Funeral arrangements, forms, tax returns, and other important documents are a hassle to wrangle, especially if you are far removed from the day to day operations of your loved ones. When my mother passed away she had spared us the ordeal of sorting it out on our own. However, the meticulous planning of an Army Intelligence officer wasn’t enough to save us from a year of effort to settle the uncontested estate. My hope is that this list of actions and prompts can help you overcome the obstacles that add to the shock of your loss and the burden of navigating the world of bereavement.
Reporting the death:
There are a few ways in which a death report is handled. If the deceased was at the hospital or under hospice care, a quick call to the doctor responsible for care is all that will be required to record the death and release the body to the family and/or funeral home. If the death occurred outside these parameters, the police must be called to handle the release of the body to the family. The Medical Examiner or Coroner may have to examine the body, a process that varies by state and county. While the investigation proceeds or the body is prepared for release, you will need to contact a mortuary or funeral home to make arrangements.
Many establishments have show rooms to help you select what is best for your loved one and budget. Flowers, obituaries, wake times, This expense can range from hundreds ($500s+) to thousands of dollars ($5k+), depending on the region and packages. You can pay in advanced for casket, service and plot – unless you decide to be cremated which can also be prepaid. USA military veterans can be buried at the VA cemetery after presenting 214 Forms and other applicable documentation.
The Estate and Inheritance Piece:
Until a death is reported to the banks, the accounts will remain active. Electronic withdrawals to pay scheduled bills will continue to draft; debit and credit cards will continue to function. Involve a lawyer, advocate or executor as quickly as possible to avoid being locked out of accounts or if you need to lock them quickly for inheritance/avoid misuse reasons. If you are sick or would like to plan ahead, use these services to leave detailed instructions regarding funeral arrangements, inheritance and division of goods. With a will and testament, there will be less hassle when closing out bank accounts, debts owed and last wishes. Getting help from a pro as quickly as possible will make it easier to proceed.
If you have the presence of mind or good fortune to read this before the person passes or loses cognitive capabilities, establish living trusts to protect the estate and parcel out assets more efficiently. Requisites to settle an estate vary by state and country. The professionals can tell you before hand what you will need to accomplish once the funeral services are over. You’d be surprised how long and tedious resolving an estate is without a will; life insurance policies are a must have since they can be claimed immediately and are cashed out within days of the death.
Delivering the news:
Depending on the type of death and size of the friends and family circle, you may need to spread the word as quickly and as heartfelt as possible, possibly in parallel or before funeral arrangements. Prepare a statement, a quick speech or message that concisely explains the situation, and help needed/wanted items. Make a list of “need to know” contacts or messengers as you enlist others to alert friends or family before the news wildly break out. It is perfectly acceptable to use text, IM, social media and phone calls in lieu of face to face communication if there are no other means to physically reach out. If the other person gets mad at you, do not take it personally. Your job is to manage your own emotions and tasks, not everyone else’s feelings or demands.
Managing the crowds at the funeral:
If you can muster it, be ready to properly thank those providing gifts, condolences and services. As hard as it is to be grateful during this time, it is crucial that we let others know we appreciate the thoughts and efforts made in our behalf, even when the well intentioned gestures inflame rather than quell our pain. I had to swallow a need to call out someone’s cruel or insensitive comments to avoid making a scene. It is perfectly fine to call out rude or unwarranted behavior. Grief makes people predictably irrational.
Processing the loss:
I went back to work a few days after my mom’s death and burial under the guise of pretending life could go on as if nothing happened. Many employers provide bereavement leave or pay, and those who don’t could allow personal leaves to deal with the tragedy. Money or loss of salary can be a burden which is why many families set up GoFundMe or similar crowdfunding accounts to facilitate the transition and costs. Take care of yourself and those hurting; eat, sleep, take naps, accept assistance, go to counseling sessionsor support groups. You shouldn’t have to go at it alone, but if you must, self care and patience are your the best allies.
Managing survivor’s guilt:
Survivor’s guilt is another reality. If you feel that you shouldn’t be here, that you aren’t as valuable as the person lost, please seek out assistance. As hard as it is to comprehend, there is no one better than you to continue the work left behind by the dearly departed. Post traumatic stress and other mood disorders can aggravate an already difficult situation. Delegate tasks to others to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Reflect on the moment and reach out as soon as you are ready to talk about your loss and emotional turmoil.
It took me a few months to feel the full weight of the loss. It is okay to breakdown, to be angry, to be sad. Being strong doesn’t mean you will be devoid of emotion. Not feeling anything is also okay.
Share your story with others:
Days, months or years after the funeral, you will find yourself in situations in which sharing your story with others becomes a turning point. Depending on the nature of the loss you may want to start anew and never mention it, or as time progresses and you get used to the pain and reality, you may be able to see the events under a new light, tailoring the narrative to fit your current needs and desires. Both options are acceptable, but if the truth is too hard to bear, talk to a grief counselor or mental health professional to address your concerns and thoughts. As an introvert ,it was strangely comforting to share my mother’s cancer diagnosis and convalescence with others through the written word; blogs, memes and posts have helped me heal. You never know how much your journey can become someone else’s hope; the feeling of not being alone allowed me to move forward, surrounded by the love of those who had lost too.
The list can be daunting, especially if you didn’t already know what to expect. Emotions are a very powerful thing and should be respected. When you feel overwhelmed take a few steps back, gather a deep breath and slowly return to your center. There is no shame in delegating or postponing responsibilities until you are strong enough to handle the situation.
Much strength and love to you and yours at this time.