Time comes to standstill when someone you loved dies, but even at Christmas time, help is just a phone call away. Dedicated funeral directors are always on call when the worst happens and the festive season is no exception.
“Families deserve our services on Christmas Day just as much as any other day,” says Scott Watters, a funeral director and paramedic based in Redruth, Cornwall.
“Christmas is a very special, family-focused period, and can be an unexpected time to lose a loved one. It’s more than just a date to families.”
Although contacting a funeral director during this time of year is a call that no one wants to make, it can be reassuring to know that help is at hand and can advise you on what to do when someone dies at Christmas.
What to do someone dies unexpectedly at home at Christmas
If a loved one has died unexpectedly at home, call 999 as quickly as possible and ask for the ambulance service. The call handler will ask you a series of questions to enable the correct response to be made. When the ambulance service arrives, they will manage the immediate situation and will be able to advise you on the next steps to take.
An unexpected death may need to be reported to a coroner, who will investigate the cause of death. They may need to conduct an examination or hold an inquest for this to be done. The examination is carried out as soon as possible after the death and every effort is made to minimise any delay. When the examination is complete, the Coroner will release your loved one to your chosen undertaker.
If you were expecting someone’s death
If the death was expected, perhaps due to terminal illness, you will need to call your loved one’s GP or, in the out of hours period, call 111 as soon as possible.
After a healthcare professional confirms the death, you may call a funeral director of your choice to take your loved one into their care, and start arranging the funeral.
The GP should then be able to issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death which you will need to register the death.
“We are the ambassadors of the funeral care industry. It’s our duty to help bereaved families whenever they need it and provide a complete range of advice to friends and family at such an unfortunate time" says Scott.
If someone dies in hospital
Most hospitals have their own mortuary and will take care of looking after your loved one's body until you are able to make arrangements for your chosen funeral director to take them into their care. The hospital's Bereavement Services team will arrange for the Medical Cause of Death Certificate to be completed, which is needed when you register someone's death.
Registering their death
In the UK, deaths should be registered within five days, but most registry offices are open by appointment at reduced hours throughout the Christmas period. If you are unsure where the closest registry office is, or if it'll be open, you can find out online using your loved one's postcode. Although there may be a slight delay in the registering process due to the time of year, Scott says: "Everyone tries their best at Christmas time but due to weekends and bank holidays registering a death within five days may be challenging. As always, if you are concerned give your funeral director a call and they will be able to advise and reassure you."
To register the death, you will have to submit your loved one's Medical Certificate of Cause of Death to a registry office. The registrar will ask for your loved one's personal details, such as date of birth, address and whether they were receiving a pension or benefits.
It may be helpful to take your marriage certificate, if applicable together with your loved one’s NHS medical card and National Insurance Number, if possible. After registering the death, you will be issued a Death Certificate and the Certificate for Burial or Cremation. Once issued you can then continue with the funeral arrangements
If you require assistance choosing a funeral director, our Help & Resources guide to choosing a funeral director will be able to help you decide.
Coping with grief at Christmas
“Everyone is unique, and deals with grief differently” says Scott, “but Christmas is filled with heightened emotions so dealing with the loss of a loved one over the Christmas period can be especially difficult.
“Having support from family, friends and community is invaluable and no-one should feel isolated and unable to express their grief. Having lost my own father just before Christmas in 2003 I know sometimes we need to find ways to still make Christmas special for children and other family members so, if it feels right, raise a glass, toast the season and celebrate life.”