The first thing I noticed after my mom died was the silence.
Her breathing had been labored, and was consequently loud. The silence that followed immediately after her death was also loud, it was full of the weight and depth of finality. She had gone to the place we cannot follow. There was no going back to before this moment.
I couldn’t even remember what “before” this moment felt like.
The next thing I remember is shock. If you’ve never been in shock before, let me prepare you now, it is a totally unique experience. My hands went numb, I was suddenly very aware of my own breathing and how loud it was. I felt like my senses were malfunctioning, and my brain struggled to comprehend the words the nurse was saying.
“Time of death, 8:59 am”.
I understand now why people in movies and tv ask the doctor to repeat what they said. My brain literally couldn’t translate the words, “I’m sorry, but she’s gone”. I’m still not totally convinced that the doctor was speaking English.
I immediately started asking questions. It’s how I’m wired. What do I do now? Do I call the funeral home? Who calls all the family? Is it me? What do I do with her will?
Who can help me?
The only person in the world I wanted to talk to in that moment was the only person I was completely incapable of contacting. The only person who would understand was out of reach forever.
If you are here, if you will be here soon, here’s what I know:
- If your loved one dies in a hospital they will contact the funeral home for you. You simply need to tell them which one you want to use. The funeral home will take care of retrieval and transportation of the body (I know this seems common sense, but in the moment nothing seems logical.)
- If your loved one dies at home, the procedure varies based on state. If your loved one had an in home health care worker, they may be able to declare legal time of death, and arrange for the body to be transported. In other cases a coroner may need to be called.
- Who calls the family is up to you. We quickly established a phone tree, my dad called the relatives on his side, my aunt called the ones on hers, and my sister and I took care of the people we knew would want to know first hand from us, and people outside the tree (close family friends, the church, etc.)
- Related to number 2 above, make sure all immediate family knows of their passing before you call family friends, or post anything on Facebook.
- Understand that once you call anyone outside that hospital room, people will post on Facebook. Your phone will start to ring incessantly. My advice here is to silence the ringer, turn off all push notifications, or delete your social media apps. You’ll have enough to deal with without Facebook notifications.
- The Will. Don’t worry about the Will right now. It will eventually need to be put into probate, but now is not the time. Now is for processing, and for pain, and for grief.
- You may not be hungry, but try to eat something.
Remember, whatever you are feeling is completely valid, and no one is allowed to tell you otherwise. There is no rulebook for how you process this loss, there is no “Standard”, there is no checklist. There is only advice and I hope this is helpful. Everyone’s experience with this level of loss is unique and terrible.
My condolences, my love, my good thoughts with you.