logistics after unattended death

My neighbor died suddenly earlier this year, and I want to share information about this process since the google results for this tend to be infotisements for death cleaning services. I feel absolutely sick about this situation: we cared very much for our neighbor and hadn’t visited much with her because we were afraid of giving her COVID. But she died alone anyway. It is awful. I hope this post will be useful to others.

If you have found a deceased person inside a private residence, the first thing to do is to call the police. A police officer should remain with the decedent until a licensed funeral home can arrive onsite. Sadly, in the case of my neighbor, this procedure was not followed. You should insist that police remain onsite until the funeral home arrives. You do not need to remain onsite, but the police ought to so that a chain of custody is established.

Following the removal of the decedent, you may discover that dying is a messy business. This is why death cleaning services exist: bodies release toxic fluids as they begin to decompose. The smell is as upsetting as the visual. It’s also a difficult task if you don’t bring the right equipment. I had no idea what I was doing and I spent 45 minutes crying on my neighbor’s kitchen floor, removing her blood with Clorox wipes (which eventually worked, but were certainly not the best way to approach this).

I did learn that homeowners’ insurance policies will cover the cost of a death cleaning service. However, my neighbor’s son was so distraught by her passing that he was unable to tell me where her insurance information was. He insisted he would take care of the matter, but this was the last thing his mother would have wanted, and so, I took the task into my own hands. I hope that if I live far away from my parents and one of them passes at home alone, that one of their friends would spare me from having to see their remains or walk into the house to the smell.

To recap:

1) Call the police.

2) Call a funeral home.

3) Make the police remain with the decedent until the funeral home arrives.

4) Call the decedent’s homeowner’s insurance company to obtain a claim number before

5) Calling a death cleaning service.

If possible, avoid cleaning up yourself. The smell will haunt me until I die, at unexpected moments when I catch an odor of decay. I was not expecting it to be so overwhelming. I found myself distraught for several days despite seeing the decedent for less than two minutes before her removal. This was a traumatizing experience.

I am sorry if you have found this post because you are in a similar situation. Please be kind to yourself and tip the death cleaning service well: I understand that these are businesses that take advantage of desparate people and pay very little for some of the most difficult work in the world.

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