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How to navigate the first 24 hours of grief

What to expect when you’re grieving, from the experts at Lantern

Lantern specializes in after-loss services, providing guidance and support for navigating life before and after a death. For eligible Haven Term policyholders, a full pre-plan premium membership and one-on-one post-loss consultation services are available at no cost through the Haven Plus rider, a suite of bonus services. Learn more here.

Disclaimer: Burial, cremation, and funerals are regulated by individual states and laws vary. Check with your funeral director or cremation service before making plans.

Regardless of whether a close loved one’s death was unexpected or the culmination of a long illness, it often arrives as a shock. This shock means that, in the immediate aftermath, you might not be thinking about things like how to plan a funeral, or what the obituary should say. You almost certainly won’t be thinking about the logistics of navigating your loved one’s estate (if applicable), or how to take financial care of other loved ones left behind. Your thoughts will be with those tasks right in front of you, like simply making it home from the hospital or whether your phone is charged enough to notify your loved ones.

That’s why this guide is here. These are some basic things to expect in the first 24 hours after a loved one’s death. This is, in a manner of speaking, an inflection point — in some ways, the final step in a journey that’s now ending. But in other ways, this moment is the beginning of another journey, and these are some things to consider.

In this article:

Getting an official pronouncement of death

If your loved one dies in a hospital, pronouncing the time of death and recording it as official is something the doctor or nurse will handle. But if they’re at home, there are a few other scenarios. If your loved one has been under the care of an at-home hospice nurse, that person can make the pronouncement. But if the death is sudden, you’ll want to call 911 so that paramedics can either transport the deceased to a hospital or make an official pronouncement of death.

Note that you’ll also need an official death certificate if and when you make a life insurance claim.

Transporting the body

After that official pronouncement, you’ll need to arrange for a mortuary, funeral home, or crematorium to pick up the body, either from the home or the hospital. If your loved one has planned and/or paid for funeral services in advance, the name of the funeral home should be kept somewhere readily accessible to you. Otherwise, you’ll want to look for a funeral home or service in your area. Don’t worry about choosing the first place you call — hospitals in most states will hold a body until you’re ready to make arrangements with a funeral home. (Just note, this is not without expense.)

Making the initial phone calls

When someone dies, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the number of people who need to know. Friends, relatives, coworkers — where to even start? It’s OK to wait a few days to start getting in touch with extended families and social networks and just focus on immediate family and closest friends during the first day. Another person you’ll want to make a note of calling fairly quickly is the deceased’s primary care physician, or, if they’ve been undergoing treatment for a chronic illness, their specialty care provider. You might also want to call people you have appointments with in the next 24 hours, or who might be expecting you at school or work in the next few days.

Coordinating organ donation

If your loved one was a registered organ donor, you can expect to hear from the local Organ Procurement Organization within a few hours of the death being recorded. While each organization varies in methodology, you should be prepared to answer questions about your loved one’s medical history and lifestyle. It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers — anything you can tell the OPO is useful to their process. It can be hard to talk about, but it’s a nice way to honor the wishes of your loved one. You may even receive a follow-up communication about how your loved one’s choice to donate their organs helped other people. And note, if your loved one asked to have their body donated to science, expect a similar process — and a similar good feeling about honoring their wishes.

Rounding up documents?

You might wonder if you should also be collecting important paperwork related to a life insurance policy. The good news is that there is no time limit on filing a life insurance claim — which means you can come back to it later on, after taking care of more urgent needs. After all, this time is stressful enough.

If you’re in crisis, you can get 24/7, free, mental health support from Crisis Text Line. Just send a text message to 741741. 

Learn more about how you can use Haven Life Plus and Lantern for end-of-life planning.

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About Louis Wilson

Louis Wilson is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a wide array of publications, both online and in print. He often writes about travel, sports, popular culture, men’s fashion and grooming, and more. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he has developed an unbridled passion for breakfast tacos, with his wife and two children.

Read more by Louis Wilson

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Our disclosures

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Haven Term Simplified is a Simplified Issue Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC19PCM-SI 0819 in certain states, including NC) issued by the C.M. Life Insurance Company, Enfield, CT 06082. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas 100139527.

MassMutual is rated by A.M. Best Company as A++ (Superior; Top category of 15). The rating is as of Aril 1, 2020 and is subject to change. MassMutual has received different ratings from other rating agencies.

Haven Life Plus (Plus) is the marketing name for the Plus rider, which is included as part of the Haven Term policy and offers access to additional services and benefits at no cost or at a discount. The rider is not available in every state and is subject to change at any time. Neither Haven Life nor MassMutual are responsible for the provision of the benefits and services made accessible under the Plus Rider, which are provided by third party vendors (partners). For more information about Haven Life Plus, please visit:

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