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Final Days - When Death Happens

At the time of death

At the time of death, all of the body’s jobs will stop. This will lead to signs that death has happened, including:

  • breathing stops
  • heartbeat and pulse stop
  • there is no response to touch or voice
  • the eyes won’t move and may be open or closed
  • the mouth and jaw will relax and may be open
  • the bladder and bowels often empty

When your loved one dies, you may feel you need to “do something” right away but there is no rush.

When death happens at home

Follow the plan that you developed with your loved one’s home care or palliative care nurse. You don’t need to call 911, the police, or an ambulance.

After your loved one’s death:

  • call family members, friends, or your spiritual advisor, if you would like someone to be with you
  • spend as much time with your loved one as you wish – There is no need to rush. Take the time you need to say good-bye.
  • call the funeral home when you are ready

Don’t feel you need to call the funeral home right away. You may want to let friends and family see your loved one before you call the funeral home, if they were not there when your loved one died.

In Alberta, you don’t need a doctor to come to the home after an expected death. The funeral director will call the doctor to have them sign a certificate of death. You may want to talk to your loved one’s doctor ahead of time to see if they want to be called or come to the home after the death.

You don’t have to deal with your loved ones’ death alone. There are many members of your loved one’s healthcare team that will support you during this time. You can also talk to your healthcare provider if you need more support.

Contacting the funeral home

When your loved one plans to die at home, it’s best to choose and contact a funeral home before they die.

When you talk to the funeral home:

  • let them know your loved one wishes to die at home
  • get their after-hour phone numbers
  • ask how long it will take for someone to call you back if you have to leave a message
  • give the home address, including directions