When someone with pancreatic cancer dies

This page explains what happens when someone dies, and what you need to do afterwards.

Dying is different for each person. It is a natural process, but you may feel frightened or worried about what will happen. Ask the doctor or nurse about anything that is worrying you. Dying is often very peaceful at the end.

It’s not always easy to know when someone has died. Their breathing will slow and become irregular. Sometimes they may take one or two last breaths after they seemed to have stopped breathing. They may seem to relax and may look pale.

“My mother’s death taught me not to be afraid of being with someone when they die. The hospice staff and chaplains were excellent at supporting me.”

After someone dies

If your family member died in hospital, a hospice or a care home, the healthcare team will explain what happens next. If they died at home and no health professionals were there, you will need to contact their GP to come and confirm that they have died. In some areas, you can contact the district nurse. If it’s outside working hours, the GP answer-phone message will give you the number of the out of hours doctor.

Marie Curie have more information on their website about what happens when someone dies, including caring for the body and religious customs.

There are some things you need to do soon after someone dies.

  • Ask the GP or hospital doctor for a medical certificate so you can register the death.
  • Register the death at your local register office within five days of the death in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and within eight days in Scotland.
  • Arrange the funeral.

The GP or nurse should give you information about what you need to do. You can also find details of how to register a death, your local register office, and what else to do after someone dies on the:

If your family member died at home, they can stay there for as long as you wish before the funeral. When you are ready, the funeral director will move them to a funeral home if that is what you want. If they died in a hospital, hospice or care home, you can usually go to visit them in a private room if you want to.

Organising the funeral

Organising a funeral may feel overwhelming when you are coping with feelings of loss and grief. You may have spoken to your family member about their wishes for their funeral, or they may have written their wishes in their will. Some things to think about when arranging a funeral are:

  • whether to have a religious or non-religious ceremony
  • whether your family member will be buried or cremated
  • who to invite to the funeral
  • what music you want played
  • what readings – if any – to have at the funeral, and who you want to do them
  • whether you would like flowers
  • whether you would like to do something after the funeral, or organise a wake.

Lots of people arrange a funeral through a funeral director, but you don’t have to. Citizen’s Advice and Marie Curie have information about how to find a funeral director. If you want to arrange the funeral yourself, the Natural Death Centre can provide guidance. Or your local council will have more information.

If your family member died at home, they can stay there for as long as you wish before the funeral. When you are ready, the funeral director will move them to a funeral home if that is what you want. If they died in a hospital, hospice or care home, you can usually go to visit them in a private room if you want to.

Some people choose to support a charity with donations at their funeral, rather than to ask for flowers. We have more information about funeral donations.

Published March 2018

Review date March 2020