Being the bearer of bad news is always difficult, especially if it causes sadness and grief.  Even professionals such as doctors who regularly have to inform families of a loved one’s death, don’t find this an easy task.

It’s always a personal preference how you’d like to share the news of a loved one’s passing. If possible, it’s best to tell family members in person but if for whatever reason, you’re unable to do that, it’s acceptable to call them on the phone. It will be helpful to coordinate with friends, family members and close colleagues of the person who has died and gather some contact information. You want to get in touch as soon as possible so that important details are heard first-hand by loved ones rather than picking them up through a third party. If the death occurred in a hospital or hospice care centre or care home, make only the most urgent calls immediately.  Start calling the rest of the people on your list once you’re home from the hospital and have taken time to think who else you need to notify.  Ask one of your family members to take on the responsibility of informing the extended family.

If you don’t know who the deceased’s closest friends are or how they can be contacted, we suggest that you ask for the address book of the person who has died, using the directory on their mobile phone. That is why it is so important to have a Life File where amongst other things, your passwords and PIN to unlock your phone are recorded. You can even reach out on social media platforms like Facebook. Be careful with public posts though; rather send personal direct messages to individuals if you are sure that they were close friends. One or two of the closest friends will most likely be the gateway to others and may also be willing to help with the process of informing them. Speaking of Facebook – while this platform has a clever way of informing people that someone’s birthday is coming up, it creates an uncomfortable situation when people who were unaware of that person’s death send birthday messages. It is best to inform Facebook that a person has passed away and to request them to “memorialize” such an account. Memorialized accounts are a place for friends and family to share memories after someone has passed away, without leaving it open for anyone to log into. If you’d like to request a deceased person’s Facebook account to be memorialized, you can do so via this URL: You can also appoint a legacy contact on Facebook who will manage your account after your death.

In the past, the placement of a “death notice” in the newspaper was the most popular way of announcing that someone has passed away. The notice gives the name of the person who died, the details of the funeral or memorial service, where donations can be made in the deceased’s name, and sometimes a few lines of biographical information. You can write and submit a death notice to local or national newspapers and have them publish the notice for a fee. Since the age of cell phones and e-mail, this custom has lost popularity as a way of informing the family. Long gone are the days of telegrams too.

E-mail is less personal than a phone call, and is best used to notify that outside of your immediate circle, such as co-workers or business contacts. Handwritten notes can be delivered to neighbours if you want something more personal.

What you say will depend on your relationship with the person you are informing, and their relationship to the person who has died. Rather keep things very straightforward, unless the news is expected because the person has died after being ill for some time.

Speak in a clear and steady voice, if you can, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have all the answers in this initial phone call, which would be the case in an unexpected death.

Write down a few notes before calling, but keep your message sincere and direct. You don’t want to share the news five minutes into a conversation about the weather or sport. Rather start with, “I have some sad news,” and continue using simple, to-the-point language.

If the person you’ve called cries or wants to share a fond memory, after expressing their condolences, you should allow some time for this. The best you can do is let them have a moment to process the information and respond if they want to. Take the lead from the person on the other end of the phone, which will be different with each person you call. Long calls can get draining so end the conversation with information about and where the funeral will be held.

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