Yet as a nation, we seem to know far more about what happens with taxes, than what happens when we die. For Dying Matters Awareness Week, which runs until Sunday, Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust opened its doors to the department few people see, to dispel a few myths.
Through some ordinary-looking double doors, lies a spacious, modern and light department you would not guess was a mortuary.
There is no weird atmosphere, no dark corners and no scary sights. The staff here are cheerful, helpful and kind – there is no hint of doom or gloom, but rather a friendly professionalism.
Manager for mortuary and bereavement services, Carla McCaffrey, has worked for the trust since 2006. With an avid interest in science, she started work in the histology lab, where samples of tissues are tested for various diseases. She has run the section since 2013 and she is proud of the facilities and the range of services her team offer.
She said: “The department provides support and guidance for the families of the deceased and informs them of every step of the process.
“We care for those who have passed away, just as well as when they were alive.”
Blackpool Teaching Hospital’s new mortuary was completed in 2011. All relevant services are in one place – bereavement services, coroner’s officers and even a registrar.
So what happens after a patient dies?
“Once a doctor has verified the death and medical staff have contacted the next of kin, the body is dressed in a hospital gown and any personal items removed.
“The deceased is then taken to the mortuary by the porters. This is done as discreetly as possible, with the deceased covered at all times. Four forms of identification are needed as a strict process is followed,” Carla said.
The body will be received into the mortuary and stored in a special refrigerator, while all paperwork is processed.
Carla said: “Depending on how and when someone died will determine whether they will have a post-mortem. If the cause of death is unknown, for example someone being found at home, the coroner will order a post-mortem to be carried out.
“If the death is suspected to be of a criminal act, the Home Office will send their own pathologist to conduct a post-mortem here.
“Crime scene investigators and police exhibit officers can often be involved too. The majority of post-mortems in this country are carried out in the area’s hospital.”
If the family want to see the body in the hospital, there are two viewing rooms available and any personal effects are returned to the next of kin. An appointment can also be made with the registrar to register the death.
The department does all it can to accommodate relatives’ wishes regarding religious practices and are on-hand to help with any part of the process.
Carla oversees the four anatomical pathology technicians who will prepare a body for a viewing, making sure they are presentable for the family to see.
Carla said: “The technicians will brush the deceased’s hair, for example, and close their eyes if required. We keep everything as dignified as possible.”
The last part of the process is releasing the body to the undertaker, who will take care of the body until burial or cremation. The updated entrance for the private ambulances is very private and discreet, keeping the removal of the body very dignified.
The job can be emotionally draining at times, so staff make sure they process their feelings together and have a strong bond in which to do so. They keep a good sense of humour – much-needed at times.
And does the work make Carla think about her own death?
“This type of work really changes your perspective. You have to live for the day,” she said.
“Because I know how well people are taken care of once they have passed away, I’m not afraid of dying.”