Death is never an easy topic, and as sensitive as it is to discuss, it can be even harder to act upon. If you discover that a family member has passed away, there will inevitably be a lot of emotions, but there are also some necessary steps to be taken to ensure that your loved one is treated with dignity and that you and your family can begin to grieve.

As much as we hope that you don’t have such an experience, being prepared in the event of an unexpected death is important. With that in mind, these are some of the initial things you should do when a family member dies.

Call 911 immediately

It may sound obvious to call 911, but when you’re in a state of shock, sometimes the most basic behaviors can be forgotten. We recommend taking a few deep breaths, looking away from the body, and when you’re composed, look for the nearest phone.

Bodies can start to decompose surprisingly quickly, so it’s crucial not to touch the skin or any bodily fluids, and to call 911 to determine how best to move forward.

Law enforcement will ask for your address, your name, the name of the deceased relative, and a brief explanation of the scene and circumstances where you’ve found them. All of these types of questions are standard protocol. They’ll then send services to come and assist.

Remove yourself from the scene

After you’ve called 911, take yourself out of the setting. If you’re in a room with the deceased family member, leave, shut the door, and wait outside. If you’ve found the relative outside, go indoors. It’s healthy to have some separation from the body and you’ll also need to make yourself visible to responders or the coroner.

If you’ve discovered the family member at their house, you could wait outside on the street to flag down officials when they arrive. If you’re in a more remote area, it’s worthwhile going toward a landmark or main road to ensure that responders can find you more easily. If you’re in a location that you don’t know well or don’t feel safe in, stay inside (away from the family member) and keep the phone close to you so that you can communicate with authorities. 

Call professional cleaning services 

After officials have removed the body, you should call professional cleaning services no more than an hour later. Someone can also phone on your behalf—for example, a police officer, friend, or priest.

Even if there aren’t noticeable blood or fluid stains, a decomposing body can release airborne toxins that can impact the health of the people who occupy the space in the future. Blood can also be a difficult substance to remove if not treated early on, and the majority of at-home cleaning products won’t sufficiently get rid of the mark or the bacteria. As a result, you’ll need a team to do a thorough cleaning.

Professional cleaning services like Valor have protective equipment and specialized knowledge to safely restore the scene. They also ensure that you don’t fall into any legal troubles while managing the death—which is the last thing you need at such a stressful time. 

You may not know that it’s illegal to dispose of biohazard material in the trash—doing so can cost up to $20 million in fines, and in extreme cases, lead to a prison sentence.  Professionals that deal with biohazard materials know exactly how to eliminate, transport, and document such substances.

Services such as Valor additionally alleviate much of the emotional toll of finding a family member who has passed away. Cleanup crews share the responsibility of logistics and can offer you any extra support that you may need.

Stay conscious of your physical and emotional health

Seeing a deceased family member is extremely traumatic. Amid the tasks needed doing to take care of the situation, you also must check in with yourself along the way to confirm if you’re OK. When appropriate, call family or friends to come and be with you and offer a helping hand with the above steps. 

If at any point you feel nauseous, dizzy, sweaty, experience a drop in heart rate or feel like you’re about to faint, tell someone. If you feel like you’re not able to cope with the severity of the situation, let officials or your loved ones know, and allow them to take over. If affordable mental health services are available to you, talking to a professional about a situation like this—after the clean-up has been completed—is always advisable. 

Death naturally triggers a lot of feelings and is difficult to face. However, knowing what to do in case of a death can go a long way to process things as quickly and delicately as possible.