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  • Writer's pictureAutumn Carter

How to Prepare for an Untimely Death




Death just like birth, for many of us, comes as a surprise. Even if we live to be as old as Betty White, we will still have surprised family members when we pass just as she did. Grief can be lonely, but it does not have to be. We all are acquainted with death, some more than others.

The unexpected loss of a loved one can trigger mental health disorders in people without a history of mental illness. Navigating all the details involved in the death of a loved one while also grieving them can make an painful experience traumatic, especially when other family members do not agree on end of life plans.


Stages of Grief

  • Denial-Oppose what is or has happened

  • Anger-Directing anger towards others or yourself

  • Bargaining-Negotiating, second guessing, re-playing different scenarios in head

  • Depression-Feeling numb, helpless, empty, sad or exhausted

  • Acceptance-Coming to terms

These do not go in order and the process can re-start at anytime. Here is a list of bereavement support groups to help with isolation. No one needs to suffer the heartbreak of losing a loved one alone.


Now is the time to practice self care. Your loved one wants you to take care of yourself, show yourself the love they want to show you. Here is are sources to help stay connected, to make peace and to identify purpose after your loved one dies. Here is an article for those anticipating grief.


I used and still use different ones for different loved ones who have died. I think what you chose depends on both of your personalities.


This is also the time to discover what the meaning in life is for you without this person in your life.


How to Limit Surprises for Others


You can limit surprises and decisions for your loved ones by planning out your end of life wishes and then sharing them with all of your loved ones. You can also work on these things with others to prevent you from having to make all these decisions without them when they pass on.


Did you know you can be an organ donor and still donate your body to science?


Make a file and place paperwork containing as much of these things as you want a choice over. Remember that you making the decision will make it easier for your loved ones to focus on missing you and reflecting on memories of you.


Here is a list of files that need to be close by:

  • Bank account information

  • Real estate documents and deeds

  • Birth certificate

  • Recent photograph

  • Marriage certificate

  • Military papers

  • Deeds

  • List of surviving relatives

  • Debt information

  • Copy of driver's license and social security card

  • Letters to loved ones

  • Playlist of music

  • Anything you want said about You

Here is a checklist to make this easier.


Does this list seem daunting? Just imagine having seemingly insurmountable grief and trying to navigate all of this and not knowing what the deceased loved one wants. Keep all these forms in an easy to find location (most can be filed with your county, so no one has to frantically search). Make sure to share the location with the loved ones you trust and have all the files close together.


No matter your income or lack of income, most if not all of these options are for you. Above are free options (minus insurance), or you can chose to buy this 26 page document called a Death Care Directive that as of 2022 is $7. It will contain some of what is linked above, but you will still want to check to see if it is missing anything.


Different Death Options

The reasons why someone would choose an alternative burial are varied, however most chose it for environmental reasons. Here are the top eight burial alternatives and what each one is. Below is a link with further details.


  • Resomation- Tissue dissolved in heated water and potassium hydroxide, bones are ground and returned to family. (Reduces carbon footprint compared to flame based cremation.)

  • Natural Burial- No embalming, buried three feet (almost a meter) underground in burial shroud or biodegradable casket to keep animals away. (Allows for natural decomposition and natural for ecosystem, is a lot cheaper than traditional burials.)

  • Eternal Reefs-Cremated bones are turned into an artificial reef. (Not as green as natural burial but it helps restoration of reefs.)

  • Cryonics-Freezing body in hopes science will one day catch up. (It is expensive, bodies need to be frozen within a certain time frame, the equipement can fail, but you get to be a part of science fiction.)

  • Space Burial-Ashes are shot into space. (Much cheaper than freezing, only a few grams can go, and you still get to be part of science fiction.)

  • Mummification-Just like the ancient Egyptians. (Body needs to be sent to Utah, is expensive and is done with the belief that DNA will allow for future cloning.)

  • Plastination- Preserving the body. (You can be on exhibit posed doing everyday activities.)

  • Promession-Basicly Freeze drying and then used as compost. (Reduces carbon footprint compared to flame based cremation.)


This list is not exhaustive, but lists the eight most common. Here is a list of twenty-two. You will need to find out if they are legal for your area, and the cost (include transportation costs if choosing out of local area).


Which type of burial did you find the most interesting?


Natural burial resonated the most with me and is something I plan to look into for my state.


Did you know you can more involved in death preparation than most people are and you don't have to call someone right after someone passes? This podcast talks about it.


If you want to read more about death planning, here is a book for you. If you want to read about what it is like to work in a crematory, here is a book for you.


If you are interested in learning about home funerals and death midwifery, here is a podcast for you. If you want to learn to be better at death, here is a podcast for you.


If you want to read a scientific paper on the mental health load from unexpected death, here is a peer reviewed paper.


Tip: Bookmark this page to return to as you have time and the mental space to think and talk about death with your loved ones. It is so much easier to talk about and plan about when everyone is healthy.


You are not alone in your thoughts, experiences and feelings. In our community, you are FOUND and can find others like you to help you through your journey.


If you need counseling, contact 1-800-662-HELP⁠


Did we miss something or have a link that is no longer working? Maybe you want to continue the conversation, please drop us a line if so.


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