Certified thanatologist Lisa Dinhofer talks about the best way to deliver a death notification during an Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) conference. As a death educator, she specializes in very traumatic loss. After years of training, she’s learned a lot about the impact of death notifications. Do it in person whenever possible. Avoid the phone, and always have a partner with you if you can. Look the person in the eye—you’re telling them very important information. If you can’t look them in the eye, they can’t trust you. They’ll want to know the details leading up to the death. Don’t be afraid to use the words death, dead, or died.
However, avoid details about the body. Be kind, be gentle, and answer their questions. It’s your role to accompany them through this very difficult time. Delivering a death notification holds immense power. You can make the process a little easier or much tougher. Nobody wants to be the person to deliver these notifications, and sometimes a professional isn’t available for the task. Sometimes, it’s a family member who’s also grieving who must deliver the news.
Defining a Death Notification
It’s easy to spot an official death notification, such as when a police officer arrives at the door. Unfortunately, few people—including professionals like police officers—have been well trained in how to deliver these notifications. It’s an awkward experience for many, especially when the griever is very emotional. Empathy is critical, and should be an integral part of training for any profession where a death notification may occur. However, each person delivering the notification has a unique background and skills.
If you must deliver a death notification, follow the golden rule. How would you like to be approached? Don’t forget that you’ve been given a precious task.