How to deal with death at home
“What should I do after he passes away? I mean…the practicalities. How do I deal with the dead body at home?”
It was this question, put to me by the son of a patient whose home we were visiting in Hyderabad, India, that inspired me to write this article. The patient was an elderly gentleman with a terminal medical condition. We were there to offer the patient and the family, palliative care.
One of the services provided by palliative care, a medical specialty that deals with life-limiting and terminal illnesses, is to plan for a good death. This involves providing supportive care to the patient and relief from pain and other symptoms (at home or in the hospital, as per the patient’s choice), and also providing support to the family during the last days of the patient’s life and beyond death, to assist the family with the practical arrangements that need to be made and to provide bereavement care.
If a patient’s last wish is to die at home, then we want to support the family through that process with the necessary information and guidance.
As our palliative care service is based in Hyderabad, I can tell you how it works here. The first thing you need to do is to get a doctor that lives nearby (or call for one from a hospital nearby) to come and confirm the death. It would be a good idea to find this doctor beforehand and inform them that you have a dying relative at home. Request the doctor to provide you with a written record of the time and date of death (and probable cause if it is a known life-limiting illness like cancer, heart disease etc.) on their official letterhead. Next, you need to decide whether you are going to move the body right away or whether you need to wait for relatives to come. In the latter case, you can rent a freezer box to preserve the body at home till you are ready to transport it to the cremation or burial ground. This will cost around ₹3000 per day, and you can find the contact for dead body freezer box rentals on Google. You can also contact our palliative care society for details on freezer box and hearse services.
When you are ready to move the body from home, you need to make contact with the nearest cremation or burial ground, as per the religious beliefs of the deceased. For Hindus, there are Smashana Vatikas that will take care of cremation (electric or wooden) at a cost of around ₹4000. Additional puja services can cost between ₹10,000 to 20,000. For Muslims, contact the nearest Kabristan. The burial will cost around ₹4000, which is labor charge for the grave diggers. Christians will have church memberships that include right of burial on church grounds, and for those who don’t have such a membership, certain churches may allow for funeral services at a cost of around ₹3000. Call and inform the facility beforehand so arrangements can be made.
Carry the Aadhaar card or other identity proof of the deceased and the doctor’s death declaration with you and at the end of the funeral service collect a receipt of cremation or burial from the facility. This receipt, the doctor’s declaration, and copy of the identity proof of the deceased need to be submitted at the nearest Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) office. In addition, you will need to submit copies of your own Aadhaar card and of the electricity bill as address proof. In 2-3 weeks, the death certificate will be available on e-Seva online.
Dealing with the death of a loved one is something difficult that we all have to go through in life. This article describes the practicalities of how to deal with death at home in Hyderabad. It is reasonable to suppose that this protocol can be used in other cities and towns in India. For help with this and other aspects of care for a loved one at the end of life, contact your nearest palliative care service. If you are in Hyderabad, reach out to us: email@example.com or +91-9177238901.
The author is a palliative care physician employed by Two Worlds Cancer Collaboration, Canada, and working with the Pain Relief and Palliative Care Society (PRPCS) in Hyderabad. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A short version of this article was published by Deccan Chronicle.