Decision Making When Death Comes

The death of a spouse, family member, or close friend can be accompanied by emotions that seem overwhelming. Yet loved ones may be called upon to make very practical, urgent decisions. In addition to pastoral care, the following outline is intended to assist in decision making when death comes.

Actions Upon Death

    • If death occurs at home, contact the appropriate authorities (such as 911 or the attending home hospice organization).
    • Call the funeral director. Funeral directors will handle many of the arrangements and preparations needed at this time. If possible, before the occasion arises, it is wise to carefully select a funeral director and make an appointment to discuss preferences.
    • Call the church. In the ensuing days the pastoral staff will be sharing the experience and responsibility with loved ones in many ways. Pastoral guidance can be most helpful in easing the burden, assisting in decisions, and marking this holy time. Fourth Presbyterian Church also has an Events Coordinator who can be of assistance with some of the logistical arrangements at the church.

Decisions Concerning the Body

In our tradition, Christians may consider a number of options for the physical body of the deceased. Decisions about handling the body should be shared with the pastor and the funeral director. Choices include:

    • Burial; the funeral director will provide choices for casket and plot.
    • Cremation; the remains are placed in an urn, scattered at sites, or interred.
    • Donation; prior to death, arrangements may¬† be made to donate the body to medical use or research.

Viewing the Body

Whether or not to have a “viewing” is largely a matter of personal choice. Private viewing can sometimes be an important factor in longer term healing.

The church service focuses on worshiping God, consoling the living, and remembering the life of the deceased person. If the body is present at the church for the service, the casket customarily remains closed for the service.

Including our Children

It is healthy to include children in the family’s sorrow, including a viewing. The family may wish to encourage, but not require, children’s participation at a viewing, funeral, or memorial service.

Reactions to death will vary with the age of the child. There will be questions that should be answered honestly and factually. To some questions, “I don’t know” is the best we can do. Answers stating what we believe will give children confidence in the future and in God who can be trusted.