Chapter 5: After the death

Family reactions

The paramedic says
Tyne discusses caring for the family following a death.(3:22)Video transcript
Don emphasizes taking a moment to prepare oneself emotionally before supporting the family.(3:22)Video transcript

Each person will experience the death in their own way. This may be the most difficult day of their lives. Some will be quietly controlled, some will focus on tasks, while others may be visibly distraught. Most will fall somewhere in the middle. Remember that shock and disbelief are natural responses. Culture, the nature of the relationship, and the circumstances of the death may influence reactions.

If you’re required to remain on the scene until other public service personnel arrive, and the family has indicated a wish for privacy as they have come together as a unit of support, find an unobtrusive place to wait.

Common responses


If a family member is alone, seems to be isolated or seeks you out, invite them to sit down with you. “Tell me about (insert name)” can be received as permission to talk about the person, share stories and honour what that person meant to them. You may also ask if there’s a neighbour or someone nearby who can come and provide support. 

Hopelessness“I don’t know how I’ll live without them” is a normal reaction to grief. If a family member says this, check back before you leave. If you’re concerned they may be a danger to themselves, connect the person to the appropriate resources. Keep in mind, though, that it’s not unusual for people to feel uncertain, fearful and even ambivalent about their future when someone central dies.

If a family member says, “I feel guilty about how relieved I feel,” reassure them the feeling is common. Caregiving is often isolating and exhausting. If appropriate, remind them that they provided much needed care during a difficlult time.

Click on each item for more detail