When a loved one dies, one of the first tasks a family member or friend has to face is the act of sharing the news with the deceased’s other loved ones. This can be a big emotional undertaking and is often exhausting, especially when you’re required to comfort others at a time when you’re in need of comfort yourself.
While the process of sharing sad news with others can be tempting to avoid, it’s a crucial part in the grieving process and, of course, it’s pretty important for everyone to know that an important person in their lives has passed away.
The good news, though, is that you can prepare for difficult moments like these. We’ve compiled a list of our recommendations – in an order we’d recommend following – to make the task a little easier (telling people a loved one has died can never be easy, but hopefully this list will make it a little easier).
Prioritise face-to-face communication.
While texts and phone calls are some of our favourite aspects of modern-day technology, they aren’t the most appropriate medium for sharing devastating news. If you can, invite yourself over to each individual’s house or tell them to come visit you at yours. Then, tell them the news in person. Not only do humans prefer face-to-face communication during tough times, but it’s also a more respectful way to honour the deceased rather than shooting a quick text through or making a phone call while you’re washing the dishes. We particularly recommend face-to-face communication if you live in close proximity to each other.
We also recommend face-to-face news-breaking because it gives both you and the other person a comfortable space to cry, laugh and grieve with someone else who’s in the depths of grief, too.
Of course, if you’re unable to organise an in-person conversation (say, if they’re away on holiday or you live hours away from each other), a phone call is absolutely fine. And when it comes to sharing the news with those within your outer circles, social media and email communication is often preferred (because as much as we’d like to recommend telling everyone the news in person? It’s not exactly practical).
Remember to breathe
Before meeting the person (or people) and prior to sharing the news, take a deep breath. Deep breathing encourages a more relaxed state; it’s used in meditation practices to help return the mind and body to a state of calm. Try this exercise before walking into the room to share the news:
Breathe in for 1… 2… 3… 4.
Breathe out for 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6.
Use clear and plain language they won’t be confused by.
Don’t beat around the bush. Doctors are trained to tell family members of a deceased person that their loved one has ‘died’. They aren’t allowed to be ambiguous or use more sensitive jargon, because they need to be sure the family completely understands what has happened. And we’d recommend using the same sentiment when it comes to breaking sad news to family and friends; tell them in clear, plain language that won’t confuse them or make them question what has happened, and don’t create a whole lead-up to the climax – tell them straight, and tell them at the very start of the conversation.
Expect the unexpected. And expect the expected.
Everyone reacts to grief differently. While some cry or weep, others can shout or scream, laugh or sit poker-faced. There’s no way to predict how others might react to sad news, so expect the unexpected, and be willing to comfort the other person if they need it immediately after you’ve told them about the death of their loved one.
Don’t try to make them feel better about the situation.
It’s normal to regret recent behaviour, conversations (or a lack thereof) after hearing a loved one has passed away. We often hear statements like, “I hadn’t called to check-in with them for weeks” or “We had an argument four years ago and we’ve barely spoken since, and now I feel terrible”. No matter who we are or how we’re connected to another human being, it’s entirely impossible for us to prevent another person’s imminent death, and it’s also not our fault if our relationship with them has been topsy-turvy. That’s life, after all.
Allow the other person to feel whatever they’re feeling, and don’t try to make them feel better about the situation. It often doesn’t help. What does help, though, is just being there to provide support.
If appropriate, initiate a phone tree.
A phone tree is a great way to ease some of the burden when it comes to sharing the news. If you feel like the person you’ve just spoken to is willing and able, ask them if they’ll help you share the news with others. This lightens the load on you so you don’t have to do all the news-breaking, and can also make the other person feel useful at a time where they might not know what else to do.
Create a list of who needs to be contacted, and then divide and conquer appropriately.
Take care of yourself.
Although you might tell yourself you’re strong and can handle this task, make sure you take time out to grieve and look after you. Sharing difficult news to others can put strain on your own emotional state and can prevent you from grieving in a way that feels right for you – because you’ll be comforting others and accommodating their grief and their response… constantly. Take breaks from the phone calls and face-to-face chats, and do activities that make you feel somewhat okay (well, as okay as possible).
You’ve got this.
If you need to arrange a cremation for a loved one, the kind and caring team at Willed can help. Phone 1300 945 533 to speak with a dedicated funeral arranger today.