In today’s world of social media and seemingly instant news, it is important to think about, list and contact family and friends who you feel should be personally informed of a loved one’s death before they hear or read about it.
When a death is sudden, it will be a shock to many, so you need to think about how to deliver the news (in person, by phone, ask another person to be with them), anticipate and plan for reactions.
An expected death can also create shock – with life there is hope, but death closes the door.
People generally remember where they were when they were told of the death of a close relative or friend.
Death announcements may become a lifelong memory.
Many of us remember where we were when we heard about the death of someone close to us.
Try to walk in the shoes of those who those you need to inform of a death.
Deliver news face-to-face
The preferred option. Both sit down. Turn mobile phones to silent. Reduce distractions (tv, radio etc). Be thoughtful and choose words carefully. Use simple language. Speak slowly. Let people absorb the news. If you can’t meet the person face-to-face, can you arrange for someone else to be with them?
In the middle of the night?
If a death occurs in the middle of the night, consider your options. Is it best to wait a while before you call?
At work or school?
Again, consider options and reactions.
Ask the person to phone you back or pull over to the side of the road
Choose words carefully
People die. Avoid euphemisms such as passed away, passed on, is in a better place, is a star in the sky, and so on.
Consider your own well-being. Can someone close to you assist at this difficult time?
As Funeral Celebrants, we hear stories of how or where someone was, when told of the death of a relative or close friend. Here’s some learnings:
An SMS Message
"Sorry 4 the impersonal SMS... I just wanted 2 let my friends know that my dad passed away on Thursday My mum, sisters & I r coping as best as we can. Chat later" The recipient had no idea who the message was from and the caller ID was blocked!
I will always remember the news that my close friend xxxx died (sudden death). Her husband phoned and after some banter, he said ‘we lost Sue yesterday’. I didn’t understand. Lost her in the supermarket was my first thought!
I read of a death of a friend on Facebook ….. it was a shock and it contained errors. The post was removed a few hours later, but the damage was done.
Another: I am feeling so shocked at the moment. RIP.
The next of kin is usually responsible for choosing if a death announcement is placed on social media and/or local media. Similarly, cryptic messages have no place on social media. Be thoughtful and respectful.
There are numerous resources and professional counsellors that can assist with telling children about the death of a loved one.
A great Australian resource is a series of three Memory books from Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney, written by Natasha Samy.
Regularly download and print out contacts from your phone. Do those closest to you know who everyone is?
Did your loved one have a hard copy address book? (or Christmas card list?) These are generally people closest to them.
Work colleagues - who was the deceased’s closest work colleague? Contact them and ask that they consider who should be informed and how. Engage the Human Resources department.
Professional and/or not-for-profit resources – use local resources such as Lifeline, Beyond Blue to support you.