Article
4 min read

How to talk about a loved one's death

Tasked with having to break the news of a loved one's passing? We’ve provided you with some tips on handling the difficult task and looking after yourself in the process.

Two people talking deeply at a lakeside

There will come a time in your life that you may need to break the news of a loved one’s death to other people. It is completely normal to feel overwhelmed or stressed with having to handle the difficult task.

While there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to breaking hard news to a loved one, we’ve provided you with some tips on what to say and where to say it, and how to look after yourself in the process.

How to deliver the news

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of bad news, chances are you still remember the exact way the news was delivered. The way you talk to someone about the death of a loved one tends to stay with them.

If the death was unexpected, the person may be doubly shocked.

That’s why we recommend delivering the news face-to-face if possible, in an appropriate, private setting. It gives you a chance to be there for the person, whether they need to talk about their feelings, a physical presence to ground themselves with, or just some company as they process the news.

We know this isn’t always possible, especially if your loved ones are located overseas. A phone call may be better received than a text or an email, but consider what you know of the person and how they may react when making the decision.

What to say

It’s impossible to prepare anyone for the news of a loved one’s death.

That’s why it is important to set aside the time to communicate as best you can. It may also help if you prepared yourself for what to say in advance, especially for questions regarding the ‘how’, ‘when’ and 'why'.

  • Use plain and simple language: When delivering the message, use clear and understandable language, as this leaves no room for doubt or misunderstanding.
  • Avoid euphemisms: Telling the truth is important, as hard as it may be. It’s usually best to avoid euphemisms such as ‘gone to sleep’ as this may confuse them or give false hope. This is especially important if you need to break the news to someone who has a language barrier, a disability, or is a child.
  • Take the time to answer questions: After giving them time to reflect on the news, check that they understand what’s happened, see if they have any questions and encourage them to express their feelings.


Give yourself plenty of time

Looking after yourself is important when dealing with death and grief. It’s important that you take time for yourself to process the news and are emotionally prepared and equipped before reaching out to others.

  • Acknowledge your own feelings: Breaking the news with others may stir up your own emotions. It’s important to not put pressure on yourself and to allow yourself to grieve yourself.
  • Limit the load: You may want to think about limiting the phone conversations, or sharing the load with another person that you trust, especially if you have a long list of people to break the news to.
  • Reach out if you need help: If you're not sure how to tell people about someone's death, you can ask a health or social care professional for support. If you don’t feel that you’re the right person to take on this responsibility, be honest about it, and let others know how you feel.

Talking to children

One of the hardest things you may have to do is explain the death of a loved one to a child.

Depending on the age and experience of the child, you may have to explain to them what death is. They may be confused about the concept, or not quite grasp what it is that you’re explaining to them.

Our advice is to keep the conversation simple and honest, and try to answer their questions as clearly as possible. If you feel that you are not well suited for the task, seek help from people who have had experience in similar situations.

It’s important to keep in mind that children do not process grief in the same way that adults do, and therefore may not react how or when you expect them to.

In fact, that applies to everyone, including yourself.

Grief may impact you and your loved ones at unexpected times, whether it is because of a memory, a shared experience, or a simple thought about the person who has passed. It is important to remember to be kind to yourself, and those around you.

And if you feel like you or a loved one are not coping with the death, reach out for help. You can ask health professionals for advice or emotional support.

Last updated 18th June 2021
Tali
Tali Weinberg
Head Of Operations
Charities
For Charities
Resources
FAQs Blog
The best way to contact our Customer Care team is via our
Call us at
1800 10 33 10
Safewill acknowledges all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Custodians of Country and recognises their continuing connection to land, sea, culture and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.
Safewill is an online service providing streamlined forms and information. Safewill is not a law firm or a substitute for a lawyer’s advice about complex estate planning issues.