You can avoid the pitfalls of announcing a friend's death.

Announcing a Friend's Death

by Christopher L. Smith

The death of a friend is a terrible loss regardless of how the death occurred, and possibly made more difficult by the circumstances of the death. When you are entrusted with announcing your friend's death, you have a sacred task that will require care to make sure that you inform the appropriate people in a sensitive way.

Ensure That You Can Announce the Death

As you learn about your friend's death, you may want to let all your friends know and may seek their support. This is natural. However, be aware that you may not be the person who decides how your friend's death is to be announced. If your friend had family members, touch base with them or their representatives to make sure they are okay with you telling others about your friend's death. There may be circumstances around the death that they want told a certain way, and you should honor this wish.

Ensure That Key People Know

In today's world, social media is a prime means of communication for many people. Especially when you are not certain who needs to hear the message, social media like Facebook can be effective in making an announcement. It is essential, though, that you make sure that people especially close to your friend hear from someone before they read it on Facebook. This is the case even if the family has asked you to spread the word - they may not have thought of this in their grief.

Be Sensitive

Particularly if you are not personally telling another person, be sensitive to how people will read what you say. Remember that those reading a death announcement in the newspaper, an obituary in the funeral program or a posting on social media include good friends of your friend and people who barely knew your friend. It is important to protect the dignity of your friend while retaining your friend's humanity. Some stories are appropriate in the announcement; others are best told in a person.

Expect Varied Reactions

In addition to having different relationships with your friend, each person grieves in different ways. Be prepared for this, and allow it to inform how you respond to their reaction, knowing that hysterical tears may not mean severe depression and silence may mean the person is internalizing the news, not dismissing it. Similarly, as you prepare to share the news, think about how different people will take it and what they need to hear. Some find comfort in words like "she passed" or "he didn't make it," while others need the news directly: "she died." You are bringing people onto a path of grief through which, if all goes well, they will eventually come to peace with your friend's death.

About the Author

Based in New York City, Christopher L. Smith has been writing since the 1998 publication of "Honest Talk About Serious Mental Illness." Smith brings professional experience in education, religion/spirituality and mental health, including as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Among Smith's graduate degrees is a M.Div. from Yale.

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