Chapter 5: After the death

Time on scene post-death

The grief expert says
Dr. Chris MacKinnon provides guidance for being with the family after the death has occurred. (3:22)Video transcript

After the patient has died, you may be with the grieving family awaiting a physician or the police to pronounce death. (This requirement differs among provinces.) You may also be supporting the family to arrange for a funeral home to pick up the body. 

Each family member will grieve and express their grief in their own way. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Respecting where people are at is the most effective approach. For example, you might:

  • Help to find a quiet, reflective space.
  • Make tea for a group that is supporting each other.
  • Find a space for kids to express emotion or expend some energy.

Follow the family's lead

You may find this time awkward since it can be challenging to know how to be with a family. These moments require you to "read the room" to assess where people are at and be respectful of each person's preferences, be they stated or not. 

If the family "closes ranks," be respectful of their need to comfort and be with each other and to start to come to terms with their loss. 

If family members engage you in conversation, they may need to talk about the person who has died. Being present and encouraging their reflections can be very therapeutic and assist with their grieving process. Conversely, they may want to focus on an entirely different topic. 

Some family members will not want to talk or engage. Forcing a conversation can cause more harm than good. 

Conversation Prompts

If you sense that a family member is feeling isolated or “lost,” you can attempt to engage them by using cues: 

This must be very difficult for you.

Tell me about (name of patient).