Beyond Grief:  What to Do When Someone Dies at Home

Bernadette Joy Graham, MA, LPCC, LLC

By Bernadette Joy Graham, MA, LPCC, LLC
The Truth Contributor

I can remember the day my mother died in 1985 as if it were yesterday.  I was at school eating my brown bag lunch when the assistant principle tapped me on my shoulder and as I turned around, she motioned and said “come with me.” After my brother delivered the news to me in her office, I cried like no other cry a human being delivers.

It was the longest drive home and I knew my mother’s body was still in her bed.  I wanted to see her and fought my way past my dad and sister to make it up the steps and there she lay on her side with her hand under her head looking as if she would wake up at any given moment.  I touched her forehead; her face was stiff.  I stayed until the morgue arrived.  I watched them put her body in a black bag then went to the window as they loaded her body in the back of the van and disappeared out of the parking lot.

Later I learned that one of my older brothers visiting from California woke up and found it odd that she had not gotten up for work yet.  “It was 1015 and even though it was her late day, she normally would have been up and out by 945, I called mom you going to work today and when she did not respond I began to shake.  I went over to her and rubbed her shoulder and she still didn’t move.  I shook the whole time as I dialed the police and I’m from California I didn’t know the number to the police in Toledo so I ran next door and banged on the neighbor’s door to ask to use their phone and once I reached the police, they basically blew me off and asked if it was a crime scene, I said no she just didn’t wake up, the guy all but hung up on me and said call the morgue pal.”

Present day, 2023, would you know what to do or who to call if you found a loved one dead in their home or if they were to die in your home?  Yes, there is always Siri but would you even know what to ask Siri?  “Hey, Siri, who do I call if I just found my uncle dead at his house?”  or “Hey, Siri, what do I do, my sister isn’t breathing and I just woke up and found her on the floor of our apartment?”

While people die each day, each min of the hour, there are countless scenarios but for this moment let’s focus on what to do from home.  According to the National Institute of Aging (NIA) they do not recommend moving the body right away.  If there is more than one person in the home, decide who is capable of staying in the room and will begin making phone calls to the local coroner, health department and/or funeral home representative.  They may give direction on how to proceed.

Being that the person has already passed, do not call 911 but the non-emergency number for the local police department.  As soon as possible, the death must be officially pronounced by someone in authority which is a question to ask who this someone will be of the local coroner, health department or individual’s doctor.

Depending upon the nature of the relationship to the deceased and if anyone else lived in the home, collect driver’s license or state ID so it may be determined if the deceased is an organ donor as well as any pertinent papers such as life insurance policy and/or a Will.  Any valuables such as jewelry, cash, checkbooks should be held by a trusted family member or friend until it has been determined if the deceased had a lawyer, spouse, or adult children.

What not to do?  

Do not panic.  If you are alone, call a family member or trusted friend to come over to help.  Do not remove anything from their home or drive their car.  Do not go straight to social media.

Take a mental health moment to develop a plan if someone in your home dies.  Talk together as a family or if living alone ask family or trusted friends to check on you if things seem out of order such as mail piling up, your car being parked for longer than usual or your phone not being answered or going straight to voicemail.  If you do plan to be out of town for long periods of time, ask a neighbor or family member know and maybe even collect your mail until your return.

If you do not have life insurance and/or a Will, talk to your insurance agent or lawyer to discuss options.  Lastly, don’t take life for granted.  Live each day at it’s best.  There is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss my mom.  I was not prepared to be a motherless daughter at age 14 but her unexpected loss those many years ago has given me the purpose and passion I now possess as my career as a licensed mental health therapist and grief and bereavement specialist.


For more information about what to do after someone dies

877-434-7598 (TTY)

Donate Life

The Living Bank

Social Security Administration
800-325-0778 (TTY)


Bernadette Joy Graham, MA, LPCC, LLC

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