What to Expect After the Loss of a Loved One
No matter how we may try, nothing can prepare us for loss. There is no way to know how you'll cope with losing a loved one until it actually happens. Grief is powerful and personal.
The following resources serve as a guide for when you need help, comfort or direction. Loss can feel lonely, but you don't have to face it alone.
What grief can feel like
Grieving is a natural healing process that moves slowly from the pain of loss to hope for the future. Some normal and natural reactions to losing a loved one include:
- Crying at unexpected times
- Desire to be active, but having difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping and/or frequent dreams or visions of your loved one
- Empty feeling in the stomach and loss (or gain) of appetite
- Experiencing guilt or anger over things that happened or did not happen in your relationships
- Experiencing sudden mood changes over the slightest things, or without explanation
- Feeling angry at your loved one for leaving you
- Feeling as though the loss did not actually happen — this may include expecting him/her to walk in the door at the usual time, hearing his/her voice or seeing his/her face
- Feeling concerned over continuing to live without your loved one
- Needing to tell and retell the experience of your loved one's death
- Sensitivity to talking about your feelings of loss because other people seem uncomfortable
- Tightness in the throat or heaviness in the chest
What to do after your loss
- Try to take things one minute at a time, one hour at a time, one day at a time.
- Consider designating a family member or friend to help you make phone calls, keep a list of gifts and donations and tend to business matters.
- Gather your loved one's personal belongings to take home with you from the hospital. If you need assistance, a caregiver may be able to help with the transportation of these items.
- If final arrangements — burial, cremation or other services — were not made in advance, arrangements can be made through a mortuary or cremation service. Once an organization has been chosen, notify the charge nurse or nursing supervisor at the hospital where your loved one received care.
- You may be asked to provide your loved one's information to the mortuary or cremation service, such as: date of birth, full name, occupation, place of birth, proof of military service (if patient was a veteran), Social Security number, list of affiliated groups (religious, professional, civic or clubs), list of immediate family members and relationship, name and address of any organization or charity you wish to have donations made to in memory.
- If your loved one was employed, notify the employer about the death. You may also consider contacting your employer, and if children are part of the immediate family, notify their schools.
- If you wish to have a religious service, contact the appropriate clergyman or clergywoman or religious official.
- The mortuary or cremation service will provide you with copies of the death certificate. Multiple copies can be requested, and as many as 10 to 15 copies are recommended.
- If your loved one was an active member of the military or a veteran, you may be eligible to receive assistance with the funeral, burial plot and other benefits.
- To learn if the spouse and/or dependent children of the deceased may be eligible for Social Security benefits, contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.
People and places to notify
- Bank(s) or financial institution(s) concerning any individual or joint accounts held in your loved one's name. This may involve closing the accounts or transferring their control. You will also need to discuss the status of any certificates of deposit (CDs), bonds, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) or other savings accounts.
- Clubs or organizations in which your loved one was a volunteer or a dues-paying member.
- Companies who manage any certificates of title, including titles to a home, motor vehicle, real estate or recreational vehicle.
- Creditors, including any financial institutions or companies that issued loans or credit cards in your loved one's name.
- Employer regarding additional benefits for survivors, including final paycheck for vacation or sick leave, workers' compensation benefits (if the death was work related), possible payments from a pension plan or death benefits from a union or professional organization.
- Executor or trustee to locate the will or trust, if one has been prepared.
- Health insurance company or employer to terminate coverage for the deceased while continuing benefits for spouse and/or dependent children, if necessary.
- Landlord if your loved one was living alone. Inspect residence for important documents and valuable possessions and ensure they are protected against theft or damage.
- Other insurance policies your loved one may have had, such as life, accidental death, mortgage or loan, auto, credit card and/or motor clubs.
- Post office to forward your loved one's mail.
- Tax accountant or tax lawyer to determine if an estate tax return or final income tax return should be filed.
- Utility companies to alter or discontinue service if necessary.
Getting bereavement support
At Sharp, we are here to help with your grief and loss in any way you need it. We offer compassionate, effective bereavement services, including counseling and support groups. These services are free of charge and are available to families for up to 13 months after a loved one has passed, although participation in support groups can extend beyond this time frame.
To subscribe to Sharp HospiceCare's monthly bereavement newsletter, Healing Through Grief, call 1-800-681-9188.
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