5 things to remember before sharing news of a family member’s death

3 min read

Sharing the news of a beloved family member’s death can be one of the most difficult tasks you’ll ever take on. There is no one “right” way to tell someone that a family member or close friend has died. But approaching it with care and forethought makes all the difference for the people who will receive the news from you.

Granted, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of phone calls, emails, and house visits you will have to complete, especially since you are deep in grief as well.

But if you take it slow, you’ll be able to handle the task in a way that you can be proud of—just prepare by doing few things to get yourself ready mentally and emotionally before you begin.

Make a list

Draft up a quick list of everyone you can think of who you need to notify. Don’t worry about creating a perfect list; you can always add to it. Decide who you want to notify in person, over the phone, or by email.

If you are able, it’s best to notify the ones closest to your loved one with an in-person visit. Sharing the news in person is the most intimate, and allows for you to comfort one another with hugs and tears. You may also be able to enlist their help in informing others once you’ve shared the news, so you can divide up your list together.

Be as direct as possible

Try not to skirt around the topic, or initiate small talk. This will only make it harder. Make eye contact and speak clearly and slowly. You may need to repeat yourself for the news to fully be absorbed.

It might be helpful to write down a version of what you wish to say beforehand. Of course, you will not be following a script, but it can be tough to keep your thoughts in order sometimes, and having some notes in front of you will be helpful.

Prepare yourself for a range of responses––remember, grief can be confusing, and everyone responds to it differently—and have a plan for what to do if you begin to feel uncomfortable in the conversation.

If someone responds to you with anger or an inappropriate comment, remember that this is normal, and you can always excuse yourself and hang up the phone.

Reach out beyond close family and friends

With such an overwhelming task, it can be easy to forget those extended family members who live far away. Even if they were not very close to your loved one, they should still be notified so they can pay their respects in any way they choose. Whether you do so by phone or email is up to you and your relationship.

You’ll also want to reach out to your loved one’s less-close circle of friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and the like. Sharing the news via email is a great way to reach them.

Finally, find out about any groups your loved one may have been a part of, and don’t forget them in your list of people to notify. Depending on how involved your loved one was, an email or letter is usually most appropriate.

Tackle the job as quickly as you can

Remember, while informing others is difficult, it’s best to let people know as quickly as possible, even if it is via phone or email. That way, they can be a source of comfort and support for your family.

You actually may find satisfaction in sharing the news, as you realize how many people loved and admired the person you’re grieving. And the sooner people know, the sooner your loved one’s memory can be honored.

Reach out for support

Sharing the news of a loved one’s passing can take a huge emotional toll. Don’t feel like you need to take on this giant task alone. Reach out to your support system to be there with you, or to tackle some of the phone calls for you. Take your time, take as many breaks as you need, and be kind to yourself in the process

And remember, although your connection to the person you loved is something no one else can fully understand, that doesn’t mean other people can’t be a comfort to you now. As you grieve, you’re going to need as much support as you can get. As much as you can reach out to others and accept love and kindness when they reach out to you, the stronger you will feel.

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.