How to tell family and close friends of a loved one’s passing

Heart letter
  • Scheduling a face-to-face meeting will be a more personal way of breaking the news and will prevent you from putting it off.
  • A private phone call is another good way of informing people.
  • Get the hardest conversations done first, and write down the key things you are going to say.
  • Be as direct as possible, and keep conversations empathetic but to the point.
  • Ask your fellow mourners for help if you need it.

Breaking bad news to people you care about is always uncomfortable and stressful, even if you’re just cancelling on dinner plans. When you find yourself with the responsibility of sharing the news of the death of someone close to you with their own friends, it can be one of the most challenging things you ever have to do. Furthermore, if this responsibility has fallen to you, it will pressurize your own grieving process because it needs to be done quite quickly. But, as with so many other unfamiliar, sad, or uncomfortable tasks, it will feel far less daunting the moment you get started. And there is help at hand.

Informing people of the death of someone close to them is an important task. And the more important something is, the better it is for everybody if it is done quickly. The good news is that, depending on circumstances and thanks to modern technology, you could make a series of short phone calls during a lunch break, or even just send a group email. But the deceased’s close friends and family members, you should prepare for something more intimate, uncomfortable, and time-consuming.

Each conversation you are about to have, whether it’s face-to-face or over the phone, will probably be very different from the last. Some will want to receive the information and then process it alone, whereas others will want to talk through their emotions with you. Some might break down in tears, while others might nervously try to make light of the situation to help deal with their immediate anxiety. Whatever the case, you should be prepared for all eventualities. Depending on who they are and their relationship to your loved one, what you say to each person is going to be different, as will their responses. Prepare emotionally for these to be difficult conversations. 

In each one, though, it pays to be direct. Don’t avoid the issue with small talk, as this will simply make the process more drawn out, and might double the amount of time that you spend on this task. Whatever the circumstances and whatever your emotional state, this is going to be a traumatic experience, so getting through it as quickly as possible is important, and being direct is the best way to make sure that happens.

Making a list of who to contact will be one of your first steps. Although you will probably later want to inform your loved one’s wider circle of their passing, the more urgent matter is informing close friends and family. The good news is that most of these people will know each other already, so tracking them down won’t be difficult. Since you can’t call all the people they knew in their lives, knowing where to draw the line is a separate challenge, but will save time and your own mental wellbeing. It is usually a good idea to tell their closest friends and relatives first, as they may be the most upset, and will make other calls less daunting. 

Don’t be afraid to delegate and share the burden with your fellow mourners. Sometimes it might be unrealistic for a single person to get through all the work quickly enough, in which case you might have to recruit the help of one or more people. This can be particularly useful if you are dealing with different groups or circles of friends that you are not personally familiar with. 

Delegating some of the work will also help you get it done quickly, giving everyone more time to arrange funerals, and write eulogies and obituaries (which can also be passed on to others if you have time). Also, and however traumatic it is, sharing your loss with others will help your own mourning process. 

Try not to put it off. Calling someone to tell them their friend or uncle has died won’t be any easier tomorrow when you will be faced with other responsibilities. Having to inform people like yourself of what has happened seems like a long-drawn-out, uncomfortable responsibility that will make your loss feel all the more real. Repeating the tragic story will compound your emotions, particularly if grieving is a private and personal process for you. But remember that others will want to know as soon as possible, and might be more upset the longer you wait.

One way of avoiding delay is to schedule a face-to-face or live streaming meeting with your immediate family or friend circle. This will get most of your work done and out of the way in one go, without risk of delay, and in a shared environment where you can share your emotions and experiences within a group setting.

Once close family and friends have been given the sad news, you will be ready to post it on social media, in the local newspaper’s obituary section, and send our circular emails. But try to make sure that you have told the inner circle before you move on to this step.

Even if the death was expected, this responsibility will be both painful and draining, and might be the most difficult thing you have to do following the death of someone close to you. But there are no experiences that could prepare you for this task, and there is no single right way to do it. Get it done as quickly as you feel comfortable, remember to recruit help if you need it, and recognize that your own mourning process will benefit from sharing your grief with like-minded people.