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Start Spreading the news

When a loved one dies, you feel as though the bottom has dropped out of your world, but there are some things that just have to be done. Spreading the news of your loved one's death is one of those things.

The first day I woke up after dad died I just didn't know what to do next. There was no real plan for the day, I just went down to my mom's place, we drank coffee and made things up as we went along (our way with most things in life!). Heres how we went about getting the word out.

Write a list of people who need to be informed

We found that writing a list of people and ticking them off as we went helped. We put them in some sort of order of importance. This sounds harsh but people really care about who got the call first! Keep hold of the list - it will come in handy when you have a funeral date and need to inform people.

"Keep hold of the list, you will need it later"

Decide how to tell people

Mom and I really couldn't cope with going to speak to people face to face, we just didn't really want to see anyone other than each other, my husband and close friends for days. We opted for phone calls in most cases. The people closest to us knew that dad was ill in hospital and that his prognosis was poor, so to some extent were expecting the call. My nan did not know dad was ill, and she was not expecting the news. She lives in a residential care home and has some memory problems so we went to tell her in person so that we could be sure she understood and that she was ok (as you can be) before we left her with the care staff.

Decide who will make any phone calls/visits

In our case I did the calls. I think this was really because the day after dad died I just went into what I referred to as "get things done" mode. I threw myself into sorting things out and making arrangements and making sure that mom was ok. That is just how I deal with things. My mom struggled more with the practical stuff - she just couldn't think straight or concentrate so we were a good match really! There's no shame in struggling, so if you need help, ask a friend or family member to help you. You may also find it helpful to ask people you speak to to pass the news on to other people to reduce your load.

Inform important people sooner rather than later

If where you live is anything like where I live, news travels fast and word gets around, so if you don't tell the most important people in your life with haste, you can guarantee that someone else will! It's obviously much better that close family members or friends hear the news from you (or your representative) directly. This is especially true since the advent of social media - nobody wants to hear of the death of a close friend or family member via Facebook or Twitter! Dad died in peak holiday season so we were acutely aware that we didn't want people who were close to us finding out via facebook while on holiday! This meant me having to call one of my oldest and closest friends on holiday and telling her but I felt this was the lesser of the evils. Getting in quick with the news also prevents people from calling you or texting you to enquire how your loved one is as if this happens it will be awkward for all involved.

Have a plan of what you will say (but do be prepared to deviate)

As a GP I have had lots of training in how to deliver bad news, but none of that really prepared me for telling people about my Dad's death. That day doing the phone calls just felt really surreal. One problem is that no matter what you plan to say, the conversation doesn't always go as you would like it to - you may get upset, the person on the other end of the phone may get upset, one of you might say something unexpected or even downright inappropriate. During the small number of calls I had to do I ended up having to console one of my dad's oldest friend and also encountered someone telling me that my dad's death was "for the best as he wouldn't have been the same if he'd survived" - I understood what they meant, but I was so not ready to hear it from someone else! Ultimately you just have to take it as it comes and do your best. One positive thing is that generally people are very forgiving of the recently bereaved so even if you say the wrong thing people will probably not hold it against you!

"The conversation doesn't always go as you would like it to"

Do it in your own time

Once the close family and friends are done you can do the rest in your own time. I did most of the calls over 2 days. This was personal choice as I just wanted that part to be done so I could move on to the next thing I needed to do. There is no rule book for this stuff, you just have to do what you feel is right. Mom and I in the early days set ourselves a task or two to do each day so we didn't get too overwhelmed.

Who else needs to be contacted early on?

If your loved one died in hospital the hospital bereavement office will probably be the people who contact you about the procedure for collecting the medical certificate that you need to register your loved one's death. If your loved one died at home it will likely be the GP that prepares the medical certificate. They will aim to get this completed as soon as possible, but as the certificate has to be completed by a GP that has had recent contact with your loved one, there may be a delay of a day or two if they are on leave or don't work every day. Once you have the certificate or it has been submitted to the registrar's office you can call the registrar's office to make an appointment to register your loved one's death. Sometimes the coroner has to be involved in a loved one's death. Don't worry if this is the case, there are many reasons for this - the illness they died of may be related to their occupation, they had a recent operation, the death was sudden - I will do a future post about this.

Social Media

Social media gets a quick mention here as I plan to do a full post at some point in the near future. My advice is to think any posts through carefully - this is one place where considering the feelings of others and your dearly departed relative very carefully. We stayed off socials for days and we only posted a tribute to dad announcing his death when we felt ready, had told all those who needed to be told personally and when we had written and checked the post thoroughly. Dad hated social media but we felt posting was a necessity to reach people in this digital age, I'd be interested to hear what the thoughts of others are as I think this is a difficult area to navigate.

Ultimately, like everything around bereavement, you need to do things your way in your own time and don't let anyone try to tell you otherwise! I chose the to do it quickly like "pulling off a plaster" but that approach is definitely not for everyone.

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