How can you tell when someone has died

What to do if someone dies at home

Sometimes the bereaved are happy when the undertaker caves the deceased as soon as possible and picks them up. People react very differently to death (Photo: Hoetink).

Again and again we experience that someone dies at home and the relatives are totally overwhelmed with the situation. That is understandable: after all, this should be one of the moments in life when you are emotionally challenged the most. Therefore, here is a checklist that helps you not to forget anything important despite emotional chaos.

1. Say goodbye

If someone dies, there is no need to hurry to notify medical professionals, but can take your time. At Palliaviva, for example, we have already seen a wife who slept one night next to her dead husband. Others don't want to be alone with the deceased for a second longer. People react very differently to death.

Above all, we think it is important that relatives take the time to say goodbye to the deceased. Rituals can help, for example, to wash him, to shave, to put on something nice or to “give him something to take with him on the journey”, such as a flower or a cuddly toy. Since washing, dressing, or repositioning yourself could be difficult, keep the next tip in mind.

2. Inform the care service you trust

Nurses know what to do if someone dies at home. Relatives who cared for a patient at home were usually able to establish contact with employees of the local Spitex or a specialized service such as Palliaviva. You can call her and ask for help; for example when washing, getting dressed and bedding the deceased. After two to three hours rigor mortis sets in and the dead body is no longer easy to move. Keeping the dead man at home or holding a wake is possible for up to three days. As a relative, you may also need emotional support. We are there for that too.

3. Call a doctor

Before a deceased person can be picked up by the undertaker, a doctor must issue a death certificate. This will record whether it is a natural death. If neither family doctor nor specialist doctors are available at night or on a weekend, the SOS doctors are often called to issue the death certificate (Tel. 044 360 44 44). The original medical certificate of death must later be submitted to the municipality (see next point).

Calling the police is not necessary in the event of a so-called expected death. The police only have to clarify the matter in the event of unexpected deaths, for example due to an accident or suicide.

4. Report the death to the community

A relative or other authorized person should report a death personally to the funeral home of the community of residence within two days. It is advisable to register by telephone before visiting the municipal administration.

Many municipalities provide their residents with tip-top leaflets, as shown by an example from Meilen and Schleinikon. They list what to bring and what to think about.

The following documents must be brought with you:

  • the death certificate issued by the doctor
  • the receipt of the written documents, if available
  • the family booklet, if at home
  • Passport, identity card, foreigner's identity card, etc. of the deceased person

The community will organize the transfer of the corpse, as private individuals are not allowed to transport a dead person. Each community has a contract with a private funeral home to do this service for them. In this conversation, many parishes also regulate the type of burial and the formalities relating to the funeral (see point after next).

If the bereaved, on the other hand, would like the deceased to be picked up as quickly as possible - even before they have spoken to the community - they can find the nearest undertaker on the website of the Swiss Association of Funeral Services. Most have an on-call phone number.

The civil registry office at the place of death also reports the death to the Swiss Compensation Office in Geneva in order to stop any AHV or IV pensions. If surviving dependents are entitled to a widow's or orphan's pension, they must assert this. The relevant forms are available from SVA Zurich.

5. Inform family, friends, employers, landlords, etc.

If the deceased was still working, the employer must also be informed of the death. The same applies to the landlord, clubs, health insurance, accident and life insurance and, for foreign nationals, possibly the consulate.

Last but not least, other relatives, friends and neighbors should find out about the passing, if they have not already done so. Depending on the age and environment of the deceased, reports of deaths are even spread on social media these days.

6. Register the funeral, submit an obituary notice

In most cases, surviving dependents in the community can also determine how the deceased is to be buried. Therefore, one should consider the following questions beforehand:

  • Should the deceased be cremated or buried in the ground?
  • Should it be laid out beforehand?
  • What should the coffin or urn look like?
  • When should the funeral service take place?
  • Where should the farewell party take place? In the abdication hall, in the church or maybe just at the grave?
  • Should the burial take place in a row, urn, community, family or an existing grave? The deceased may have already arranged this during their lifetime and deposited a corresponding declaration with the burial office.
  • Should an obituary appear? In which newspapers? Before the farewell party or maybe afterwards? The municipalities publish an official obituary notice in the official publication organ. If desired, only after the farewell party.
  • Do you want to put a note in the obituary that instead of donating flowers, a charitable organization such as Palliaviva should be supported?

7. Plan a farewell party

More and more people want to hold an unconventional funeral service and no longer a classic funeral in a church or the cemetery chapel. At the same time, the number of specialists - so-called ritual designers - who specialize in non-religious funeral services is growing. Because although the influence of the churches is waning, experts agree that rituals help to say goodbye.

An incomplete selection of ritual designers from the Canton of Zurich:

According to the traditional pattern, the so-called funeral meal takes place after the funeral service. For this, a restaurant would have to be determined, a menu selected and the number of guests indicated. Even at unconventional funeral services, sitting together after the ritual can be nice, for example in the deceased person's favorite bar.

8. Send acknowledgments, order tombstones and / or grave plants

Before, during and after the funeral service, the bereaved usually receive many condolences. You can answer this with a thank you card, or you can publish one in a daily newspaper. Depending on the grave, you have to choose a tombstone and order the grave planting.

In Zurich municipalities, funerals are simple and free of charge. However, the maintenance and the planting of the graves have to be paid if you do not do this yourself.