As well as emotional issues, there are other practical issues that must be dealt with when someone dies. This section looks at some of these issues, providing information to help make it a bit easier.
After a bereavement, you will probably have a lot of questions around practicalities – how do I register the death? What do I do with their possessions? What are the next steps? All these questions can be overwhelming, making it harder for you to feel you’re coping and understand what you need to do. It might be stressful to think about the practicalities now, but sorting out issues like registering the death and arranging the funeral will make things easier further down the line.
Will there be a private place to wait? It depends on the facilities at the coroner’s court, which can vary enormously. There is not always a private place for families and friends to wait or talk with legal representatives. Some may have waiting rooms and some coroners may consider making one available for families and their lawyers. Ask the coroner’s office if you would like this to happen, or ask your solicitor to do it for you. What should I bring to an inquest?
When someone dies a ‘violent or unnatural death’ or a ‘sudden death of which the cause is unknown’, the death has to be reported to the coroner. An inquest must be held to identify the person and answer the questions ‘how, when and where’ the person died, and if there is to be criminal proceedings. Given that drug deaths usually occur from either accidental or purposeful poisoning (overdose), they are often sudden.
When a person dies, if they have children it is common for family members to assume care of the children either temporarily or on a long term basis. If you take on the care of a child, you are likely to need financial and other support to help you care for them. There are various sources of support, including specialist agencies, the local council and benefits/tax credits. Your arrangement could be known as either: Family and friends care (often called kinship care) Private fostering Family and friends carers
A post mortem is the examination of the body after death in order to determine the cause of death. Post mortems are carried out by pathologists, and provide useful information about how, when and why someone died. If a family member has died and a post mortem is to be conducted, hospital bereavement officers can offer you support and advice, and can act as the main point of contact between you and the staff carrying out the post mortem.
Many hospitals employ bereavement staff who can help you understand the next steps and coordinate any necessary documentation. The preparation of documents can take time and can only be completed by medical staff who were directly involved in the person’s care before they died. If the person who has died is registered for organ or tissue donation and are eligible, the hospital will talk to you about this, since organs and tissues for transplantation have to be removed soon after death.
Understanding the results of the post mortem and cause of death. When you receive the result of the post mortem examination it can be particularly devastating to read the cause of death and it can also create confusion if the cause appears to be different to what you believed. The results are written by a pathologist and they have to record the cause very precisely. This precision, medical terminology and necessary brevity can be very stark and upsetting.
Coroner – The coroner is an official who makes inquiries into deaths reported to them, which may be unnatural or of an unexpected or unknown cause. Delayed grief/trauma – This term is used when at first adjustment seems normal but then distress and symptoms increase months later. Grief – Grief is the natural response to the loss of someone (or something) very important to us, including the death of a loved one. It is the emotional suffering you feel when someone you love is taken away.
Toxicology is the analysis of blood and urine for the presence of chemical substances and is used in the case of sudden death and fatal accident enquiries. A toxicology report is done on blood and tissue to establish whether any toxic substances in the body contributed to the death. The report will detail prescription drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol and any other chemical substances which the toxicologist has been instructed to test for. It will usually take between six and eight weeks for the toxicology report to be completed. You can ask for a copy of this with the post mortem report.
An inquest is meant to find out facts – the ‘how,’ ‘when’ and ‘where,’ not the why – and are not like criminal trials. The coroner and legal representatives should treat witnesses, especially the bereaved, with care and respect. The coroner will begin the inquest and if there is a jury, the coroner will explain their duties and that they must establish the answer to the questions: who the person was; where they died; when they died and how they came by their death.