How to Share the News of a Family Member’s Death

Thursday, February 20

Spreading the news of milestone events such as births and engagements is easy, exciting, and extremely anticipated, however, we will inevitably be faced with having to convey melancholic, yet necessary news of a loved one’s passing to family, friends and other relevant parties. While we fear the days that these calls need to be made, it is helpful to understand the proper way to carry out these communications at a time where you’ll be preoccupied by grief and funeral planning.  

It goes without saying that immediate family members should be the first to receive the news. Once these relatives have been made aware, it will be helpful to work with them to delegate contact to extended family and friends, as there is limited time to do so between death and a Jewish funeral. If you are calling an elderly or emotionally vulnerable person, you might want to pass on the news in person or call them at a time when there is going to be someone else with them for emotional support.  

Additionally, because of the generally short period between news of the death and the funeral service/burial, be sure that out of town family and friends are contacted early on so you can give them time to make travel preparations.  

With all the advancements in technology, handling death related matters such as communication, planning, and travel is easier than ever. Although, while technology is a major component of making our everyday lives more effortless, it is easy to think that it can be leveraged to help limit the amount of conversation that we need to have with others during this time of sadness.  Try to stay away from impersonal communication such as text messaging, emailing, or posting on social media to family members or relatives. In person or phone call is best. In this digital age, it may also be prudent to request that those in the know, not share anything on social media, as you have not yet had the chance to share the news to others (or if you want privacy). 

 After a brief exchange of greetings, when sharing the details related to the death, it is best to directly state that the person has died. It is suggested that terminology such as “passed on,” or “succumbed to,” be avoided to make it outwardly clear that the person is deceased. Since time will be limited due to having to coordinate many matters at this time, it is easy to keep things concise, stating that the decedent passed away due to complications related to (insert medical condition) or whatever the cause of death. Do not feel obligated to go into detail if you do not feel comfortable or are short on time.  

Initially, the funeral specifics may not be available. After you have engaged in brief conversation pertaining to the news, it is okay to share that the funeral arrangements are still being taken care of and that you will get back in touch.  If the funeral service has been planned and there are a large number of calls to make when you are full of emotion, you may find it necessary to rely on a script so that you can share all of the information that they will need.  

If finalized after initial contact, funeral details can be communicated in writing since this is merely information and not specifically personal. Be sure to provide the date, name and location of funeral home and cemetery, and time of the service.  This can also be an appropriate time to share any preferred charities for donations to be made in the name of the decedent. A sample statement can be “In lieu of flowers or food, the family requests that a donation be made to (insert charity of the family or decedent’s choice) in the name of (insert name of deceased).” Just a side note, but after the initial period of mourning, thank you notes should be sent to anyone that donated. The organization that received the donations should have a record of all donations received and can provide you with that list. 

Although it was mentioned earlier that phone calls are the preferred channel of communication, it is okay for Shiva (or even funeral details) to be disclosed via social media, emails, texts if sharing with a larger, more indirect and extensive group that your family may not have contact with on a frequent basis or for anyone that did not attend the funeral where an announcement may have been made.  

Overall, it may be difficult to maintain composure during such a sad time. If necessary, take deep breaths and relax for a few moments between calls and funeral planning efforts. Please feel free to contact Star of David to help make this time easier and less stressful on you.  

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