Chapter 2: When death occurs
The moment of death
“I really appreciated the personal touches of the team, particularly when they offered their condolences, each coming to offer a handshake and say a word about how much they were sorry for my loss”. - Family member
Your words and demeanor when notifying a family of a patient’s death are extremely important. Use simple and clear language and convey sympathy and empathy. An insensitive notification of death contributes to traumatic and complicated grief.
Assess the family’s needs surrounding privacy. For some, this will be a sacred, very private time. A sincere expression of condolence may be all that’s needed. Silence can be very powerful and respectful; your presence can provide great comfort.
It can also be important to assess their cultural, religious and spiritual needs.
Click on the arrows to see different examples of cultural, religious and spiritual needs.
Visit by spiritual or religious leader for prayers or other rituals.
Chanting or loud wailing.
Positioning of the patient.
Washing, dressing and shrouding of body by members of the cultural or religious group.
Reluctance or refusal to move the body on a designated holy day or for a prescribed period time.
Use of traditional medicines or visits from traditional healers.
No crying over or touching the body for fear of holding the person back.
Presence of family with the body until it’s moved by the funeral director.
Reciting creeds or reading sacred texts.
Some examples of how you can communicate your condolences to the family include:
- "I'm sorry to tell you that [name] has died". Long silence. "Please accept my condolences".
- "Would you like me to stay with you or would you prefer some time alone with [name]? I can wait outside the door in case you need anything."
- "Is there anyone you'd like me to call at this time"?
After the moment of deathImmediately after the patient dies, remain calm, compassionate, and be a stabilizing presence for families. Offer your sincere condolences. Ensure that the family knows that care will be given to the body, according to their wishes. Many families appreciate having grief and funeral resources in the form of pamphlets that outline various local services.