Death notifications are usually delivered in person to the next of kin, as this is considered to be the most appropriate way. In many jurisdictions, the police are responsible for death notifications, although a chaplain often delivers the message.
There is not always time to wait for a formal death notification to be given. There is often a risk that information can spread through traditional or social media first. Early notification is used to ensure family members are notified in a more sensitive way, preferably in person.
Principles of early notification of death:
- Shield those who are going to receive the bad news, preferably in a separate room.
- Give the next of kin a moment to mentally prepare, for example say: “There has been an accident and I have some bad news for you”. This short moment provides an opportunity to prepare for the shock, diminishing the immediate cruelty of the message.
- Deliver the news directly: “I’m sorry to let you know that … has died”.
- Comprehending this difficult message often takes time. Reactions can be excessive and hard to predict, but usually they are not initially. The most intense reactions typically occur later.
It is important to be both persistent and unambiguous if the next of kin are denying the death. Formulations like “I think” or “I’ve heard” will make the message unclear. It is important to clarify what has happened, and that the deceased has also been positively identified.
A notification of death often needs to be relayed to others. The bereaved can get help to further deliver this message to children, parents, siblings or others that were particularly close to the deceased.
When the death notification is delivered, the local police district should be notified that an early notification of death has been delivered to the next of kin.
Petter Skants, Director of Crisis Management, Norwegian Church Abroad