Death Communication with the Family




  • To aid in the notification and grieving process for family and friends after the immediate death of a loved one.




  • Death notification can be very complex and will have lasting impact on family and friends. Understanding the basics of human emotion and the normal reactions to traumatic events can help guide a proper notification.
  • Everyone reacts differently to death notifications; some will appear catatonic with little to no outward emotion while others will become angry and irrational.


The five basic stages of grief are:


  • Denial and isolation
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance


  • In the pre-hospital environment, it is likely that family will express all five stages of grief rapidly and while EMS is on-scene.
  • Each individual processes a death notification in his or her own unique manner. Be patient and courteous and allow the family member to find peace in his or her own way.




  • Delivery matters:


    • Introduce yourself by name and get on eye level with the family member.
    • Confirm the identity and relationship of the family member.
    • Use a very simple one line sentence to break the news, “I am very sorry to tell you but (use the victim’s name) has died. Do not use “passed,” “expired,” or “moved on.” Also, refrain from referring to the body as a victim, patient, son, etc.
    • Immediately inform the family member that they will be helped through the entire process.
    • Pause and allow the family member time to process the information and ask questions.
    • Demonstrate empathy and understanding.
    • Ask if other family members or friends should be notified.


  • Statements to avoid:


    • I know how you feel.
    • You need to be strong.
    • Calm down.
    • God must have needed him/her more than you.
    • Now that you know, I need to know what funeral home you would like.
    • It could have been worse.


  • Helpful Statements:


    • I am sorry.
    • This is harder than most people think.
    • Is there anyone I can contact for you?
    • I wish I could give you an answer that could help, but I just cannot.
    • I can only imagine how you must feel.


  • Listen; allow the family to speak and grieve. Many times, they just want to be heard.