How do I tell people about a death?

April 28, 2022 

If sadly someone close to you dies, it may fall to you to let others know that they have passed. It’s never easy breaking bad news to people, so before you do make sure you take a little time to prepare yourself. 

It can be helpful to think about and practice what you’re going to say. Don’t forget to have a plan about what you are going to do afterwards – whether you may need to stay a little longer with people who may require a little extra support. 

So what should I say?

What you say will really depend on your relationship with the person you are telling, and their relationship with the deceased. No matter who it is, you should talk slowly, use simple words and be open about what has happened. People who are hearing bad news tend to not take in all the details to begin with, so avoid using lots of detail until they are ready. 

Sometimes it may also be wise to leave talks about the funeral for a later date, unless they want to know about it. 

Where should I tell them?

Ideally, you should deliver the news of a death face-to-face if you can. Especially if the person you are sharing the news with had a close relationship with whoever has died. 

That’s not always possible, especially with people living in different areas of the UK or even abroad. If you do tell them over the phone, give yourself lots of time to deliver the news and take your time. Remember you’ve experienced a loss too, so go at a pace that you are comfortable with. 

Try and keep in mind things like whether they have anyone with them to support them after they’ve spoken to you. This is important if you are telling an older person or someone who is vulnerable. 

Try and avoid distractions – turn the radio and television off and pop your mobile on silent.

What should I do when I tell someone?

You can never anticipate the sense of loss someone will feel. We all experience grief and loss differently and, even when the death is expected, the final news is still usually received as a shock. 

Be prepared for reactions you may not expected like:

Anger
Silence
Disbelief
Sometimes even laughter

We all respond differently when we are given difficult news. Just remember to be patient, kind and non-judgemental with them. 

What extra support is there?

It can be difficult to know how to be supportive to others when someone you love dies, especially as we are all different. 

Some people may need immediate physical support in the form of a hug or a reassuring touch of the hand. Others may prefer to have space to process and be left alone. If you aren’t sure about how best to help, ask. Then you know that you are doing the right thing for that individual and not something they may feel uncomfortable with. 

Through all of this process, make sure that you have your own support in place. When you are the person breaking the news, it is more than likely going to be hard for you. It’s never easy to see those you care about being upset. 

It’s normal to find yourself re-visiting the conversation and wondering if you approached the conversation the right way. But, know you did what felt right at the time and try not to dwell on it. 

There is a possibility that you may have a long list of people to break the sad news to. Try not to rush making a number of phone calls all at once and share the calls with another family member or close friend if you can. 

Above everything, remember to be kind to you, and seek extra help through your GP or online services if you need some extra support or someone outside of your family to talk to. 

Common questions when coping with grief

What does grief feel like? 

Grief is a natural response to losing someone. It’s what you feel when something or someone is taken away. Grief is not the same for everyone and usually doesn’t always unfold in orderly, predictable stages although there are some common feelings you may experience. 

Sadness – profound sadness is probably the most experienced symptom of grief. You may have feelings of emptiness, despair and loneliness. You may also cry a lot and feel emotionally unstable. 

Anger – even if the death was nobody’s fault, you may feel angry. It could be anger towards a medical professional, yourself, the person who has passed or God. 

Guilt – You may feel guilty about things you didn’t say or do. You could also feel guilty about certain feelings you had, like relief. You may even feel guilty for not doing something to prevent the death, even though there will have been nothing you could have done. 

Shock or disbelief – Right after a loss, it can be hard to accept what has happened. You may feel numb, have trouble believing that they have really passed. 

How long should grief last?

There is no normal process for grieving, and it’s not something that can be forced or hurried. It’s a natural, gradual process where you learn to live and cope with your loss. 

How long this takes can differ from person to person. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months while for others it may take years. Whatever your experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself. 

Does grief ever go away?

Grief isn’t something that you ‘get over’ or that will ever go away completely. It’s something that you learn to live with over time as you gradually adjust to the absence of the one who has died. 

Eventually you’ll find that you spend less and less time hurting, and more time feeling okay. 

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