We have compiled a series of checklists and suggestions that we hope will be helpful to you, especially in the days and weeks immediately following the death of your loved one.
Many people find a checklist helpful during the difficult first several days and weeks following the death of a loved one:
- Choose a mortuary. Family, friends, hospital staff, or your clergyperson can help with this decision. The funeral home will work with you in making funeral arrangements.
- Make a list and contact other family, friends, employers, business colleagues by phone. You may want to ask other family members and friends to help you with these phone calls.
- Notify the school that children are attending.
- Have someone keep a careful record of all phone calls, flowers, food donations, and people visiting.
- Coordinate special needs of the household, such as childcare, cleaning, groceries, shopping, etc.
- Write an obituary. Suggest including age, place of birth, cause of death, occupation, college degrees, memberships held, military service, outstanding work, and list of survivors in immediate family. Give the time and place of services and any other special comments.
- Select pallbearers and notify them.
- Contact an attorney who may be able to assist you with any legal issues.
- Contact your bank concerning any existing accounts.
- Notify life insurance companies.
- Notify creditors, credit card companies, and automobile insurance company.
- Contact your local social security office if you are eligible for benefits.
- If your loved one was living alone, notify the landlord, utilities, and tell the post office where to send the mail. Take precautions against theft.
- Decide on the type of funeral service and where it will be held. Talk as a family and decide if you’d like an open or closed casket, burial or cremation; and church, funeral home, or graveside services.
- Find a funeral home. Feel free to check out a few funeral homes before making a decision.
- Make an appointment with the funeral home of your choice. While you are talking to the funeral director, ask about the deadline for the newspaper obituary.
- When you make funeral arrangements, be sure to have the following information about the deceased with your:
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Education level
- Mother’s maiden name
- Death certificates (request approximately 12 to 15 certified copies)
- Picture for the newspaper (optional)
- Clothes for your loved one
- Burial policies
- Begin gathering photographs for a slideshow and picture boards.
- Notify family, friends, and schools (if appropriate) and give them the arrangements.
- Appoint someone to keep records of food, calls, cards, and visits to the home.Ask someone to spend the first night with you.
- Be prepared to select and buy a casket and/or a vault.
- Set the date, time, and place for the funeral.
- Sign the contract agreement with the funeral home.
- Inform the funeral director if you want flowers or if you prefer that donations be made to a favorite charity.
- Create the obituary for the newspaper with the funeral director.
- Select a cemetery if one has not already been selected by your loved one.
- If your loved one has a gravesite or mausoleum, ask the consultant at the cemetery to show it to you.
- If your loved one does not have a gravesite or mausoleum, be prepared to buy one.
- You will need to pay for the opening of the grave.
Grief is different for everyone and you will work through your grief at your own pace. Here are some suggestions to help you work through the grief process:
- Be gentle with yourself.
- Take one day at a time.
- Be willing to surrender to the grief process.
- Allow yourself the time and right to grieve.
- Remember that most of the time people do not know what to say to you during this difficult time. Try not to take anything personally.
- Find someone you can talk to. This will help you process your feelings.
- Create “Grief Rituals.” Some examples of rituals:
- Buy a special candle and light it at times that are special to your loved one’s memory such as his or her birthday, Father’s Day or your anniversary.
- Write a special note in a balloon and let it go.
- Help feed the hungry/homeless at a holiday such as Thanksgiving.
- Create a scrapbook of memories.
- Donate gifts in your loved one’s name.
- Find a tree in the woods, tie a yellow ribbon around it, and go frequently to remember. (This is especially helpful when ashes have been scattered and there is no gravesite.)
- Offer a scholarship in your loved one’s name.
- On his or her birthday, holidays or your anniversary, buy your loved one a gift and donate it to a hospital or nursing home.
- Hang a Christmas stocking for your loved one and fill it with special notes from family and friends.
- Buy a Christmas ornament each year to remember your loved one.
- Create a memory ceremony, which can take many forms. You might consider an actual ceremony in which you place a flower in the room, write a poem, journal, plant a tree, write a letter to the deceased, pray or adopt a cause (MADD, e.g.).
It’s normal to experience a range of emotional and physical expressions of grief. Emotionally, you may experience:
- Sadness and/or depression
- Guilt or anger about what happened or didn’t happen in your relationship with the deceased
- Unexpected anger towards someone else, God or the deceased
- You may cry easily and/or unexpectedly
- Mood swings
- Discomfort around other people
- A desire to be alone
- A sense of death being unreal or that it didn’t actually happen
- “If only” thoughts
- Fear of what will happen next
- Doubts or questions about why the death occurred
- Desire to run away, or to become very busy to avoid the pain of the loss
- Feeling like you are “going crazy” when overwhelmed with the intensity of the feelings
Physically, you may experience:
- Tightness in your throat or in your muscles
- Heaviness or pressure in your chest
- Inability to sleep
- Periods of nervousness or even panic
- Lack of desire to eat
- Desire to overeat
- Visual or sound hallucinations of the loved one who has died
- Headaches or stomach/intestinal disorders
- Lack of energy
- Inability to concentrate
Death is a difficult topic for anyone but talking with children about death requires even greater sensitivity. By addressing the concept with honesty, children are better able to understand the changes the adults in their lives are experiencing.
Children need to talk about their feelings after the death of someone close. One of the greatest gifts we can give to children is to honor their grief and teach them ways to communicate their feelings. These guidelines may be helpful.
A child’s understanding of forever, irreversibility, causality, and transformation varies depending on age and maturity. Although these age differentiations have been classified by experts in child psychology, keep in mind that the age categories are generalizations. For example, a mature five-year-old may be able to comprehend more than a less emotionally-mature six-year-old.
Ages 0 to 3
Following a death, most children this range will understand that the routine in their home has changed. They will not comprehend that someone is dead, but they will understand the sadness. The chaos and emotions in the household may cause some anxiety.
- Keep your routines as normal as possible
- Keep the child around familiar people
- Hug and cuddle your child often
Ages 3 to 6
Children in this age range tend to think that death is reversible because they see “reversible” death in movies, cartoons and even in religious stories.
Exercise care in using specific explanations rather than over-generalizations like
“Grandpa died of old age” or “Grandpa is sleeping.” The child may generalize this information to mean all older people are awaiting imminent death.
- Explain the difference between being old and sick
- Monitor “magical thinking.” The child may feel she/he caused the death by wishing the person dead. The child may also try to “wish” the person back to life.
- Comfort the child by allowing free expression of all emotions including anger, fear and sadness
Ages 6 to 9
Most children in this age group understand that death is final. Honest, direct, age-appropriate communication with the child is extremely important. These kids can understand basic physiology and the results of traumatic accidents. Children in this age range may respond well to books and stories that explain death.
- Validate all of the child’s feelings and share your own personal responses to death
- Help the child to say goodbye by coloring a picture, writing a letter, saying prayers, etc.
- Consider allowing the youngster to participate in funeral planning by doing something such as choosing the flowers
More tips for talking with children about death:
- Talk less and listen more
- Encourage children to express feelings
- Give the child your undivided attention
- Be patient
- Control your anger
- Avoid arguments and criticism
- Ask them questions
Written by: Doug Manning
A complete helpful handbook addressing the painful aftermath of the death of a loved one.
Written by: Janice Harris Lord
Gives hope and useful suggestions to survivors coping with sorrow, anger, and injustice after a tragic sudden death.
Written by: Elizabeth Levang
Filled with messages of hope assuring us that one of the secrets of healing lies in remembering our loved ones forever.
Written by: Molly Fumia
Words to help the grieving hold fast and let go.
Written by: Dr. Catherine M. Sanders
An insightful, compassionate account of the grieving process that helps us through the pain and isolation experienced with the loss of a loved one.
Written by: Harold S. Kushner
A must read for all those who are faced with tragedy and loss. Provocative and comforting; wise and compassionate.
Written by: Earl A. Grollman
An easy read at any stage of grieving. A great help in understanding and working through your grief.
Written by: Alan Wolfelt
A spiritual companion for mourners that affirms their need to mourn and invites them to journey through their very unique and personal grief.
Written by: Warren Hanson
A beautiful picture book, which some families have found helpful in grieving.
Written by: Pat Thomas
A reassuring picture book that explores the difficult issue of death for young children.
Written by: Laurie Krasny Brown & Marc Brown
A wonderful book to be read to very young children. Explores feelings, offers help and reassurance to the very young when someone close to them dies.
Written by: Lucille Clifton
A touching portrait of a little boy who is trying to come to grips with his father's death.
Written by: Jane Loretta Winsch, et. al.
Written for children, this book offers some very real help to parents, teachers, and other adults in dealing with complex reactions children have to loss.
Written by Roberta Temes, et. al.
A little boy deals with his feels after the death of his older sister.
Written by: Anne Miranda, et. al.
A joyful and useful book, featuring monsters who talk about particular feelings. Enables children and adults to discuss their emotions in an easy and non-threatening way.
Written by: Hans Wilhelm
Story of a boy and his dog Elfie, who one day does not wake up. The boy grieves and initially refuses a new puppy.
Written by: Bryan Mellonie, et. al.
Beautiful illustrations with visual and safe explanations of death to children.
Written by: Dr. Seuss
Book about feelings and moods. Bright colors and animals illustrate the depth and variety of feelings.
Written by Karen L. Carney
Coloring book that explains organ and tissue donation on a very basic level without going into great detail.
Written by: Doris Stickney
Christian-centered book explaining death and the resurrection to young children with a tale about a water bug leaving the pond to become a dragonfly.
Written by: Warren Hanson
A beautiful picture book, which some families have found helpful in grieving.
Written by: Karen Spies
For children between fifth grade and high school dealing with all kinds of losses.
Written by: Jill Krementz
Children age 7 to 17 speak openly of their experiences and feelings.
Written by: Eda LeShan
A book that helps children understand what has happened and validates their feelings about losing a parent.
Written by: Leo Buscaglia
Uses nature and changing of seasons of life to explain how death is a natural part of living.
Written by: White Deer of Autumn, et. al.
In a Native American tale, a wise grandmother explains their people's understanding of death to her granddaughter as they work together on the land, for which they show an exemplary respect and love.
Written by: Fred Rogers (executive producer)
Activity book to help families communicate and know that their feelings are mentionable and manageable.
Written by: Eric E. Roses
A book especially for teens and young adults answering many of their questions in their own words.
Written by: Virginia Lynn Fry
A moving and eloquent chronicle of eleven children ranging from toddlers to teenagers, who have lost family or friends, shows how creative strategies can help the grieving process.
Written by: Donna B. O'Toole
Information and coping choices to assist in transforming pain into resilience.
Written by: Grieving Teens
Published by: Centering Corporation
Support group for teens in book form, filled with unedited letters and poems from bereaved teens. Includes activities and writing guides from experienced group leaders.
Published by: The Dougy Center for Grieving Children
Explains common grief reactions of teenagers and offers advice on supporting teens in grief.
Written by: Helene McGlauflin
Explains how to provide support to children and teens who are grieving.