Time of Death

Supporting the Patient’s Family as Death Approaches

Time of Death

Coaching about Time of Death Most families have strong feelings about being present or being absent during the actual moment of death.

Death vigil

Some families feel very strongly about wanting to be at the bedside when the patient actually dies. They will take turns or certain caregivers will exhaust themselves by staying at the bedside day after day.

  • Explain to them that even if they are at the bedside, their loved one might pass when they step away momentarily or fall asleep for a few minutes.
  • Assure them that it is OK to leave the bedside to go for a walk and that the health care team will provide excellent care for the patient even in the absence of the family

Death in an institution

  • Some families will prefer to not be alone with the patient at the actual time of death.
  • Others will prefer to go home and prefer to be called immediately when the patient dies.
  • Some of our patient’s families have requested that they not be called with the news of death in the middle of the night, but to withhold the information and then call them the following morning.
  • Occasionally, some families have requested that they be informed, but to send the body directly to the mortuary. They prefer to view the body after the mortuary has embalmed and processed and dressed the body.
  • Many families have identified one or two persons who they want called first about the news of death.


Caution There is no “typical response to death of a loved one”. Support all families within their premises to the extent possible.
Source: VJ Periyakoil, MD and Betty Wexler, RN, CNS
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