white sheet or placed in a white plastic zippered bag. On the gurney, two seatbelts secure the body and then a blanket or quilt is placed over the body to the shoulders. The mortuary staff will bring the body out to the living room or entryway and allow the family to say a last goodbye. When the family is ready, the body is moved to the mortuary vehicle.

At the mortuary, the body is placed in a cold, safe room. The funeral director calls the family within 24 hours to arrange a meeting at the mortuary to finalize arrangements and sign papers. Whether the body is to be buried or cremated, nothing is done to the body until the physician signs the death certificate and the family papers are signed.

The narcotics are disposed of in a ziplock bag of dish soap or kitty litter. I offer some final advice about caring for oneself while grieving, and encourage the family to call the hospice with any questions and for emotional support. Bereavement services are explained. Then I leave.

In less than two hours, people’s lives are changed forever, and I have been honored to help them take a few steps along their paths.

By Mary Toren, RN

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