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Frequently Asked Questions

A Death has Occurred, What do I do Now?

FIRST STEPS The death of a loved one can be overwhelming and emotional for you and your family. Our staff at Fairmount has compiled an in-depth checklist for all the practical steps you’ll need to get you through this tough time. This checklist also provides those who are planning ahead an excellent way to understand the process and collect the necessary resources and points of contact. See our Planning Ahead section for more information.

IMMEDIATELY

  • Make the call – after an unexpected death: call 911.
    First responders will guide you through your next steps. You will want to also notify your local county coroner for an official cause of death. Before an expected death: notify your designated hospice or family doctor. They will guide you through next steps for when/if a death occurs at home. Medical staff at the hospital will also be prepared and trained to guide you through everything you will need as well.
  •  Contact close family and/or friends as well as the personal doctor and lawyer of the deceased.
  • Locate (or have legally prepared) any written instructions (often titled Letter of Instruction or Final Instructions) for funeral, memorial, and burial arrangements. The deceased’s personal doctor, lawyer or close family/friends should have this information available or know of it’s location in the event you cannot locate it yourself.
  • Locate records of the deceased’s desire to donate organs or tissue. This is usually indicated on their driver’s license/identification card with a red heart logo or “Donor” written in red lettering, but can also be found in their Final Instructions document. Give this information to their doctor/ hospice immediately as this process can only be done within hours of death. Your local organ procurement organization will likely contact you for more social/medical information about the donor.
  • Arrange for transportation of the body. If no autopsy is needed, Fairmount can provide transportation to the mortuary, cremation facility.
  • Arrange for funeral or memorial services as well as burial or cremation. Contact us at Fairmount for more information on all services

WITHIN A FEW DAYS AFTER DEATH

Locate the will The Personal Representative (or Executor) and Trustee (if a trust is named) are responsible for carrying out the deceased’s wishes and estate. In some states, a valid and signed will must be filed with a superior court within a certain time-frame post-death to be legally valid. If there is no will, you’ll want to consult with a family lawyer for advice.

Once you have a will, you will have to take it to county probate court to establish it’s legal validity. Death Certificate Get multiple copies of this. You can order certified copies of the certificate from Fairmount or your attending hospice. You can also get them from the Department of Health office, where the death occurred.

You will need copies for:

  • Each major asset that will require some transfer of ownership (cars, land, etc.)
  • Insurance benefits, veteran’s survivors benefits, annuities, and more. Each certificate costs anywhere between $20-$32, plus fees. It is pertinent to ask each of these recipients whether a photocopied, non-certified version is acceptable, or if they can return the document to you upon completion of the application. Documents

Locate as many of the following legal documents as possible:

  • Court issued divorce documents, including any property settlements, name changes, prenuptial agreements, adoptions, etc.
  • Military service papers, including discharge records • The Will and/or Trust
  • Deceased’s Final Instructions
  • Prepaid Funeral Contracts
  • Organ/Tissue Donation Records
  • Social Security Card
  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage License
  • Community Property Agreements
  • Domestic Partnership Registrations
  • Driver’s License
  • All citizenship/immigration papers (passport, green card, alien registration)
  • Contact information for all close friends and family members
  • Contact information for all lawyers, accountants, doctors, etc.
  • Create or locate a family tree • Social media and email login information.

Are there any social expectations?

Most of us are uncertain about what to do at a funeral. We see it all the time. We’ve put together this section to share everything you need to know to help you do the right thing before, during and after the service.

WHAT TO DO
Offer words of condolence

Offering comforting words to the family is usually the easiest thing you can do. It’s also something the family will appreciate and remember. If you’re attending the service, offer your condolences in person or share a story or special memory about the deceased. If you can’t be there, send a card or share your message using the Book of Memories online memorial tribute page. Sign the register When you sign the register at the funeral home, be sure to list your name and your relationship to the deceased. The register is something the family will have forever, and they will appreciate knowing who you are and how you knew their loved one in years to come.

Send a gift to the family

Appropriate gifts include flowers, a donation to a charity (oftentimes the family will have a preferred charity), food or a service. You can send your gift to the family’s home or the funeral home. Please ensure you include a signed card with your gift so the family knows who sent it. However, please take a few minutes to recognize that certain faiths have proscriptions about what should be sent to the bereaved. If you’re unclear, check with a close family relative or friend.

Stay in touch with the family

Depending on your relationship with the family, you may choose to stay in touch in person, by telephone or online. The grieving process can be long and difficult, so don’t just walk out of their lives after the funeral service. You will serve the family well by letting them know you’re there for them during the days, weeks, and months follow the death of their loved one.

What to wear

Historically, people wore black or only somber colors to a funeral. Today it’s acceptable to dress in a wider range of colors and clothing styles. In fact, we’ve seen services where the family asked everyone to dress in pink, or in colorful Hawaiian shirts and shorts. But, these unique events aside, a good rule of thumb is to dress as you would at church or a job interview. Have other questions about funeral etiquette? Contact us. We’ve got the answers you’re looking for – after all, we’ve been to hundreds of funerals. So call – we’d love to help you get through what can (but doesn’t have to) be a challenging social situation.

How do I Prepare and Deliver a Eulogy?

Journalist Peggy Noonan said,

“I love eulogies. They are the most moving kind of speech because they attempt to pluck meaning from the fog, and on short order, when the emotions are still ragged and raw and susceptible to leaps.”

While writing and delivering a eulogy is a noble gesture, that is worthy of thought and effort, it can be a challenge to write – and if you’re not comfortable in front of a crowd of people, it can be equally as challenging to deliver. However, it is an opportunity to make a contribution to a memorial service, a contribution that your friends and family will remember for a long time. For that reason, if you are asked to write one, we suggest you consider doing so, if only for yourself. That’s because writing a eulogy is a therapeutic tool to help you deal with your grief. The power of writing is undeniable and there is no better time than now for you to discover and take advantage of this.

What should a eulogy accomplish?

People often think that a eulogy should be an objective summation of the deceased’s life or it should speak to everyone present at the memorial service. Both of these assumptions are just plain unrealistic, don’t you think? How can you possibly be objective after losing a loved one; or sum up a person’s life in just a few minutes of time? Let’s think of the eulogy as being much simpler. It should convey the feelings and experiences of the person giving the eulogy. The most touching and meaningful eulogies are written from a subjective point of view and from the heart. So don’t feel compelled to write your loved one’s life story. Instead, tell your story Clearly, the burden of the eulogy does not have to be yours completely. If you have the time, ask friends or relatives for their recollections and stories. Honesty is very important. In most cases, there will be a lot of positive qualities to talk about. Once in a while, however, there is someone with more negative traits than positive qualities. If that is the case, remember, you don’t have to say everything if it would make you, or the guests uncomfortable. Just be honest as you can, and do your best to show the full humanity – both the good, and the not-so-good, characteristics of the deceased. After all, everyone there knew them, and is there because they want to acknowledge their relationship to the deceased. In other words, you have a “warm” audience, who will welcome your words.

Don’t strive for perfection

Remember, you do not have to write a perfect eulogy. Whatever you write and deliver will be appreciated by the people at the funeral. If you are inclined to be a perfectionist, lower your expectations and just do what you can, considering the short time frame for preparation and your emotional state.

When you step up to the podium

  • Realize that people are not going to judge you. They will be very supportive. No matter what happens, it will be okay. If you break down in the middle of your speech, everyone will understand. Take a moment to get composed, and then continue. There is no reason to be embarrassed. Remember, giving a eulogy is a noble gesture that people will appreciate and admire.
  • Make the eulogy easy to read. On a computer, print out the eulogy in a large type size. If you are using a typewriter, put extra carriage returns between the lines. If you are writing it by hand, print the final version in large letters and give the words room to breathe by writing on every second or third line.
  • Before the service, get a small cup of water. Keep it with you during the service. When you go to the podium to deliver the eulogy, take the water with you in case you need it. Sipping water before you start and during the speech if needed, will help relax you.
  • If you are nervous beforehand, Remind yourself that everything will be fine. It will be. Look around at your relatives and friends and realize that they are with you 100 percent.
  • Realize that it is acceptable to read the eulogy aloud. You don’t have to make eye contact with anyone.
  • Take your time, and simply do the best you can. No one expects you to have the delivery of a great orator or the stage presence of an actor. Just be you.

How Do I Tell Family Members?

The death of a loved one is one of life’s most difficult experiences and one of the toughest pieces of information to pass on to family members and close friends. Many charged with giving this news are afraid of intruding, saying the wrong thing, making someone feel even worse about their loss, or that there’s little they can do to alleviate someone’s grief. There are many ways to help someone grieving the loss of a loved one, starting with simply letting them know you care. The bereaved may respond to loss with a wide range of complex and extreme emotions. The most important thing any individual needs in this period of grieving is support.

UNDERSTAND GRIEF AND THE GRIEVING PROCESS

When grieving, there is no right or wrong way to express yourself Grief is unpredictable. It shows itself through a variety of emotions; mild to extreme depending on the person. Everyone grieves in different ways, so avoid telling someone how they “should” or “should not” express their emotions around loss.

Grief is vastly emotional and unpredictable

It involves many unpredictable highs and lows. Emotions ranging from guilt and despair to anger and fear are common. Bereaved individuals may even lash out at loved ones or obsess about the topic of death. Those grieving need reassurance that this incredible range of feelings is normal and that they are not judged by those around them.

There is no timetable for grieving

Many people close the grieving cycle in 18-24 months. However, many others may take more or less time to heal from their loss. Pressure from others to move on at a quicker pace can actually hinder the healing process.

HAVING A CONVERSATION
Handle with care

Delivering the news of the loss of a loved one can be shocking. Deliver it at a mentally clear period of their day; in a relaxed environment such as their home, rather than the hustle and bustle of their place of work or other public places. Have them sit, as shocking news can often physically incapacitate someone (from a buckling of the knees to fainting or, in extreme cases, complications of the heart).

Speak candidly

Through your delivery and ongoing support of family members, make sure you speak sincerely and openly to avoid minimizing their loss. Be willing to sit in silence if need be. Sometimes a silent presence is the most comforting; make eye contact, reach out with your hand, or give them a hug.

Listen with compassion

Accept and acknowledge their emotions and feelings around their loss. Don’t try and reason with them on how they should or should not be behaving/feeling. Create an environment free of judgment, argument, or criticism.

Let them re-live their loss

The bereaved may need to process their loss by recounting or detailing the events around it. Be patient and let them. With each retelling, the story becomes easier to accept and the pain lessens.

Support them

Validate their emotions and share any personal shared feelings or experiences of loss. However, avoid unsolicited advice or any comparison of your emotions/feelings to theirs.

SUPPORTING A CHILD THROUGH GRIEF AND BEREAVEMENT

While all of the above applies when delivering the news to children, there are some simple Dos and Don’ts to bear in mind.

How to help a grieving child

  • Allow your child, however young, to attend the funeral if he or she wants to.
  • Convey your spiritual values about life and death, or pray with your child.
  • Meet regularly as a family to find out how everyone is coping.
  • Help children find ways to symbolize and memorialize the deceased person.
  • Keep your child’s daily routine as normal as possible.
  • Pay attention to the way a child plays; this can be one of a child’s primary ways of communicating.

What not to do

  • Don’t force a child to publicly mourn if they don’t want to.
  • Don’t give false or confusing messages, like “Grandma is sleeping now.”
  • Don’t tell a child to stop crying because others might get upset.
  • Don’t try to shield a child from loss. Children pick up on much more than adults realize. Including them in the grieving process will help them adapt and heal.
  • Don’t stifle your tears; by crying in front of your child, you send the message that it’s okay to express their feelings as well.
  • Don’t turn your child into your personal confidante. Rely on another adult or a support group instead.

How do I write an Obituary?

An obituary also serves as notification that an individual has passed away and details of the services that are to take place. But it can be more than that. A well-crafted obituary can detail the life of the deceased, with style. An obituary’s length may be somewhat dictated by the space available (and the related costs) in the newspaper it is to appear in. Therefore it’s best to check how much room you have before you begin your composition. Remember that the obituary needs to appear in print a few days prior to the memorial service. There are some cases where this may not be possible, therefore give some consideration to the guidelines below when composing the obituary.

What should you include? Naturally, it is vital that the full name, along with the location and date of passing is included so that there is no confusion over who has died. You may wish to consider placing a photograph (which can appear as black & white or in color depending on the newspaper’s layout) with the text. There are usually extra charges applied if you are thinking of using a photograph. If you wish, mention where the deceased resided. Do not include the street address, for security reasons; just mention the city and region/state/province/county. In a concise manner, write about the significant event in the life of the deceased. This may include the schools he or she attended and any degrees attained; you may also include any vocations or interests that the deceased was involved in.

Listing loved ones

It is common to include a list of those who have survived the deceased, in addition to those who passed away prior to the death of your loved one.

This list should include (where applicable):

  • Parents
  • Spouse and Children
  • Adopted children
  • Half & step-children
  • Siblings
  • Half & step-siblings
  • Grandparents

The relatives listed may be listed by name. Other relatives will not be mentioned by name but may be included in terms of their relationship to the deceased. In other words, the obituary may mention that the deceased had 5 grandchildren, or 7 great-grandchildren. Also, anyone listed as a special friend or companion is not normally included amongst the list of survivors unless the deceased’s blood relatives request that it be so. The traditional purpose of an obituary is to list survivors either related through the bloodline or marriage. Additional information such as where the body will be laid to rest and any pallbearer’s names or names of honorary pallbearers may be mentioned.

At this point, list the details of the time and location of any services for the deceased: these may include the funeral, burial, wake and memorial services where appropriate.

Tips for crafting a complete obituary

If you don’t know where to start, do read other obituaries to gain an idea of how personal and touching an obituary may be. Do use terms such as; “visitation will be from” or “friends may call from”. Do not say the deceased will “lie in state” as that only applies to a head of state such as the Prime Minister or President. Avoid the phrase “in lieu of flowers” when memorial donations are requested, as this limits how readers can express their sympathy. Instead, merely start the final paragraph of the obituary with: “Memorial donations may be made to” and then state the charity’s name. If you wish, send the obituary to newspapers in other cities or towns where the deceased may have resided previously. Obtain copies of the obituary to send to distant relatives and friends

Final considerations

Any and all information to be included in the obituary should be verified with another family member. A newspaper will have to verify with the funeral home being utilized that the deceased is in fact being taken care of by that funeral home. Seeing as most newspapers charge by the word when placing an obituary, it may not always be feasible to mention everything we have stated in our guidelines. Use your own discretion and do not put yourself under any financial hardship. You loved one would understand. Today there are online memorials such as Book of Memories, where the obituary can be available for the online community of the deceased to view. It is also a place where friends and family can leave messages of condolence, light a memorial candle, or share photographs and videos. If this sounds like a good option for your family, contact us to learn more.