One of the most challenging, even traumatic, situations a family can experience is the unattended death of one of its own. The unattended death of a family member is a truly tragic experience on many levels. This article is designed to enumerate the ways in which an unattended death impacts the family of the deceased person – and how family members can face the experience.
Definition of an Unattended Death
An unattended death is defined as one in which a person dies alone and the individual’s remains are not discovered for a period of time. In the case of an unattended death, days, weeks, or even months may pass before the deceased individual’s body is discovered. Situations in which an unattended death occurs include those involving people who live alone, who do not have others regularly checking in with them, and who die for one reason or another.
Common Situations Underpinning an Unattended Death
There are a number of more commonplace situations that underly an unattended death. These situations include:
- Sudden illness
- Natural causes
Immediate Aftermath of Discovery
In the immediate aftermath of the discovery of an unattended death (or a previously unattended death), law enforcement and the county coroner are called to the scene. These agencies conduct a full investigation at the scene.
When an unattended death occurs in California, as well as in other states, the remains are transported to the coroner’s office for an autopsy and associated forensic testing. When the remains are removed from the premises, and the on-scene investigation is completed, the premises are turned over to the owner of the property or some other legally responsible party. Oftentimes, the responsible party or parties are family members of the deceased.
Emotional Ramifications of an Unattended Death of a Family Member
The emotional ramifications of losing a family member in an unattended death or a death that is not immediately discovered can result in a particularly challenging, and even overwhelming grief and bereavement process. Because of the nature of the underlying death, due to the fact that in this type of situation a loved one has died and the death was not promptly discovered, the grief and bereavement process is compounded by what can be a tremendous amount of guilt. The guilt arises from the lack of contact with the deceased person which resulted in that family remember dying alone and his or her remains being left unattended for what may be days, weeks, or even months.
In addition, there may have been some additional underlying reasons why family members were somehow estranged from the individual who died an unattended death. The guilt and other intensified emotions become compounded by the fact that there very well also may have been other issues between surviving family members and the deceased person.
As was itemized previously in this presentation, some of the commonplace causes underpinning an unattended death are also of a nature that can make the emotional ramifications of such a situation even more profound for family members. Losing a family member to suicide or homicide present particularly emotionally challenging situations for those loved ones who survive the death.
Finally, when an unattended death occurs, surviving family members become responsible for the cleanup of the death scene. As tough as this is even to discuss, because of the human decomposition process, the death scene can be horrific. Indeed, stating that this type of death is scene is unimaginable is not an understatement.
The responsibility for cleaning the aftermath of an unattended death further aggravates the already challenging emotional issues faced by family members following the loss of their loved one in this manner. Some families may initially make a decision to undertake the cleanup of the death scene on their own. This most definitely is not a recommended course of action.
The emotional toll of personally cleaning up the scene of a family member’s unattended death arguably is impossible to quantify. Personally undertaking this type of task is not recommended. Families in this type of situation are strongly encouraged to seek assistance from a professional, experienced biohazard cleaning company.
In addition to the emotional cost associated with personally undertaking an unattended death cleanup, there are very real health risks as well. The scene of an unattended death can be rife with dangerous pathogens. These potentially include viruses and bacteria that can cause serious harm to people who come into contact with them. This reality is yet another reason underscoring the necessity of engaging the services of a skilled, compassionate biohazard cleaning company.
Unattended Death Cleanup
An unattended death cleanup is a three-phase process. Before the work on addressing the death scene commences, very stringent safety protocols must be satisfied. This includes using suitable personal protective equipment that is designed and crafted for the specific purpose of biohazard remediation, including cleaning up the scene of an unattended death or undiscovered death. The necessary personal protective equipment must include:
- Respirator or HEPA mask
- Durable, sturdy gloves
- Smock or uniform
- Protective eyewear
The three-phase unattended death cleanup process includes:
- Deep cleaning and removal of biological matter
- Sanitization of the scene
- Deodorization of the premises
The deep cleaning process itself begins with the safe removal of any remaining biological materials that remain at the death scene following the removal of the body. These materials are placed into an appropriate hazardous waste container. The biowaste is then transported to a duly authorized biohazard disposal center.
Following the removal of remaining biological material, the scene is thoroughly cleaned. The purpose is to eliminate any remaining biological materials.
The second phase of the cleanup process is the sanitization of the scene. This involves the use of powerful, medical-grade sanitizing agents. These agents are designed to eradicate any dangerous pathogens that permeate the scene.
The final phase is deodorization. The stark reality is that the location of an unattended death is likely to be the site of overwhelming odors. The stench can be so profound that it permeates the premises and even works its way into objects at the location, including curtains, sofas, mattresses, and other items.
Deodorization necessitates the use of commercial-grade, powerful deodorizing agents and specialized equipment. These resources are employed by a professional biohazard remediation company to thoroughly eliminate the odors that arise from an unattended death and the human decomposition process.
The final objective of this type of biohazard remediation is to eliminate any evidence of the unattended death. For example, a residence is restored to a wholly livable condition.