Unexpected Death
November 13, 2013 6:02 AM   Subscribe

My Dad just called and my Mom unexpectedly died in her sleep at 62. We need help in knowing what to do.

Mom was in very poor health but not under doctor's care for anything. What needs to be done? My Dad and I have not had to take care of this for anyone else and don't really have anyone to ask. Is there a checklist of what should be done? Any tips? He is calling 911 and my mom's parents who are out of state now. There will probably be no visiting hours and a service for family and close friends.

Adding complexity, my Grandma (my Dad's mom) died on Monday in hospice care at 96. So my Dad's family is travelling in for the funeral this Saturday so it seems that the service for my mom should be soon so that family is still here. Should the services be at the same time, place? Any thoughts on this would be helpful.

No need to send your I'm sorry to hear that to me. Just some straight-up advice will be the most helpful to me right now.
posted by RoadScholar to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
You might find this check-list helpful.
posted by leslies at 6:04 AM on November 13, 2013 [10 favorites]

Are you using a funeral home for your grandmother? Who helped you organize that that service? I would think they are the person you should have help organize your mother's service.
posted by Flood at 6:05 AM on November 13, 2013

When my dad passed unexpectedly, the advice given to my mom from multiple sources was, go immediately to the bank and get out several hundred dollars, or as much as they'll let you take out in a single withdrawal. Depending on how their accounts were set up, things might get frozen, and it would be good to have some cash on hand. You might encourage your dad to do this.
posted by jbickers at 6:06 AM on November 13, 2013 [10 favorites]

Does your mother have a will? If so, contact the attorney who prepared it. If you know she has a will but do not know where it is located or who prepared it, contact the county bar association, and they can help you find the attorney who prepared it.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:11 AM on November 13, 2013

Get an impartial / unemotional person to handle the funeral home. FUNERAL HOMES GOUGE YOU. You want someone to negotiate like a hardened criminal because funeral homes will watch family dynamics and manipulate the shit out of your family to get more money.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:15 AM on November 13, 2013 [8 favorites]

A coworker had her elderly parents pass away 2 days apart. She held both viewings/funerals on the same day. That went over well (as well as it could have gone) with everyone who was traveling to attend.
posted by kimberussell at 6:24 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, the funeral home that handled my grandparent's funerals and later my Dad's did not gouge or manipulate. The owner was friendly with the deceased through Rotary and was very helpful on all details. Let your Dad follow his gut. You and your Dad should reach out to the professionals here and don't feel bad choosing expedient and inexpensive methods if that's what you need to do.

It takes a village to get through this stuff sometimes -- did your mom have a group or community that could be corralled to provide dinners? How about your Dad? Providing a dedicated point person to handle expressions and gestures from the community can be very helpful.
posted by amanda at 6:38 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

- Funerals are for the living, not the deceased, so don't stress about them any more than strictly necessary. Both on the same day or in rapid succession is fine, unless they were bitter enemies or something.

- Yes, take out as much cash as possible from the bank until the estates are settled.

- Be with your dad as much as you can. That's the best advice I was ever given regarding death... just BE there for one another, that simple.

- Be your dad's advocate: he may be a wreck at points, and without the support of your mom, I think it would be a comfort to him if you accompanied him to the various meetings and discussions he'll need to attend and backed up his wishes.
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:41 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

MeMail ColdChef.
posted by usonian at 6:41 AM on November 13, 2013 [13 favorites]

Getting cash from the estate if possible to handle expenses until things are settled may be less of an issue since there's a surviving spouse. Get more copies of the death certificate than you think you need - you end up sending a lot of them out to various organizations.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:51 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding multiple copies of the death certificate. When my mom died I ordered fifteen copies and used nearly all of them.

If the bank account(s) are joint accounts then money should be less of an issue as far as access is concerned. But you will want to find all the important papers (will, powers of attorney, bank account statements, etc.) asap.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:26 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

If there's a viewing, you need to pick out what she will wear and how her hair is to be fixed. My Mother's hairstylist was on hand and did that for me. Have some cash for that. Make sure there is someone to stay at the home during the wake/viewing/funeral service. Folk watch the obits to see if there are unoccupied homes to hit during those times. Also in my area its customary to donate money to the church if you have you own preacher to do the service and also to pay any musician that my be present. These are the things I had to deal with flatfooted when my mother passed unexpectedly.
posted by PJMoore at 8:00 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a very pleasant experience with my local funeral home, this can really depend. Things that were helpful to me

- start a list of everyone you talk to and everyone who is involved with contact info
- have a plan with your dad for notifying people. Phone calls work best if possible.
- write an obit and submit it to the local newspaper
- start tracking expenses associated with the funeral/etc
- get a zillion (ten?) official copies of the death certificate (many people accept copies, some will not)
- locate a copy of her will and that will guide you through the rest. I was the executor for my dad's estate and needed also a bunch of copies of the "You are the executor" letter to get stuff done
- funeral home will deal with immediate issues with the body and buy you some time to figure out what to do. Think if you and/or your dad knew her wishes for burial/cremation/whatnot
- Services are for the living - I do not have much of a feeling about whether to combine services. I have MeMailed you ColdChef's number and I'd suggest calling him even though you don't know him.
- go easy on yourself and on your dad. People deal with grief and stress in different ways and just presume no one who knew your mom is going to be at their best for a while.
posted by jessamyn at 8:28 AM on November 13, 2013 [9 favorites]

This exact situation happened to me a couple of years ago. Besides the things you have read above we also had a really hard time finding out all her bills and accounts since she had moved a lot to email and online only services.

You should be careful as to not lose her email, is she is logged in already, try to find out any saved passwords, history for credit cards, etc...

We made a shared google account for dealing with all the loose ends of my mom's estate and todo lists to help out.

We also got a call from the organ donation people, don't be surprised if you or your dad gets one. Due to mom's health we could only donate corneas and bone, but felt that something of her lived on afterwards. You can obviously say no.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:40 AM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

jessamyn's list is excellent. you'll need to call all her friends and family asap.
posted by xammerboy at 12:33 PM on November 13, 2013

Why, yes there is.
posted by yclipse at 1:32 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

My mom was cremated. We had a memorial service for her about a month later so that military relatives could attend. We were able to rent a small local mission for this. Because we had a comfortable timeframe, we could arrange her favorite music and invite people to share their memories. It was much less expensive than the funeral home costs. Cost for our family was an issue. We did have her cremains buried in her pre purchased plot. Even then, there are expenses for opening and closing. Have someone help you and your dad compose a tribute with her picture for her local newspaper.
posted by crw at 4:12 PM on November 13, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone. Your answers have been very helpful. Thankfully, pieces of this situation are easier due to small number of people involved, my Dad still alive so still in the house and accessing the accounts etc, and the woeful lack of funds to be planned for.

We did not have the access to accounts issue. In any case I could always lend my Dad money if needed temporarily.

We had to start this morning with even figuring out if my Mom's preferred church (not mine or my Dad's) would allow her to have a service there or allow her to be cremated. Thankfully this seems to be a simple matter but we did not know.

My Aunt (actually my Uncle's wife) has done an incredible amount of work for my Grandmother's expected death and although she offered help today and did help today I did not want to burden her further given my Grandmother's funeral on Saturday.

We weren't asked about organ donation as I think too much time passed since the time of death.

We are cremating so thankfully viewing won't be an issue.

While the timeline is not forced to be tight we want to get the funeral business handled as soon as possible so my Dad and all of us can move along in our grieving so are planning the service for Monday. We reviewed the option to stack the two services on Saturday and did not feel that would be right in having my Dad and all his relatives go from my Grandma's funeral to my Mom's. This way my Dad's family can grieve with him privately even if they can't stay for my mom's funeral on Monday.

Other things that have come up:
I have to figure out what flowers to order, apparently there is usually a bouquet (?) from the husband that says Wife, children that says Mother, etc. I am going to arrange all of these as they are what is to decorate the table with the box of "cremains" aka ashes.
Then we will tell anyone who asks and put in the obituary that donations in lieu of flowers will be accepted at a local charity organization that upholds issues dear to my Mom's heart.
Write the obituary - this was mentioned above and should be simple for us. I suggest anyone who has a care should write their own ahead of time as my Grandfather has for years, the lovely man.
Cards - I need to get some cards for Thank You note ahead of time.
Funeral cards - I need to talk to someone about having these made.
Pictures - my Dad was looking for pictures of my Mom and couldn't find any so I went through my last few years of pictures and Dropboxed him some good ones. We'll pick some to frame for the service.

I will add more as I come across any.
posted by RoadScholar at 4:54 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

You don't have to do separate floral arrangements if you don't want to. A florist can make an arrangement that will fit around whatever urn you use. Other floral arrangements would be nice but not necessary, depending on finances and what you want to do.

A decent florist can talk you through this. Don't be embarrassed to tell them your finances are limited if they are. They will need to know the dimensions of the urn, but other than that, your wishes are the main thing. They can suggest things they have seen others do, but you are NOT obligated to do anything but what YOU want to do.

I do suggest, that you could also order some green plants (Peace lilies and the like) if you think you or your dad or another family member would like them afterward. You wouldn't believe the families that do this, and tell me straight up. But nothing wrong with doing it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:02 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: All good advice here. I will add that the negative stereotype of greedy funeral directors is wildly inflated. Most are caring advocates willing to work within the budget you provide.

Decide what you're going to do eventually with the ashes. There's no need to purchase an urn if you intend to eventually scatter or inter them somewhere. Also: don't feel the need to set them out at the memorial if you're not using an urn. I usually suggest a modest floral bouquet and some photographs.

If Jessamyn sent you my number, feel free to call me. I'm always happy to help a friend, even if we aren't yet friends. Or MeMail me any questions directly and I'll answer them as quickly as I'm able.
posted by ColdChef at 8:09 PM on November 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Another check in ...

"You don't have to do separate floral arrangements if you don't want to. A florist can make an arrangement that will fit around whatever urn you use. Other floral arrangements would be nice but not necessary, depending on finances and what you want to do. "

Yes, St. Alia of the Bunnies. My father felt happy to select the 2 arrangements for my mom that best met his picture of how the table would look and be highlighted (almost spotlighted) in importance for my mom's ashes. We agreed to limit the flowers to a compliment to the box (actually a wooden box he chose instead of an urn shape).

Contrary to the stereotype and in 100% accordance with ColdChef's comments, we have had a stellar experience with the funeral home to the point that I am almost in tears at their special caring for all the details with both my Grandma's funeral and burial and my Mom's cremation. Their consideration and care has been the opposite of the stereotypical bullying and guilting I have pictured. Every item they have offered has been included in the cremation fee, nothing has been extra except the fee to the State for death certificates and the newspaper's fee for the obituary and these are straight pass-through costs with no profit to the funeral home. Even items I would have thought they would exorbitantly charge us for - prayer cards and sign-in book were included in the cremation fee that they were completely up front about.
For example, the funeral home lent us any of the containers for ashes for the funeral mass. Then when my Dad is done with the service, he can take the ashes back and they will remove the container and provide him with the basic container or any other container of his choosing or as they suggested he could provide his own container. I cannot explain how important and helpful this was to my Dad that he could select a container for my Mom's ashes for the service only and not a final choice. My Dad is undecided about what to do with the ashes right now so this is beyond helpful.

ColdChef, extensive thanks for your offer and kind words.
posted by RoadScholar at 7:02 PM on November 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

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