How To Be An Effective Bearer of Bad News: The Death Notice Call Guide

Give In Kind is honored to feature Megan F. Malcolm.

You, my unfortunate friend, have been tasked with delivering the worst type of news. News that no one ever wants to receive – the death notice.

Calling to inform people that someone has died is emotionally draining. It is time consuming. It is difficult to put into words. However, it’s something that has to be done – and the job somehow fell to you.

If you don’t know how to get started, this guide is for you.

1) Create a list of everyone who needs to be informed. Sit down with the family and/or those who knew the deceased best and come up with a list of everyone who needs to be informed. Address book, phone contact list, email, and social media can help you.

I strongly recommend starting a spreadsheet at this point to keep track of the information you’re compiling. Record the name, phone number, and email address of each person you need to contact. This will help you keep track of who has been informed and who still needs to be, collect missing contact information from others on the list, record who will be attending the funeral/memorial, and so on.

2) Decide who will make the calls. When deciding upon who will spread the sad news, consider how many people need to be informed, what their relationship to the deceased was, and what you can emotionally handle.

Calling to inform others of a loved-one’s death is brutal. There is no getting around it. Decide if you want to make these calls yourself, in partnership with someone, or if you would like a “gatekeeper" to handle the entire process for you.

If you decide to have family/friends help make the calls or to handle them for you, make sure they know what you would like for them to say and that they have all the information they need to accurately inform others of the situation.

Note: It can be helpful to ask someone to act as the family’s gatekeeper. This is a person whom everyone can call to check on the well-being of the family, volunteer assistance, and gain information on funeral arrangements, without disturbing the family in their grief.

3) Compile relevant information to help you prepare your call guide. Some basic information you should have: full name and title of deceased, date and location of death, cause of death, and funeral/memorial details.

Two things to keep in mind: privacy and call for action.

Level of privacy needs to be established before any calls are made. Decide if you would like for the people you’re informing to keep the information to themselves, or if it is okay to share with others. If you don’t want the information shared, make sure this is clarified.

Decide if a call for action is needed. People want to help. Use them. There will be a lot of work needed in the upcoming days, whether it’s walking the dog or setting up for a memorial service. If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask for it.

4) Write your script. A prepared script to guide you through a call can be incredibly useful. You want to be able to give a clear and concise narrative that contains all the necessary information, while being sensitive to the fact that this announcement might be unexpected. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t assume the person you’re calling knows who you are. Identify who you are and your relationship to the deceased.
  • It is okay to read your script verbatim. This is not a social call – you don’t need to make small talk or have a long conversation with the person on the other line.
  • No one wants to receive bad news. This is a fact of life. Having to deliver bad news can be even worse. Remember that delivery of a Death Notice should viewed as a marathon, and remember that tagging in new relay members is fully encouraged. No one expects you to do this on your own.

Example Death Notice

Hello, my name is Jane Doe, and I am the daughter of Dr. John Doe. I have some sad news to share. John was recently diagnosed with late stage stomach cancer. After a short struggle with the disease, he died January 1st at home with his family. I’m calling to inform you of his passing, and to ask you to call Mary and Jack to help the family share the news with his friends.

The family plans to hold a memorial service sometime in late January, but doesn’t yet have a date. Can I take down your email address to send you that information once we have it?

Thank you for helping us spread the news, and if you have any questions about the memorial and/or how you can help the family, please call family friend Sarah Smith at 555-1212. The family asks for privacy right now and that you contact her for information.

This is a difficult task. Thank you for stepping up.

Give InKind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We have an affiliate relationship with many of the advertisers on our site, and may receive a commission from any products purchased from links in this article. See Terms & Conditions.

Call for Submissions

Share Your Story

Give InKind offers a platform for anyone to submit their stories, to help and inspire others to get through any of life’s disruptions.