Death from illness
When a child's death from their illness is expected and families have the opportunity to plan end of life care, many find it helpful to spend time with their child's body after death. This is a challenging and difficult time and there are some things that can be prepared for to make it easier. Preparation will also allow you to think about what is 'right' for your child and your family.
If death doesn't happen in the home, a funeral director can assist with information about bringing your child home. Talk with your health care team to determine who will write the death certificate (a medical practitioner) and how your child’s death will be registered.
Whether your child dies at home, hospital or hospice, there is nothing that needs to be done in a hurry. This is your personal time to be with your child and say goodbye. You can take as long as you need. Sometimes religious, cultural or spiritual beliefs will influence how you spend this time.
It is a time for you, your other children, and maybe also grandparents and friends to express love and sorrow. You might like to think about how private or shared you would like this time to be. You may choose to do this in many different ways.
Here are some examples of how other families have chosen to spend this time:
- Listening to their favourite music while cuddling or talking to their child
- Sleeping with their child one last time
- Washing their child and dressing them in a favourite outfit
- Taking family photos
- Taking ink or paint prints of their child's feet or hands – this can also be done as a family collage to include parents' and siblings' handprints or footprints
- Making clay imprints of their child's feet or hands – many parents have found this a good way to remember the size, shape and feel of their child's hands or feet
- Cutting a lock of hair to keep
- Recording their child’s height, weight and any other details you want to remember.
Who do you call?
Families sometimes worry about what they 'have to do' when their child dies. This is usually what needs to occur:
- When you and your family are ready, you will need to phone your care team to let them know your child has died. Your care team will then lead you through the next steps.
- A doctor will sign a death certificate and a cremation certificate if cremation is being considered, and give this to you or sends it to your funeral director.
- You will need to contact a funeral director. Some families choose a funeral director before their child dies.
- You can keep your child's body at the funeral home or at your own home.
- It's unlikely the police will need to be called, but check this with your care team.
There are a few circumstances when a healthcare professional is obliged to refer a death to the Coroner. Not all notifications to the Coroner become Coroner's investigations. A Coroner's investigation is carried out solely to establish the cause of death if it is unclear, and may include a post-mortem.
The Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages is responsible for issuing a death certificate. The funeral director usually notifies the Registrar of your child's death and can apply, on your behalf, for a death certificate from the Registrar a few weeks after your child's death.