How to tell someone about a death in the family
It can be hard if you have to break the news of a death of a close friend or family member to others. It isn’t easy knowing what to say or how to say it, especially if you’re dealing with your own feelings at the same time. There are a few simple things you can do to make it easier for yourself and the people you speak with.
How to deliver the news of a death
You should try to deliver the news face to face if possible. Everyone reacts differently to unexpected or sad news, and may need support from you. You may also find it easier to speak if you’re together with the other person – being in the same room means you can give them a hug, make them a cup of tea or do whatever else feels natural to help them.
If it’s not possible to break the news face to face, such as in cases of long distance, you may need to have the conversation via video or phone calls. Email or text should always be the last resort, and only in cases where you are unable to deliver the news in any other way.
If you have a long list of people you need to contact, see if there is someone else who can support you, as this can be an emotionally draining task to do by yourself.
What to say
It’s completely natural to feel stressed or anxious when it comes to discussing death, as no one wants to hear bad news, however, this will be made much easier if you prepare beforehand. What you will say will depend on your personal relationship both with the person who has died and the person you are telling.
When breaking the news, keep things simple with only the known facts at that time. Make sure that you are clear and to the point, and don’t skirt around the subject with unrelated matters, so that you are sure that the other person is fully aware what has happened. This is especially important in the case of those who are younger or may have a harder time understanding.
Provide a supportive atmosphere, and try to answer any questions that they may have. Explain gently, and give space for the news to sink in. They may want to discuss the person who has died in depth, so ensure that you are the best person to deliver this news.
It’s also important to understand that people may not react the way that you expect, particularly if the death is unexpected. They may struggle to believe what you are saying, or they may be angry or confused. Try to stay calm, be patient, and understand that their reaction isn’t intended to hurt you.
Talking to children
Depending on the age of a child, they may not fully understand the permanence of death and what this means for them. You should try to avoid terms that cause confusion, such as “They’ve gone to a better place” or “they went away” and answer any questions Grief Encounter has online resources and support available to help navigate children and young people through bereavement.
Above all, you should break the news gently, while making sure that children feel safe and supported and allowed to express emotions as they enter a grieving stage.
It is never easy to have lost a loved one, and the news may take a long time to process. Sometimes, it is difficult to know where to start. Find support with bereavement or find advice around the practical elements of what to do when someone dies.