Services > Bereavement > LLUMC - Bereavement Programs - When a Loved One Dies

What to do when a loved one dies

A person you love is dying, or may have already died. You may have a difficult time believing this is actually happening. Or you may feel relief if this has been an extended illness. You may feel that this is the worst moment of your life. You may feel as if a part of your own self is being ripped away.

Helpless...hopeless...sorrowful...scared. These words might help describe some of what you are feeling.

What next? Where do you go from here? What needs to be done before you leave the hospital? And what should you expect in the next several months?

We want you to know that you do not have to go through this time alone. There are many people here in the hospital who can be of support to you: chaplains, priests, social workers, nurses, and physicians. Ask the nurse to put you in contact with the person you feel would be most helpful to you.

You will probably want to contact family and close friends as soon as possible. Telephones are available for your use. Ask a nurse or unit secretary to assist you.

Past experience has shown that spending time with a deceased loved one can help to begin the healing process. If this is something you would like to do, please let the nurse or chaplain know as soon as possible. You may wish to invite other family members to join you.

Before you leave the hospital, make sure you have all of your loved one’s belongings. Don’t forget to have the nurse check the safe for valuables.

Many families find that organ donation is a way to find some joy in the midst of great pain. There are individuals available who may speak with you about tissue, organ, and cornea donations. If you have questions about organ donation, please ask the nurse to put you in contact with the organ procurement agency.

To help determine the cause of death, an autopsy is available at no cost to you. Permission must be obtained from the closest family member. We will assist you with the needed paperwork if that is your desire. If necessary, we can obtain a telephone consent. A copy of the autopsy report will be available six-eight weeks following the death. Any questions about autopsy reports can be directed to medical records at (909) 651-4104.

Under some circumstances, the coroner determines whether or not an autopsy must be done. If the patient was in the hospital less than 24 hours, or if the death was caused by trauma or accident, the coroner is involved in the decision.

When you have selected a mortuary, please call (909) 651-4104 and give the name, address, and phone number of the one you have chosen. We cannot select a mortuary for you. Please keep in mind that this information is needed within three days.

The death certificate is not a legal document until it has been certified by the Hall of Records in San Bernardino, California. Certified copies of the death certificate are needed for changing names on bank and retirement accounts, processing life insurance claims, changing the title on your home, and obtaining death benefits from Social Security. The mortuary you choose will assist you in obtaining the certified copies that you will need for legal purposes.

In the days, weeks, and months ahead, there may be questions you want to ask. Feel free to contact the chaplains’ office at (909) 558-4367 or the Bereavement Program office at (909) 558-7261.

As you move through the grief process, you may not understand all the emotions that churn inside of you. Such an experience can be fearful. To help you deal with your loss, the chaplains offer grief recovery groups for adults, teens, and children four times each year. The seven week program begins on the first Monday of every January, April, July and October. For information and/or registration, please call (909)824-4367. Also available is a complete listing of other bereavement support groups in the surrounding area.


Varied emotions are part of the normal grieving process. At times you may think you have no feelings at all. Other times, you may feel like exploding with anger. These feelings will likely be quite different from your usual emotional state and can be quite frightening at times. But they are normal. Allow yourself the freedom to express your feelings.

Following are some of the stages that most people experience when grieving:

Temporarily you may be so stunned that you feel as though nothing has happened. It may seem as though time has stopped and a fog or cloud surrounds you. You may find yourself forgetting things, feeling confused, or having a hard time making decisions. These are normal reactions. Within several weeks, the shock will begin to fade.

You may find yourself looking for every possible link to your loved one. Comfort may come in the form of photographs, clothing or other keepsakes. This time can be confusing because of the many competing emotions you may feel: guilt, anger, sadness, restlessness and/or impatience. You may feel physical symptoms such as a choking sensation, shortness of breath and a loss of or increase in appetite. This stage may last as long as four months and will likely return on the anniversary of your loved one’s death or birthday, and around special holidays.

During this time the realization of your loss becomes acutely painful. You may begin to experience increased fears and anxieties, such as an overwhelming sense of danger and the dread of being alone. You may find it difficult to concentrate or may have problems starting or continuing routine projects. You may have difficulty sleeping or feel very depressed. You may feel like you are going crazy, but these feelings will decrease with the passage of time. This is the time to contact those around you who are concerned and able to give support. It is also an appropriate time to join a grief support group.

Eventually you will notice your level of energy increasing and your ability to make decisions returning. This does not mean that you will never again feel the pain. It does not mean that you are forgetting your loved one, but you have found a special place in your heart for him or her and are ready to move forward with your life. You will find that you are able to relate to others in a deeper, more meaningful way because of what you’ve experienced.


TALKING will help. You may find people--even relatives and friends--who will discourage you from talking about your loved one who has died. But it is healing to talk. Do it as long as you need to.

CRYING is very healthy. Many people try to suppress their tears, but tears are healing.

WRITING in a journal seems to be one of the most helpful things that many people do while grieving. Feelings that may be uncomfortable to share in other settings can be safely written down.

SUPPORT GROUPS will put you in an environment where it is okay to grieve, and where you can gain support from many others who have been through similar situations.

TIME is a healer. If you don’t run from the pain of your grief, time will provide opportunity to work through it. Healing will time.