It's the last thing you ever want to think about, but it's also something you've known you'd have to face. Now it's time to prepare for what to do when a parent dies.
In this tragic, frightening and confusing moment, there are certain tasks that must be completed, despite your grief. This article will look to guide you on all the actions that must be handled upon your parent's death. But please take a moment to consider this: now is the time to reach out for help. Friends and family, religious leaders, and funerary service personnel are all there for you. We are too. Here's a helpful guide on what to do when a parent dies.
Take Care of Immediate Needs First
When your parent passes, there are things that need to happen immediately. First is the death certificate. You'll need to ensure the process for issuing one is underway, as just about everything else to come will rely on it. If your parent died while in a hospital or at a nursing home, medical personnel will likely handle this on your behalf. If your parent was an organ donor, the process for harvesting any of their organs can be taken care of as well. If your parent passed at home, you'll first have to call for an ambulance to take them to a hospital before these processes can begin.
Once these immediate needs are taken care of, it's time to begin funeral planning for your parent. You should have your parent's remains sent to a funeral home of your choice, and then preparations must begin for how they will be laid to rest. If your family follows specific religious practices, or if your parent had a pre-arranged funeral plan, some of this process will already be taken care of. If not, consult the rest of your family and decide on the best approach for everyone. That starts with a top-level question: cremation or burial?
Cremation vs. Burial
Another important decision to make when a parent dies is cremation vs. burial.
Burial is the most tradition form of interment. It involves laying the loved one to rest in a casket that is then placed within the ground or within a mausoleum or lawn crypt. In-ground is the approach everyone is most familiar with, including a burial plot along with a flat memorial marker or headstone. Here are some additional details regarding cremation vs. burial:
- Burial plots can be single or double, if the intention is to place a loved one alongside or above. Larger family plots are also available.
- Another version of burial is in a mausoleum or lawn crypt. These are above-ground structures protected from the elements. Mausoleums can be public, where multiple people are interred together in separate sections, or a private family mausoleum reserved for a specific family.
- Cremation involves converting the body to cremated remains. These can be kept in an urn, scattered either in a cemetery scattering garden or outside of a cemetery (though there are laws for where remains can be scattered), buried within a casket, or placed within a cemetery cremation niche.
The choice of cremation or burial obviously impacts much of the rest of the process. A MemorialPlanning.com advisor or local funeral home director can help you with every step of the process.
The Funeral Details
Deciding on the burial details is not the only step in the funeral process. There is the service itself as well, or in some cases, services. Do you want a viewing, a memorial service or a separate service at the burial site? Should there be a luncheon after?
Do you want any of the services to be religious? If so, you'll need to schedule a religious leader and perhaps decide on some readings. What kind of music would you like? Do you want anyone to speak? Will you put together a photo board or video montage? Again one of our burial advisors or a funeral director can guide you through all this.
The Next Steps
Upon completion of the incredibly difficult process of arranging the funeral, the next task to do following a parent's death is settling their affairs, which often includes making sure to alert family members who haven't already been told. If your parent was employed, you'll have to contact their place of work. You'll also have to take care of any pressing matters at their home, such as finding temporary lodging for any pets and keeping personal property secure. You can enlist the help of a property manager or the police to have them keep an eye on the property until more permanent solutions are in place.
You also need to think about what the obituary should say. Some of this may come from or be used for a eulogy. Another vital step is dealing with life insurance policies, which may be essential for financing the funeral arrangements.
Once Things Begin to Settle
Laying your parent to rest may give some family members closure, but there is also still more work to be done. You'll need to notify Social Security, cancel voting registrations and driver's licenses, and close credit card accounts and health insurance policies in your parent's name.
Meanwhile, it's time to think about what your parent has left behind. Depending on what state you live in, if your parent didn't have a will there may be specific laws that control how their estate is distributed amongst their heirs. If these laws are more permissive, you may end up having long conversations with the rest of your family regarding who wants what from your parent's estate.
The Last Steps
Wrapping up the loose ends on a long-lived life will take a while. There's always something that needs to be done, like canceling phone plans and cable television service and ensuring that your parent's property and assets are all accounted for. This will seem like an unending process, but eventually, you will reach the end. At this point, as you complete the last bit of your responsibility, you may find that the work gave you an outlet and you now fully dissolve into the depths of your loss. This is natural, it's okay. Do not fight it. Don't question why you haven't cried or why you can't stop crying. Everyone grieves differently.
It is important to reach out to your own support network at this time. Friends, family, coworkers, religious leaders - just as you were shouldering the burden of getting everything taken care of, now it's time for you to reach out and get help yourself. Speak to friends and loved ones about your loss. Let yourself begin to heal. Join social media circles or attend support groups that are meant to help you deal with your grief in positive ways. Speak to a therapist or religious figure. You've been through a lot - but you've got to go on. It's okay to take some time to yourself after what you've been through. And as always, we're here to help however we can.