University of California, Riverside

Human Resources



Death, Dying, Funerals and Grief


Death and Dying

Just as there is a trend toward home care and aging at home, there is a trend toward dying at home and away from institutions. More and more families are turning to hospice services when their loved ones come to the end of life. These services are available in the home or in a nursing home.

Hospice means "waystation," a term taken from medieval times when pilgrims needed a rest on their journeys. It is a form of comfort care, rather than aggressive medical treatments to cure the illness or prolong its course. A Medicare benefit, hospice services combine a team of professionals including doctors and nurses, volunteers and aides, clergy and social workers for both patient and family members. There is 24-hour emergency phone service, education and counseling for patient and family, and follow-up bereavement support for a year if needed.

Medicare's rule of thumb for admission to a hospice program is that a physician has determined the patient has six months or less to live. The advantage of this program, no matter how much time the patient has, is that he or she can remain in familiar and comfortable surroundings with loved ones nearby.

The family is encouraged to become involved in education and patient care the entire time, to whatever degree desired. The hospice worker's mission is to help the entire family deal with death and dying issues, aging and illness, in a way that makes the process less fearful, less mysterious and less stressful.

Funerals

If your elder dies at home, you will need to contact someone to remove the body. If you have been in touch with a funeral home ahead of time, the director will know what to do. If you don't have a funeral director, a religious community may be helpful in recommending someone.

It is possible to pre-plan funerals and if you are able to do so, ask about prices or ranges for typical services. This information must be available over the phone, according to federal law. Ask about the costs of caskets, burial prices, cemetery plots, memorial services, use of a hearse, graveside services, embalming and cremation.

When you meet with the funeral director, you must be given a "Statement of Funeral Goods and Services" that includes an itemized list of all goods and services agreed to - even if you have bought a funeral package.

Notification of friends and relatives is an important task in the first few hours after your elder's death. The immediate family should be notified right away. Make a list of whom to call and decide who will make the calls, so that the immediate stress can be mitigated.

An obituary or death notice in the local paper is customary; these are prepared by the funeral home, ideally in conjunction with family members. The funeral director will have standard forms for death notices, but you may want to include any special awards and accomplishments, memberships and charitable organizations to which memorial donations may be made.

It is said that the cost of dying may be one of the largest expenses that we will have in our lifetime. Funerals cost an average of $5,000, a sum that is not always covered by the deceased's insurance or burial plan.

Grief

The loss of a loved one is something that life can't prepare us for. Yet if grief is unaddressed, denied, glossed-over, it can simmer for years and emerge in self-destructive ways.

There is no time-line for "getting over" the loss of a parent or loved one. A rule of thumb is that it takes two years to assimilate the death of a parent: one year to go through all the anniversaries, birthdays, etc., and one year to begin the personal healing process. There are no obvious signposts that can tell you when you should be feeling this or that; grief is personal because each relationship has been unique.

Depression, fatigue, loss of sleep and appetite, apathy, separation - all these are normal feelings, and coming back into an active life takes as long as it takes. Sometimes grief can be pathologically disruptive, however, and in those cases, professional help should be sought.

If you can join a support group or talk with others who have experienced a similar loss, your grief process will be more amenable. Check with social service agencies, your local AAA or hospice agencies to find these groups.

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