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Telling others about someone’s death

If you have to tell others about the death of a friend or relative, the following information may help.

  • Try to remember that the way bad news is delivered will stay with the person. Therefore, it's best to break the news face-to-face. Even when this isn't possible – relatives may, for example, be overseas – be sensitive to the impact that the news may have on the person at the other end of the telephone.

  • It may help to prepare yourself by rehearsing what you're going to say, especially when speaking to someone who may have learning difficulties.

  • You might also want to think of a simpler wording when speaking to someone who doesn't share the same first language. The health of older people also needs to be taken into account.

  • Give yourself plenty of time when you're with the person. Make sure that, where possible, you're in a safe and confidential setting.

  • If possible, make sure there are no interruptions. Switch off mobile phones and telephones, and turn off radios and televisions.

  • Use plain, simple language, and don't bring in unrelated issues as it can cause confusion.

  • In the majority of cases, people who hear bad news will only be able to take in a small amount of what's being said. So check that they understand what has happened and encourage them to express their feelings. Gently correct them if necessary, and be prepared to repeat yourself.

  • Don't give the person too much information straight away – check whether they're ready to hear more.

  • The person may need physical space to take in what you've said. So leave it up to them if they want to be touched or held.

  • Don't promise anything that you can't deliver. This will damage the person's trust.

  • If someone becomes very distressed, and you're unable to stay with them, you may need to ask about someone you can contact on their behalf. This might be a neighbour or friend, or family member who lives close by and can stay with them.

  • You may find that delivering bad news stays with you afterwards. If it starts to cause you distress, find someone to talk to about it.

Talking to children and teenagers

Knowing what to say to children and teenagers when someone they care about has died can be hard. Children tend to grieve differently from adults, depending on their age and stage of development. Remember that a parent knows their own child and how best to talk to and comfort them.

Experts recommend that you're honest and clear about what has happened. Keep language simple, and be ready to answer questions truthfully. Avoid phrases like 'gone to sleep'. If you don't know how to begin the conversation, or feel you're making things worse, seek help from organisations such as Winston's Wish   or Child Bereavement UK  . Some hospices also have a specialist children's grief counsellor. You can also read our information about supporting grieving children and coping with grief as a teenager.

This content has been supplied by Dying Matters  , with additional research in-house.

After Mum passed away, the hospice offered us bereavement support. We had a social worker who was in contact for quite a few months. They also organised a memorial service for her at the hospice.
Katy, carer/relative

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