Providing ongoing support after death

Care of a person and their family doesn’t end when the person dies. There are other important aspects of care, such as last offices or tissue donation, and the immediate and, sometimes, longer term support of the family.

Dying at home

When someone dies at home, the family need to know what happens. Doctors and nurses can help the family manage any change in symptoms as the person they care for approaches death. This can be discussed before the death so that they are aware of what they need to do when death occurs. It is not always possible to have a health professional present at the time of a person’s death, particularly if the person is at home. Therefore planning, education and family reassurance are very important in providing supportive, strengths-based palliative care. It is important that families are prepared, with plenty of written information such as a list of who to call and changes to expect. When people are upset, they may not remember what they have been told, so the information may need to be discussed multiple times

The information provided may include the physical processes that the dying person may experience, as well as the processes and procedures that follow after death. If there is potential for a problem such as a sudden bleed then families need to know this.

It might also be helpful to mention that there is no rush to do something as soon as the person dies. If an expected death happens in the middle of the night, the family can wait and be with their loved one until morning, and then ring the doctor or nurse to ask them to visit as soon as possible. Some specialist palliative care services do have a 24-hour contact number, and families may need to be reminded of this and encouraged to use it as the person enters the terminal phase. Health professionals can verify that death has occurred based on clinical assessment and in line with State and Territory requirements. In order to complete a death registration, a medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD) must be completed by either a doctor or a coroner.

Either the doctor or the palliative care service can arrange for the doctor's certificate showing cause of death to be completed. After this, the family can contact a funeral director if that is planned.

If there is no doctor available, then the family will need to call the police. The police will refer the case to the coroner and the coroner will determine cause of death and complete the certificate. This is a legal requirement when a doctor is not available. There does not have to be anything suspicious about the death for the coroner to be involved.

Read more on verification and certification of a death.

Last updated 23 January 2023