How To Tell Friends and Family About The Death of a Loved One
Telling friends and family about the death of a loved one is difficult, there is no way around it. The way you deliver the news can really make a difference to the person receiving it. Whether you need to tell someone face-to-face or on the phone, we are here to guide you through the process.
Where and when should I break the news?
If you can, it’s best to try and tell someone the sad news face-to-face. However, this is sometimes not possible. In which case, a phone call should be enough. Allow yourself the opportunity to breathe. It's not going to be an easy conversation and you need to be calm and clear-minded on the call.
Find a quiet, confidential space that is free of interruption and background noise. Ensure any other electronic devices are switched off to minimise the chance of distraction or interruption.
If you’re calling someone who is elderly or in the vulnerable category, you’ll want to ensure they have someone with them when you break the news. If this isn’t possible, try and ensure you are available after the initial news is broken so they have someone to speak to. You’ll also want to ensure they have someone else they can reach out to so they are not dealing with this on their own.
In terms of when to do it, there is never an ideal time to break this news. Prioritise the list of people who need to be informed and work out who is a priority and who needs to be told, but not immediately. Those who need to be told as soon as possible, are also the most likely needing to be told face-to-face where possible.
What should I say?
This is going to be a tough conversation and you’ll need to prepare. Take five minutes to compose yourself or make a few notes of what you need to say. That way you’ll have prompts if you are nervous or lose your way.
Beginning the conversation with a warning of bad news will quickly allow the person to prepare for the worst. They’ll be less taken aback by the statements and be in the mindset to process the information. Don’t be too elaborate, make sure to use simple language. You’ll want to avoid statements such as ‘gone away’ or ‘gone to sleep’ and this is especially important when talking to children or those with diminished responsibility.
Remember, when people hear bad news, they can only process a small amount of the information, so keep it brief. You can ensure that everything important has been processed by asking if they understand or by encouraging them to talk about how they feel. Avoid discussing anything that would cause confusion. You may want to discuss funeral arrangements, but this may not be the right moment. Save it for another conversation. If they ask, reassure them that you will send through any details in due course.
How to support the person
There is no one size fits all approach when having these conversations. When it comes to the support element of the conversation, the scenario is the same. However, there are a few things you could consider.
If your loved one was terminally ill for a long time or the death was expected, the news may be easier to process for those hearing it.
If your loved one had died suddenly and unexpectedly, the news will be more difficult for the person to process and the level of support needed will be increased.
If the person you are telling is a child, this bad news is better coming from an adult they trust. If this is not possible, having someone they trust there to support them when the news is broken is a good alternative.
In a face-to-face scenario, the person may need physical space to take in what you've said. People show the need for support differently, so allow them to dictate whether they want to be touched or held.
This can be a very distressing conversation for individuals. If someone becomes angry or distressed and you cannot remain with them, ensure there is someone you can contact to support them. This could be a friend or family member, or even a neighbour who lives close by and can stay with them.
How to support yourself
Many find these conversations taxing and distressing themselves. Make sure you look after yourself and don’t just push through it if you are struggling. You may want to limit the calls to those who are absolutely necessary for the time being and then share the task with your close friends and relatives. This way, you can support each other through the process and the long list will be significantly reduced. You can also set up a memorial page for your loved one so that mourners can have somewhere to express their grief and post tributes.