How To Respond to Hearing About a Death

Fire in the jungle

Just recently I attended a funeral with my boyfriend. One of his close relatives had died. When arriving to the funeral, I realized that everybody had different responses to the death. Some people were very open and asked clear questions such as “do you miss him?” or “how do you feel right now?”. Other people responded by not asking any questions at all and even talking about things not related to the death or the funeral. Other people had varying responses to the death ranging from humor to silence. Many of these responses are dependent on your own personal feelings about the death and your relationship and level of closeness to the deceased.

Death is a part of life and many of us will have that experience where someone informs you that a loved one has died, or where someone close to you informs you that someone close to them has died. Many of us may not know how to properly respond to death. We want to properly express sympathy to that person but are unsure of how to go about doing that. You may feel that you need to say something to make the situation more tolerable. Questions such as “what can I do?” or “how can I help?” may cross your mind. You may simply be in shock and literally be at a loss of what to even say to someone.

This posting is designed to help give you tips on what to do when faced with this situation.

Offer condolences. You will usually want to say how sorry you are to hear about the death and that you are sad to receive this news. Depending on how close the bereaved is with the deceased, you will want to mention that you are always there for them if he or she needs it. If the situation is shocking then express that. Make sure to tell him or her that you are shocked and really hurt to hear this news.

Be sincere. When dealing with deaths, try to be as sincere and sympathetic as possible. Some of us typically like to try and lighten the mood or even change the subject once hearing about the death. Others might want to make jokes to help the person smile and forget about the sorrow for just a little bit. Although this might seem like a good tactic, making light of the situation should generally be avoided. When you first hear about the death, you should respond with sympathy. Take the situation seriously and try to be sincere.

Contact the family. You can typically send a sympathy card or give the family a phone call. You may definitely want to send a card if you are long distance and unable to attend the funeral. Depending on the funeral arrangements, and how close you are to the deceased, you may want to send along something you would like to be read at the funeral. Feel free to be responsive to people who contact you about the death. If your friend sends you an email about the news, then respond back promptly.

Grieve. You are also dealing with your own feelings about the death. If the deceased is close to you, you will particularly need your own time to come to terms with what happened. It is completely normal for you to allow yourself time to grieve in your own way.

Ask for help. If you are not coping well with the death then seek help from a professional. Seeking help will allow you to communicate your thoughts and feelings, and may help you figure out how to communicate with your loved ones about the deceased.

Give help. Offer to help with the funeral arrangements. You may be surprised at what you can help out with. At the funeral I just attended, a friend of the family helped the family set up a nice slideshow for the deceased. She helped collect pictures and put together a nice video with supplementary cardboard posters that displayed pictures of the deceased. If the family has children, you might offer to babysit, help with chores or do babysitting for the family. You can bring food for the lunch or dinner that is typically held after the funeral arrangements. Sometimes, families will try and do some volunteer effort to honor the death of that family member such as trying to raise money to build a home for an impoverished family in another country. You can send donations to that. You might also want to bring food over after the funeral. This can be especially helpful for a family or someone living alone. If you do not know how to help then ask the family members what you can contribute or how you can help.

Invite the person out. One of the worse feelings someone may feel while grieving, is that people are trying to avoid them due to the death. When the person has had some time to grieve, invite them out for lunch. Get that person out of the house and doing things again. Simple things such as inviting someone out to a movie, lunch or dinner or including them in a group activity is enough.  If the deceased was very close to them, he or she may be going through intense feelings of loneliness. Invite the bereaved out to do something and get them out of the house a bit. Please be considerate that the bereaved may not want to do anything. If that is the case, keep the invitations open, but be considerate that he or she may still need time.

Be understanding. People grieving may be quite different from the friend or relative you typically know. Someone who is usually the jokester in the group, may suddenly be sullen and moody whenever you see him or her. The bereaved may also cycle through moods, sometimes seeming very depressed and angry one day and ready to move on another day. Be understanding to that and try not to take it personally. If it makes you feel very uncomfortable, then give him his space and let him know that you are there for him if he needs it.