What happens when we die?

Depending on where and how you die several people will have to be notified or be involved after death. If you die at home, in the UK, a doctor will need to be notified as a death certificate with cause of death has to be issued. If the deceased has not seen a doctor in the previous 14 days then the coroner has to be informed.

The Police can tell you what the procedure is locally. They will only get involved if it is an unexpected death or in the case of an accidental death or deliberate killing. Clearly it is a lot easier in some respects if you take your last breath in either a hospital or a hospice as at least they have the correct procedures in place.

I was present in a house in 2005 when someone died upstairs of a heart attack. He was a lodger in my friend’s house and we were downstairs completely unaware as there was no sign or noise to indicate that it had happened. We think he was asleep. I had left and was at home when I got an urgent call to go back as my friend was obviously distressed, having gone to find him and finding a dead body.

The Police were called and were very sympathetic. A rookie Bobbie was with them and this was his first sight of a dead body. Think he took it a lot harder than we did as we had both seen one before.

For some reason if you want to be cremated it has to be two doctors but only one for a burial. I guess this is because cremation is so final whereas a body can be disinterred if necessary if there are any suspicious circumstances. A post mortem is usually only needed in the case of an unexpected death and the person was alone.

I’m not sure if this is mandatory as in the case of my mother’s best friend, who died alone, her daughter refused to agree to a PM. However, she is a nurse and her husband a senior hospital consultant so they had influence at the hospital and this may not be usual.

On the lighter side of death, yes there is one, you could say it’s the final journey that you don’t have to pack for. However, we still seem to want to be dressed for the event and looking our best. The body can be embalmed for a traditional burial but not for a natural burial and clothing is better if made from natural fibres. Cosmetics are often applied to disguise the pallor of death and to avoid upsetting the mourners if they want to visit the deceased. Jewellery can be worn and other items added to a coffin, like a teddy bear or doll for a child. This is for the more traditional amongst us.

Even with a natural burial it is expected that the body will be in a coffin or a shroud and in an urn or other receptacle if it’s cremated remains. And it is very hard to get away with not using a Funeral Director (FD) unless you are of a religious faith where your body has to be disposed of as quickly as possible.

As most of the countries where an immediate disposal is required have a hotter climate than the UK, then this is obviously good practice because of the rate of decomposition (which I will be posting on for the not so squeamish) and lack of refrigerated storage.

It can take at least a week to make arrangements in the UK, often longer if relatives have to come from abroad, making it virtually impossible to keep a body at home for that length of time. An exception may be where a body is to be buried in the grounds at home. The cost for using the facilities at a FD’s premises can vary so if you want to prepare in advance then shop around locally. There is also an Association of Green Funeral Directors if you are interested in the ‘au naturel’ option.


A Funeral Director is at least trained to deal with the bereaved and if no previous arrangements have been made or a letter of wishes left with the Will giving explicit instructions then the FD can guide your family through the process. I think most people recognise that a funeral can be very expensive.

A friend of mine told me recently that her brother’s funeral had cost £7,000. But they had gone for the full monty with a marble headstone, even a simple one starts at £1,000, and a memorial bench with an engraved plaque as he had been a keen amateur carpenter.

A natural burial can be significantly cheaper but even then the cost of a plot can vary from a couple of hundred pounds up to over £5,000 in the South East. This is for the ‘grant’ or use of the plot for a specified number of years. Some local authorities are running out of space so will only grant you 25 years. One cemetery in London only had 3 months worth of space left and that was a couple of years ago.

Don’t know what they had to do to solve that one. At our local natural ground it is 65 years as the Trust that owns and runs it was set up 10 years ago to cover a 75 year period.

In addition to the plot, there is the cost to dig the grave and inter the body. Some places combine the prices, some split them out. A natural burial ground may allow the family to dig it out themselves but it does have to be at least 4’6″ deep and the plot measures 7′ by 3′.

I certainly wouldn’t fancy that in winter when the ground is hard. Our local ground did do a winter one last year and it had snowed the night before. The funeral still went ahead as the family insisted their father would have loved it. You can have a service of dedication at the graveside and some burial grounds have dedicated places such as a barn or wooden garden room that can be used. You can even hold a wake on site afterwards. Our local one is right next door to a pub which amused my Mum. At least I know where to go for her wake.

There are a range of other fees from the coffin to transportation, flowers, the celebrant whether a vicar or a secular one, use of a church or crematorium and so on. Several of these are optional or can be simplified. Bearing in mind that a firm of Funeral Directors is a business and is there to make money to pay their overheads some selling will be involved particularly for add-ons or up selling to a more expensive package.

My best guess for a stripped down, no fuss committal with a few words as the burial takes place is about £1,800 but may well cost more. Even if we pay a deposit now, as my Mum’s mother was 99 when she died last year, I don’t know how much more it will cost in another 25 years time assuming my Mum lives that long.

And it may be 45 years to go for me too, who knows. You can see why so many people avoid this sort of forward planning.

1 comment for “What happens when we die?

  1. September 14, 2012 at 12:35

    “no fuss committal with a few words as the burial takes place is about £1,800”

    We have dealt with a number of deaths and that sounds about right to me, although our last funeral was about two years ago.

    The only thing I would add is that we found the main advantage of a Funeral Director to be the way they just get on and handle things at a difficult time.

Comments are closed.