1. The name(s) of the deceased or critically injured should never be released to or by the media before immediate survivors are notified (especially survivors living in the area). Be absolutely certain of the identity of the injured/deceased. Have the facts: who, what, when, where, and how. IMPORTANT: For surviving family members, a mishandled notification can be extremely distressing.
2. Death notification should be made in person, and preferably should not be made alone. Two people can better handle the emotional reactions, including possible hostility; two can better deal with a variety of needs that could arise (e.g., children or elderly in the home, care giving needs, etc.). Additionally, two people can more easily substantiate details of the visit. Note: Research shows the IDEAL notification team consists of a male and a female (perhaps a co- worker or supervisor who had close contact with the injured/deceased employee immediately prior to the accident/incident). The family will be eager for details (who, what, when, where, how), especially those provided by the person who represents the “last link” with their loved one. Providing such detailed information to the family can be a very important aspect of the notification.
3. If possible, arrange for appropriate medical support to accompany persons conveying the death notification. Note: In the event death has not occurred but is imminent, do not wait to gather appropriate support. Notification should be as immediate as possible to allow opportunity for the family to see their loved one before demise. If nothing is known about the family, consider first approaching a nearby neighbor to get information and to assist with the notification, if appropriate. Note: If adult family members are non-English speaking, take someone who speaks their language.
4. Review how to handle the notification on the way to the family’s home. On arrival, present personal credentials, as appropriate, and enter the home. Never make a notification on the doorstep.
5. Gather everyone in the home (except for very young children who might be traumatized by the reaction of adult family members) and have them sit down. There is less tendency for family members to incur injury – from fainting, for example – or to become aggressive, when seated. Be factual, honest and direct, in a caring manner. Always use the name of the injured or deceased person. Never say “the deceased”, etc. Do not deliver any personal effects to the family during this initial visit.
6. Surviving family members may react with hysteria, weeping, anger, shock, fainting, etc. Again, those who perform a notification should behave in a supportive, caring manner. If the situation is such that the possibility of hostility or physical violence is anticipated, arrange to be accompanied by appropriate law enforcement.
7. If surviving family members wish to go to the hospital, attempt to persuade them not to drive themselves. Arrange for appropriate transportation – ideally with someone who is part of their personal support system. If they insist on driving, have someone ride with them. Emotionally support family members by walking them through what to expect at the hospital. If possible, paint a picture of each step of the process (e.g. how their loved one may look, how they themselves may react, etc.). This will help ease their fear of the unknown.
8. Be prepared to help make appropriate arrangements if there are young children, elderly, or non- ambulatory persons in the home. Immediate baby-sitting needs may have to be met. Friends or co- workers known by the family should be alerted whenever notification must be given to families with small children, or others needing special care, living in the home.
9. If the surviving immediate family members are away from home or in another city, the responsibility for notification still remains. Determine the action most appropriate and initiate it immediately. (The party responsible for notification may appreciate a faxed copy of these guidelines.)
10. As part of the follow-up, a high-ranking company official or senior management person should personally contact the family as soon as practical. This can be very reassuring to the family and demonstrates the company’s sensitivity and caring.
If identification of the deceased must be performed by a surviving family member:
- Gather the information and be sure to “walk them through,” step-by-step, what they will have to do. For instance, “You will be asked by the coroner to…” When possible, give them a physical description of the hospital or morgue, including what they may see, hear, etc. Identification may occur by TV monitor.
- Offer to be with them through the whole process of identification. “I will be by your side if you like,” or, “I will look first if you want,” etc.
- Support them by discussing how they may react.
- Never discount their feelings; listen and comfort.
What survivors need most during death notification
- Calm, reassuring authority
- Restoration of control (aided by their understanding and “taking in” what happened, by receiving as much detailed information as they ask for).
- Ventilation of emotions