Survivor’s Checklist After Death

A checklist of responsibilities for survivors after a death

By Angela Morrow, RN

After the death of a loved one, you might find yourself overwhelmed with the tasks that need to be done. While your grief can make it difficult to focus on these priorities and take action, there are several things that need to be done immediately after a death occurs, and in the weeks/months that follow. This article offers a simple checklist-style overview for survivor’s to help you prioritize and keep track of what needs to be done after the death of a loved one.

  • At the Time of Death, Make the Right Call


For deaths that occur at home, it’s important to know who to call. If your loved one is a hospice patient, call the hospice agency to report the death. A hospice nurse will come to the home and pronounce the death. The nurse might also call a mortuary for you and arrange for pick up of the body.

If your loved one is not a hospice patient, then you must call emergency services to notify the local police or sheriff of the death. A coroner or medical examiner might also be required at the scene if the death was sudden or unexpected.

  • Contact a Funeral Home

Whether a hospice nurse makes the call or you call yourself, a funeral home must be contacted to arrange for pick-up of the deceased’s body. If funeral arrangements have been made in advance of the death, all you will need to do is confirm the arrangements with the funeral director. If no funeral arrangements were made in advance, you will need to begin planning a funeral.

Determine if your loved one made any arrangements for a funeral or memorial service. If he or she did not make any advance arrangements, then begin to plan the funeral or memorial service. You might want to call on relatives or close friends to assist in making these arrangements. More »

  • Contact Attorney, Accountant and/or Executor of Estate

  • Contact Employer (if applicable)

Ask about any outstanding compensation due. Find out whether dependents (if any) are still eligible for health and/or insurance benefits and whether there is a life-insurance policy through the company.

  • Contact Social Security

Contact Social Security and any other agency that might be making monthly payments to the deceased. The Social Security Administration  (SSA) phone number is 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or you can visit the SSA website for more information. Find out if survivors are entitled to any further benefits.

  • Contact the Veterans Administration

If your loved one served in the Armed Forces, the Veterans Administration (VA)might offer benefits for funeral or burial costs. Stop any monthly payments that the VA might be paying the deceased.

Please read this article for more information about VA death, burial and memorial benefits for U.S. veterans.

  • Contact Life-insurance Companies and File a Claim

  • Notify Credit-card Companies and Pay Off Balances

  • Discontinue Utilities (if applicable)

  • Stop Subscriptions of Newspapers, Magazines, etc.

  • Forward Mail at the Post Office (if applicable)

  • Find Estate Documents

Locate and review any estate documents, including a will, trust and power of attorney.

  • Locate Important Financial Documents

Some financial documents to look for include:

  • stock certificates
  • title documents
  • bearer bonds
  • bank statements
  • brokerage statements
  • deeds
  • prenuptial agreement
  • Collect Asset and Liability Information

Examples of assets include life-insurance policies, bank accounts, investment accounts, real-estate ownership, retirement accounts, business ownership, etc.

Liabilities might include mortgages, owed taxes, credit-card debt, unpaid bills, etc.

  • Inventory and Distribute Personal Belongings

You might want the help of family members and/or close friends for this task. Determine which of the deceased’s belongings to keep, which to distribute to family and friends, and which to donate or sell.

  • File the Deceased’s Final Tax Return

Complete Article HERE!

At the End of Life, What Would Doctors Do?


At the End of Life

Americans have long been chided as the only people on earth who believe death is optional. But the quip is losing its premise. A recent profusion of personal narratives, best-selling books and social entrepreneurs’ projects suggest that, as a culture, we are finally starting to come to terms with our mortality. Nationally, the Conversation Project is engaging people to discuss their wishes for end-of-life care. Death Cafes and Death Over Dinner events are popping up across the country, reflecting an appetite for exploring these matters. So too, the Dinner Party and the Kitchen Widow are using meals as a communal space to explore life after loss.

Admittedly, contemplating mortality is not (yet) a national strong suit. That’s why these cultural stirrings are so significant. At a minimum, our heightened awareness and willingness to talk about illness, dying, caregiving and grieving will lead to much better end-of-life care. However, the impact on American culture needn’t stop there. Like individuals who grow wiser with age, collectively, in turning toward death, we stand to learn a lot about living.

Doctors can be valuable guides in this process. In matters of illness, people are fascinated by the question, what would doctors do? Consider the social phenomenon of Dr. Ken Murray’s online essay, “How Doctors Die.” Dr. Murray wrote that doctors he knew tended to die differently than most people, often eschewing the same late-stage treatments they prescribed for patients. The article went viral, being read by millions, and reprinted in multiple languages in magazines, newspapers and websites across the globe.

Dr. Murray’s observation even engendered studies of doctors’ preferences for care near the end of life. So far, results are mixed. In a Stanford study, 88 percent of responding physicians said they would avoid invasive procedures and life-prolonging machines. But a newly released comparative study of Medicare recipients, as well as a longitudinal study and separate analysis of Medicare datapublished in January, suggest that the actual differences between end-of-life treatments that doctors and nondoctors receive are slight. Perhaps like nearly everyone else, when life is fleeting, physicians find it difficult to follow their previous wishes to avoid aggressive life-prolonging treatments.

For what it’s worth, the terminally ill colleagues I’ve known, including those I’ve been privileged to care for, have usually been willing to use medical treatments aplenty as long as life was worth living, and took great pains to avoid medicalizing their waning days. In any event, the public’s interest in the medical treatments that doctors choose must not be allowed to reinforce our culture’s tendency to see dying solely through medical lenses. More to the point is the question, how do dying doctors live?

What dying doctors do with their time and limited energy, and what they say, are deeply personal, sometimes raw and often tender. Like everyone else, doctors experience pain and suffering – yet many speak of a deepening moment-to-moment sense of life and connection to the people who matter most.

Listen to a few.

Dr. Jane Poulson lost her sight to diabetes while still in medical school. After years of successful internal medicine practice, Dr. Poulson developed inflammatory breast cancer and knew it would claim her life. Writing in the Canadian Medical Journal she said:

In a paradoxical way, I think I can say that I feel more alive now than ever before in my life … When you presume to have infinity before you the value of each person, each relationship, all knowledge you possess is diluted.
I have found my Holy Grail: it is surrounding myself with my dear friends and family and enjoying sharing my fragile and precious time with them as I have never done before. I wonder wistfully why it took a disaster of such proportions before I could see so clearly what was truly important and uniquely mine.

About a year after being given a diagnosis of incurable esophageal cancer, Dr. Bill Bartholome, a pediatrician and ethicist at the University of Kansas, wrote:

I like the person I am now more than I have ever liked myself before. There is a kind of spontaneity and joyfulness in my life that I had rarely known before. I am free of the tyranny of all the things that need to get done. I realize now more than ever before that I exist in a ‘web’ of relationships that support and nourish me, that clinging to each other here ‘against the dark beyond’ is what makes us human … I have come to know more about what it means to receive and give love unconditionally.

Dr. Bartholome referred to this period before his death as “a gift.”

It has given me the opportunity of tying up the ‘loose ends’ that all our lives have. I have been provided the opportunity of reconnecting with those who have taught me, who have shared their lives with me, who have ‘touched’ my life. I have been able … to apologize for past wrongs, to seek forgiveness for past failings.

A healthy defiance is often palpable within the personal decisions of doctors who are living in the growing shadow of death. My friends Herbert Maurer and Letha Mills, long-married oncologists, boldly renewed their vows before a crowd of family and friends during the months Herb was dying of cancer. In “When Breath Becomes Air,” the neurosurgeon Dr. Paul Kalanithi relates the decision he and his wife, the internist Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, made to have a child, while knowing full well that he was unlikely to see their daughter grow up. Such affirmations of couplehood in the face of death are not denial; but rather insubordination, eyes-wide-open commitments to living fully despite the force majeure.

Gratitude also commonly emerges in the experiences of dying clinicians. In one of our last email exchanges, my friend, the clinical psychologist Peter Rodis, wrote:

The shock of knowing I’ll die has passed. And the sorrow of it comes only at moments. Mostly, deep underneath, there is quiet, joyous anticipation and curiosity; gratitude for the days that remain; love all around. I am fortunate.

The neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks concluded his essay “My Own Life” in exaltation.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

These experiences are like dabs of paint on an Impressionist’s canvas. Taking in this contemporary ars morendi we can appreciate how dying and well-being can coexist. For all the sadness and suffering that dying entails, our human potential for love, gratitude and joy persists.

How fitting would it be for a corrective to the medicalization of dying to come from the medical profession itself? The general public’s interest in what doctors do can teach all of us about living fully for whatever time we each have.

Complete Article HERE!

‘Samseng’ son pens heartfelt poem as obituary for father

Mr Ong Tiong Yeow
Mr Ong Tiong Yeow with his mother Madam Han Boon Keng and his daughter Andromeda Wang.

SINGAPORE – Four hours – that was the time it took for businessman Ong Tiong Yeow to write his father’s obituary, a frank, heartfelt poem that has since gone viral on social media.

Four hours was also how long he took to pack his things and leave his family home as a 23-year-old, after his father Ong Peck Lye threw him out for standing up to him.

The elder Mr Ong, a wealthy rubber tyre businessman, died of pneumonia last Wednesday aged 82 and was cremated on Sunday (June 12).

He is survived by his wife Han Boon Keng, 82, a housewife, and three sons aged 46 to 54.

Mr Ong, 52, his second son, penned the tribute as a poem in first person, based on conversations he had with his father in his last days.

The verses depicted the complex humanity of his father, describing not just his charitable nature and flamboyance, but also his ego and conflicts with his family.

“I dared to live, and now I dared to die,” concludes the poem. “I am Ong Peck Lye.”

The obituary, which was in The Straits Times on Friday, was shared on Facebook by user Robin Rheaume and had garnered over 4,300 likes and 1,200 shares as of 8pm on Sunday.

Many were moved by the honesty of the poem, which admits that “My last days were dreary and weary” and that “I never got to see my father be/ A husband to my mother so/I made mistakes being both, trying to be as human as I know.”

The late Mr Ong was born in 1935 into poverty, fatherless from a young age. He worked his way from a slum along the Kallang River into prosperity after he co-founded the Stamford Tyres business empire.

He showered his children with privilege, but their relationships were complicated – at some point, he evicted each of them from their bungalow in Upper Serangoon.

Mr Ong said his older brother was thrown out after he converted to Christianity and married into a Eurasian family. His younger brother followed suit after coming out as gay. Both left Singapore, the oldest moving to Australia and the youngest to the United States.

Said Mr Ong: “My father died before he had the chance to ask my brothers to forgive him.”

He himself was ordered to leave when he fought with his father about the treatment of his mother.

He said: “The poem is also a tribute to my mum. My father bullied her, scolded her, kept mistresses – but she tahan (Malay for endure) until the end.”

Madam Han said in Mandarin: “We had good times and bad times. He was a generous man. I loved him and he loved me.”

Together, she and Mr Ong nursed her late husband through seven years of dementia.

Mr Ong said his father had asked him to move back home after a few years. “He got lonely,” he said.

He recalled returning laden with artwork from the beauty pageant franchising company he had set up, determined to show his father how successful he had been. “My father looked at me and said: ‘I don’t care about all this. I missed you.’

“After that, I did not leave his side again for 25 years.”

In the obituary, Mr Ong dubbed himself the “samseng” son, which is Malay for gangster. He said this was because in his youth, he was rebellious and did poorly in school. He was a prolific poet in his youth, having written more than 500 poems, though none were published.

When he was 16, his father bought him a pick-up truck and had him deliver goods after school from the godown to the docks. He would often have to go out to the ships and climb a few storeys up their sides to get the captain to sign the papers.

“He wanted to toughen me up, to show me the same hard life he had led,” said Mr Ong.

Mr Ong, who has a nine-year-old daughter, said he wrote the poem to share the lessons from his father’s life. “We have only one chance in life to be a husband and a father. We learn what we can from our parents, but we only have one chance to get it right ourselves.”


Complete Article HERE!

The Son of a Funeral-Planner Explores His Dad’s Grieving Process



Jesse grew up observing grief. He learned the most about it from his dad, a man who seemed not to express much at all. Here is how.

Lou was walking alone when he died of a heart attack. He was my dad’s brother-in-law, but they seemed more like best friends. My dad was Lou’s best man in his wedding, they’d talk politics, and they played music together. So, when my dad was put in charge of Lou’s funeral, it was no surprise that it became a multi-act musical tribute. Lou’s kids played, neighborhood kids got up, my mom and I performed.

We held in our tears during the funeral, since we had to perform. But then the final act began. It was a recording of Lou on piano and you could hear him breathing. I think it goes without saying that the last thing you expect at a funeral is to hear the dead person breathing. And so mom began to cry. I began to cry. Outside, as the funeral let out, we supported each other, sobbing. My dad remained inside, arguing with the sound crew.

At that point in our lives, my family had been been playing in my dad’s funeral band for several years. This was the fifth funeral my dad had planned. But what started as a genuine attempt to honor the departed had become hard for me to understand. I wondered if somewhere along the way to funeral director, my dad had lost his ability to grieve.

* * *

You could say it all begins with Johnnie. He was my dad’s older cousin and they were close. Johnnie was a charming kid who wore patches from yoyo competitions, did trick-dives off the diving board. When Johnnie would visit for the weekend, my dad looked forward to sharing a room.But there was also a darker side to Johnnie’s life. His mom was the daughter of a military officer and came from an abusive background, a tradition she seems to have passed on. There were rumors that she whipped him with belts and threw him against walls. When he was 1 year old, he had a broken leg, cause unknown.

Once Johnnie turned 18, he took off. No one heard from him for years, though snippets came down the grapevine that he had grown his hair out, discovered heroin. And then just like that, Johnny reentered my dad’s life. “I went out to one of the first fiddler conventions,” my dad told me, “and I got out there kind of early. I saw a guy dumpster-diving for food, and I took a closer look, and it was my cousin Johnnie.”

They spent the day together, talked about Johnnie’s family. My dad offered him a place to live and Johnnie accepted. But before long, alcohol starting disappearing from the house. I was a baby, my dad could be gone for long periods of time, and my mom, who had once dated an alcoholic, felt uneasy about the situation. “He had that, I don’t know how to say it, this jive, the lying, the part that I had been dealing with for so long with somebody who had that kind of addiction.”

My dad asked Johnnie to move out and once again he disappeared. From what we know, the rest of his life was spent doing odd jobs, battling addiction, getting arrested, and studying the Bible with a men’s Christian group. Then, on his 50th birthday, after relapsing, he went to Big Sur and killed himself under the stars. My dad took it hard. He asked Johnnie’s mother if they were going to have a funeral and she refused. She accused Johnnie of taking his own life just to get back at her. So my dad picked some songs, wrote a eulogy, and put on a funeral himself.

“Chat, rap, talk, spinning the yarn, that was Johnnie’s gift wasn’t it?” my dad’s eulogy began.

My mom and I joined my dad up front. We played an old folk song called “Hobo’s Lullaby” (I knew it because my dad would sing it to me before bed). The rest of the funeral went well. People stayed and ate dinner. Dad didn’t cry. He didn’t seem sad. He circulated around the room, calm, cracking jokes. But in the weeks that followed the funeral, he stopped singing “Hobo’s Lullaby.” When I’d ask for it before bed, he’d say, very nicely, “I can’t sing that song.”

I could tell something was going on for dad. I didn’t realize it then, but that song, “Hobo’s Lullaby,” was a brief window into my dad’s sadness. And then, just like that, it shut again.

* * *

A few years after Johnny’s death, my grandmother had a stroke and the process began again. This time the death took many months and my dad was put in charge of caretaking. Day by day, her body and mind broke down. He was by her side when she died. Soon after, we discovered that my grandmother had planned her own funeral. She not only requested specific songs, but specific people, including the family funeral band, to sing them. My dad arranged the performances and pushed us to practice. Then the day of the funeral arrived and to the surprise of everyone but my grandmother, 300 people arrived. We shook with nerves as we played. The audience clapped.

Afterwards, we packed the minivan with equipment and barely made the reception in the backyard of my grandfather’s house. People shook our hands and complimented us.

Once we played her funeral, the expectations were set. We played when my Uncle Tom died. We played when my grandfather died. And a funny thing happened, the more tragedy struck, the better we got. By the time Lou died, we were ready to really put on a show. But that window into my dad’s grief didn’t reopen and I was left wondering, once again, what was going on inside my dad’s head.

* * *

Years passed, we continued to play funerals. But as I got older, moved out of the house and struck out on my own, I began to resent my dad’s demands. I started dating, and I began to wonder why I had difficulty showing emotion. I knew it had something to do with my dad and that angered me. I decided: no more family band. I went on strike. And then a few more years passed, more dating, and I began revisiting the most important deaths and funerals of my childhood. And as I did so, I came to see my dad’s emotions, and mine, in a new light.

When I went to my mom and asked her about my dad, she told me something that happened to her the last time she was on stage. She is a very nervous person and when she’s performing with my dad, she searches the audience for someone she finds reassuring. But this time, during “Amazing Grace,” she did something different.

“I started looking around at different people and I could see that they were very moved. There was part of me that felt I did it right, using my own feelings to portray this song, to sing it, but also recognizing the effect my singing had.”

This got me thinking. Maybe, for my dad, performing is about experiencing grief. Maybe he can feel loss by seeing it in others; a kind of grief by proxy. Could that be it?

The final answer came later.

My girlfriend was driving and I put in a recording of the family band. As the music played, my parents’ voices coming through the tinny speakers, the emotion that swept over me came as a surprise. I felt proud. I watched my girlfriend’s face as the music played, hoping the music would bring tears to her eyes. “Listen to this one,” I said. “You can hear my uncle breathing. This one has my cousin on it.”

As I searched her face for a reaction, I remembered what my dad gets out of these performances. Yes, he feels pain and loss. He feels sadness. But it’s the performance that does that. It’s the performance that allows him to see his own pain through someone else’s eyes. And just like my dad, I was seeking this from my girlfriend’s reaction, this many years later.

And so, if I should lose someone close to me, here’s what you can do. Watch me play, let the music move you, and let me watch the music move you. Come up to me afterwards and let me shrug in modesty, crack a joke. Let me pretend I don’t care. But let me think, secretly: Yes, I’m the son of a funeral planner. Yes, I play in the Family Funeral Band.

Getting to know my dad in a deeper way allowed me to learn something about myself. We are not macho men, but we aren’t liberated men, either. Somehow, we learned to circumvent the emotional limitations of masculinity by performing our grief. It’s a work-around, we know.

It’s the best we can manage, for now.

Complete Article HERE!