In this section you will find information about common practical concerns or challenges faced by people bereaved by suicide.
- Coroner / Procurator Fiscal
- Finances and insurance
- Death of someone who was under the care or custody of another agency
- Time off and returning to work
- Returning to your home
- Other concerns after someone dies
What to do when someone dies: step by step
The police may be the first to inform the next of kin that the death has happened. They also have a responsibility to investigate the circumstances of the death and report to the coroner or procurator fiscal. For the family, this can feel like an additional burden at a time of pain and confusion, however most officers try to handle these situations and inquiries with appropriate sensitivity and with an awareness to the needs of the bereaved.
If you feel that your case was not handled appropriately and you wish to make a complaint, you can find more information from the relevant police association:
The process differs slightly between Scotland and the rest of the UK, however the role of a coroner or a procurator fiscal is investigate reported deaths which are sudden or unexplained and to determine key facts such as who has died, when, where and how – the cause of death. They are usually lawyers (this is always the case in Scotland) but some may be doctors.
We all react differently when we hear the decision about the cause of death. Some feel that it is a helpful “milestone” and that they have received some answers or that they can progress. Others find it unsatisfactory, particularly if the outcome differs to their expectation or that it does not provide the answers they had hoped for.
The nature and length of the investigation will vary but it may include:
- A post mortem (autopsy)
- Medical history
- Police reports
- Witness statements
- Personal effects of the person who has died
The investigation can be lengthy and the decision about cause of death may come many months after the person died and the death cannot be registered until then (the funeral can usually happen sooner, once the coroner has released the body). This can be a source of additional stress.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, an inquest will be held in order to reach a verdict on the cause of death. The inquest is held in a courtroom – however it is not a trial and it is not about seeking to blame anyone. Only a minority of inquests have a jury – this is when there are very specific circumstances. The inquest is a public hearing and anyone may attend – including the media. The information shared as part of the inquest can be quite technical e.g. toxicology reports. Sometimes the investigation will uncover information about the person who has died that the family and friends were unaware of.
The legal, formal and public nature of the inquest can feel very distressing for some people. It can be helpful if you can try to prepare yourself, here are some suggestions that others have found helpful:
- Find out more about what will happen. There are links to useful organisations below.
- Ask a friend or relative to support you throughout the process – as well as attending hearings, it can be helpful to have someone else to read communications and help make sense of the process.
- Keep in contact with your coroner’s office – make sure you are clear about dates and details. Don’t be afraid to call them – they can be very busy and unintentional oversights can happen. They are usually very helpful and accommodating if you contact them.
- Arrange to visit the courtroom and/or another inquest in advance of the hearing – it removes a small element of the unknown.
- Be prepared for the language, terminology and technical information that will be used.
- Prepare yourself for potential media involvement – see Media.
There are other resources which you may find helpful:
The Ministry of Justice produce the Guide to coroner services’ and coroner investigations. The Guide explains to bereaved people, and others who come into contact with a coroner service, what they can expect from the coroner’s investigation. It sets out the standards of service that they should receive and what they can do if they are not satisfied. It aims to help to make standards of service more transparent for coroners and bereaved people, as well as assisting the Chief Coroner in discharging his responsibility for overseeing coroner services. The guide is also available in a short edition and in Welsh.
INQUEST are a charity providing free advice to bereaved people facing an inquest (they have a focus on deaths in custody but also provide more general information including their handbook which is helpful “if someone you know has died, or you are helping someone you know deal with a death where an inquest is to be held, The Inquest Handbook will give you information about the inquest procedure and what will happen after a sudden, violent or unnatural death”.
For Northern Ireland, you can find information from the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service
In Scotland, the Procurator Fiscal will investigate any death which may be the result of intentional self harm and a post-mortem may be required. Once the investigation is complete, a death certificate (which will include the cause of death) is made available to the next of kin.
You may find it helpful to obtain more information about the process:
Interest by the media is often an issue faced by those bereaved by suicide. The press are most likely to report at the time of death, they may also attend and report on the inquest. Whether they choose to do so is not always predictable.
Many reporters try to be empathetic to the needs of the bereaved and can offer opportunities for positive reporting about the person who has died. Unfortunately this is not always the case and there are few legal constraints e.g. children who have been bereaved may be named. For those whose story is told incorrectly or in sensationalised terms, the experience can be very distressing.
Unfortunately you will not have complete control over what the media choose to report however you may be able to influence them – read our Guidelines for dealing with the media for more information.
Funerals are an important part of saying goodbye to the person we loved. The type of funeral you choose to have will depend on your personal beliefs, values and culture.
There are many decisions that need to be taken when planning a funeral – some people find that this gives them something to focus on, others find that it is too overwhelming. You may like to ask someone to help you with arranging the funeral.
The funeral can take place once the body has been released by the coroner or procurator fiscal. This usually takes place after the post mortem has happened and before the inquest or investigation is concluded.
There are costs associated with funerals and this can be a source of worry for some. There may be financial assistance available depending on your circumstances.
For more information about funerals including financial assistance:
You may find that you are faced with some concerns regarding your finances as a result of losing income or if find that you are unable to return to work for an extended period. Challenges may be short or long term – common issues include:
- How will I pay the bills?
- How can I make sure that I don’t lose my home?
- Will the insurance company meet the life insurance policy claim?
- Are there debts I need to repay?
- What happens to benefits?
- What was in the will?
- What happens to pensions and investments?
The answers to these questions will be unique to you and your circumstances. It is important that you face into them and communicate with other parties involved such as your bank or landlord, particularly where they are priority essentials such as keeping a roof over your head.
You may wish to seek professional support or advice. There may also be benefits available to you. More information about managing your finances after a death is available at:
Sometimes the death happens whilst the person is under the care or custody of another agency, for example they may have been receiving mental health treatment or they may have been in prison.
The investigation of the coroner or procurator fiscal is likely to include reviewing the involvement of third parties such as police, prison or mental health teams. You should raise any concerns you have during the investigation. The organisation involved may also conduct their own review or investigation.
If you have any questions or concerns, you may wish to raise them with the relevant agency and if appropriate, seek independent advice.
For further information, see the resources under the Police and Coroners and Procurator Fiscal sections
We each react differently to bereavement and have different needs. Many of us take some time off after the loss of someone we were close to – the amount of time we need will vary. Different companies also have different policies and approaches.
You may find returning to work even more difficult after a bereavement by suicide, because of the way it affects you personally and because of the additional concerns such as the media or investigations.
It may feel difficult but you must talk with your employer about your situation. You may find it helpful to ask if they can meet you somewhere away from the workplace. They may also be to able to offer you support through an employee wellbeing programme or occupational health – perhaps counselling or a phased return to work when you are ready.
Some people have fears about returning to their home, particularly if this is where the person died and if they found or saw them. This is very natural. You may need to find somewhere else that you can stay for a while and perhaps ask someone else to collect some things for you.
If and when you feel ready to return to your home, you may want to take a friend with you. Many people also find it helpful to visit during daylight. You may find it easier to break it down into smaller steps – perhaps a taking it a room at a time, starting off with a few minutes and then gradually building up. Everyone is different – for example some people find it easier to keep doors open, others find it easier to close them.
If you find that your fears and levels of anxiety are overwhelming, you may be showing signs of post traumatic stress. You should talk with your GP about how you are feeling so that they can refer you to appropriate support.
Other concerns after someone dies
There are many practical issues to manage when someone dies. Bereavement Advice Centre supports and advises people on what they need to do after a death.
Other sites which you may find useful:
Parts of this section have been based on an original contribution from “Survivor Strategies” by Trish Thomas, with kind permission