Sharing news of a death in writing

6 min read

How to break the news that someone died via email, with sensitivity

  • Two words of advice on the subject line: Be direct. Getting the shocking news out of the way as soon as possible is actually the kindest thing you can do.

  • Be mindful of your word choice and customize the note as much as possible to your audience, whether you’re writing an individual or a group email.

  • Informing someone in writing may seem impersonal, but it doesn’t have to be.

  • To get the word out as quickly and effectively as possible, email is a good option because it’s easy to share information about the funeral and the family’s needs.

When a loved one passes away, one of the first things to do is to let their family and close friends know. This task can be very difficult because not only is there no easy way of saying what you have to say, but because you, too, have suffered a loss.

Once you’ve informed close family in person or via phone, there are likely a large number of people who need to be contacted directly, firsthand, before the death notification goes public, via the obituary or social media.

Email may not seem like the most personal way to let people know of the loss, but it’s often the fastest way to contact people and give them the necessary details about your loved one’s passing, as well as information about upcoming services and any needs the family has right now.

Sending personalized messages

When composing your email, think about the people to whom you’re writing. People who were close to your loved one should receive individualized emails that are specific to them and the relationship they had with the person who died.

Addressing how important someone was to your loved one and the special bond that they shared will not only help the receiver know they were valued but will help remind you of how many people cared deeply about your loved one.

One thing to keep in mind with these specific emails: If you are comfortable revealing some information about the death, it can help the receiver process it.

For instance, if your loved one had been battling an illness and the people in their life knew it, there’s no need to get into details. But if someone passed away unexpectedly, due to an accident or something else, share as much or as little as you want.

However, because these emails are written so soon after the passing of someone and you’re probably still in shock and processing what has happened, you don’t have to give a play-by-play. Exactly how your loved one died will be revealed in time and doesn’t need to be stated in that initial email.

Being mindful of word choice

Everyone experiences loss and grief differently, and this is something to take into consideration.

Before you write any emails, you might want to sit down and do a couple of practice runs so you use the right words to comfort the person the best you can, while also taking your own emotions and feelings into consideration.

As you begin to write, choose a subject that gets right to the point. Something like: “Our beloved [name] has passed away.”

Although the subject might seem a little cold when writing it, being direct is actually kinder. A subject that says, “News from our family,” could be anything, so when the readers get to the body of the email, the reality can be a shock to the system.

As you begin to write, choose a subject that gets right to the point. Something like: “Our beloved [name] has passed away.”

You don’t want to do that to anyone, especially those who were very close to the person who has passed away.

Once you’ve decided on an appropriate subject, start the email with a formal salutation. Even if you’re emailing a buddy that you often chat with casually, for this type of email, you want to be very aware of the language you use.

You’re not inviting someone to a party; you’re informing them that someone they loved has passed away.

When closing out the email, be particularly mindful. You can do that by mentioning a fond memory or by reiterating how much of a positive impact the email recipient had on your loved one.

Composing a mass email

The mass email is likely to include your loved one’s wider circle: their boss, coworkers, acquaintances, fellow churchgoers or community members, and distant relatives.

Again, deciding how much to explain about the circumstances of their death is up to you. Whether it’s a mass email or a personalized email, don’t feel obligated to share what you’re not ready to share.

Remember to bcc all email addresses to protect the recipients’ privacy. In addition, if there are any family disputes and someone sees someone else’s name on the email list, it can be triggering. This isn’t a time for drama; it’s a time for grieving a loss and putting differences aside.

Including key pieces of information

Whether the email is an individualized or a mass email, in addition to the death notification and a bit about your loved one, you’ll want to include information about when and where the services and ceremonies will be held.

Also, let people know where flowers can be sent and any charities that were important to the person who passed away, where they could give a donation in their name. Make sure to include links and addresses.

Keep in mind, no one is expecting your email to be perfect. So, be kind to yourself.

If the death was sudden and plans have yet to be made, then it’s perfectly fine to share that. Just let them know that when plans are settled, you will reach out with those details.

Nothing about informing people of your loved one’s passing is easy, but once it’s done and you’re sure everyone who needs to know has either been contacted via email or called, then it’s one less thing to worry about. You can take in a deep sigh of relief and move onto the next task.

Keep in mind, no one is expecting your email to be perfect. Writing it all down can make your loved one’s passing feel even more real, making it harder to think clearly and write an email that’s flawless and cohesive.

So, be kind to yourself. Take a break when you need it, and if you can’t continue to send emails, asking for help, based on the template you originated, can really relieve some of the emotional burden.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.