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Death notification

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Title: Death notification  
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Subject: Death, Notification, Mortality displacement, Cadaveric spasm, Dying declaration
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Death notification

A death notification is the delivery of the news of a death to someone. A death notice describes the moment a person receives the news of someone’s death. There are many roles that contribute to the death notification process. The notifier is the person who delivers the death notice. The receiver is the designated person receiving the information about the deceased. Typically, the receiver is a family member or friend of the one who has died. Death education is provided for multiple types of jobs to deliver the news efficiently for each situation. A proper death notification allows the receiver to begin the grieving process. message delivered to the family of a soldier or public service member who has died.[1] Death Notifiers A death notifier may be anyone. The most common include police officers, member of the military, clergy, physician, or medics. The protocol for each notifier differs because each situation is unique. Police officers become very involved with most families that deal with death outside of medical facilities. The news should be delivered in person, as soon as possible, with another officer, in clear and plain language, and with compassion. The officers should enter the receiver’s residence to make the situation more personal. A chaplain a clergy member who works in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, armed forces, police, or emergency medical services. The main goal is to deliver the news of a death, but also to help mend a broken family emotionally and spirituality. He also must try to explain and make sense of the tragedy. Medics do not have time to establish a bond with the family and should deliver the news in an authoritative manner then try to reassure and relieve them.[2] The Military of the United States withholds the name of a deceased member until 24 hours after the family has been notified.

WWII poster, "Next of kin has been notified."

For military notifications, there are usually multiple persons involved: the notifying officer, a chaplain who accompanies the notifying officer throughout the process and who may also assist in delivering the news, a medic (in case the family member faints), and an officer that stays in the car in case the family members react violently.

The US Army Manual states that

"The Next of Kin will be notified promptly in an appropriate dignified and understanding manner by a uniformed service representative. He/she will wear the Class "A" uniform and present a soldierly appearance when making notification."

It is the Army's policy to make personal notification to the primary next of kin and secondary next of kin of the deceased soldier within four hours after learning of the death. Notification should take place from 0600 to 2200.

Denny Hayes, who spent fifteen years as a chaplain for the FBI’s critical response team, says:

  • Always deliver bad news in person.
  • Always bring a partner (“95 percent of them defer to me to do the actual speaking of the words—nobody wants to experience sad”).
  • Skip the euphemisms—they comfort no one except the person speaking them.
  • Never abandon anyone until they have someone else to hold onto.[3]

"You can’t make it better," said Dr. Nancy Davis, former chief of counseling services for the FBI. "But you can definitely make it worse."[3]Death Receivers Death Receivers Death receivers include parents, children, friends, lovers, co-workers, and other incident survivors. Each receiver responds to the news in a different way because each relationship was unique to the deceased. Most parents want to hold their child’s body and collect a physical memento. They often create a memory box filled with the child handprint, lock of hair, and/or clothing. Centers believe that parents should be encouraged to see their dead child multiple times to provide relief. Children have unpredictable reactions to death, and depend on their age, previous experience with death, and the emotional support around them. When telling a child about a death, one should use real words to describe the death and let them know that the death is permanent. Children can understand death at a very young age so they should be told the truth about the situation. The notifier should answer questions the child has and allow the child to express their feelings. When notifying friends, encouragement to seek closure about unresolved issues with the deceased is most efficient.[4]

Death Education in Professions Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) received a grant from the Department of Justice in 1988 to train police officers in death notification. If it's done properly, the receiver will be able to go on through the mourning process.[5] MADD began their death notification education program in order to create comforting and professional death notifications. Police officers have to report the most deaths compared to any other occupation, which is why the education provided by MADD is so crucial. Licensed social workers collaborated with health care professionals to create a protocol for notifying the family of the deceased. This includes having the family view the body and talk with the medical staff in order to answer questions about the situation and discuss the next steps to take.[6]

Notifications in a hospital Physicians and other health care professionals are faced with losing patients more times than they would want to think about. Due to this, they too are responsible for coming to the family with the distressing news. Along with law enforcement notification, physicians “do not receive specific instructions on death notification skills” (Henderson, 2012). Since there is a lack of training, this makes breaking the bad news extremely stressful, which then leaves the physicians more susceptible to burnout and becoming dissatisfied with their job performance and duties (Henderson, 2012). Explaining what happened and being clear with the family is very important when giving a death notification, not using words that are difficult to understand is crucial (Vandekieft, 2001).

Universal tips for death notification Since death notification is such a difficult job there are universal guidelines, which can be used across professions. Giving unfortunate news in person is extremely important (Campbell, 1992), so making sure the families don’t find out through social media, a phone call, or any other types of communication is necessary. A person notifying will ensure the family that someone cares and is supported. Thinking before they speak, (Moldovan, 2009) and not giving the family harmful information that may cause more pain. Making sure the notification happens in a timely manner (Flaherty, 2005) although this may focus more on military and law enforcement, it is important for the families. Finally, for the person doing the notification (Vandekieft, 2001) they should allow themselves to be sympathetic of the family’s loss, without being overly emotional or coming off as uncaring. It is clear that no matter the profession, a death notification needs to be done sensitively, clearly, and efficiently.

See also


  1. ^ Byers, Brian (2002). Death Notification: The Theory and Practice of Delivering Bad News. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas. 
  2. ^ Iserson, Kenneth (Tucson, AZ). Grave Words: Notifying survivors about sudden, unexpected deaths. 1999: Galen Press, Ltd. 
  3. ^ a b Seim, Carrie (2014-06-04). "What It's Like to Deliver Bad News for a Living". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2014-06-05. 
  4. ^ Iserson, Kenneth (1999). Grave Words: Notifying survivors about sudden, unexpected death. Tucson, AZ: Galen Press, Ltd. 
  5. ^ Copeland, Larry (2011). "Police Train to Deliver Tragic News". USA Today. 
  6. ^ Leash, R.M. "Death notification: Practical guidelines for health care professionals". Critical Care Quarterly 19 (1): 21-34. 

Bennett, D., & Campbell, B. (1992, September 1). In person in time. Retrieved from

External links

  • Arlington Cemetery, Death notification by letter and telegram, WWII
  • Article on notifying deceased firefighters' families
  • Overview of US Army death notifications.

Shoenberger, M. J., Yeghiazarian, S., Rios, C., & Henderson, O. S., (2013, March) Death notification in the emergency department: survivors and physicians. From Review volume XIV, No. 2. Retrieved from

Vandekieft K. G., (2001, Dec 15) Breaking Bad News. American Family Physician. Retrieved from

Moldovan, E. (2009, May). The bad news Bearers: the most difficult assignment in law enforcement from Proquest. Retrieved from Vandekieft K. G., (2001, Dec 15) Breaking Bad News. American Family Physician. Retrieved from

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