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. They can be volunteers, medical personnel, or law enforcement. 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. The history of death notification dates back to the existence of humankind but there has always been different means of death notification. Before modern technology death notification would be done through telegram, there were not the same means of transportation today that allow for a more formal notification that is required. During the 1800s and early 1900s death notification was not as complex of a process. There were not the means to deliver a written notification, so notices were left inside funeral homes. Now as the world is constantly advancing, there are more requirements to follow. One of these requirements being that the name of the deceased is not released to any outside sources until after 24 hours of the survivors being notified. One key reason being that the survivors are the first to find out in the formal manner.[1]

Death notifiers

"Next of kin has been notified. Your work will save lives." - NARA - 515067
World War II poster, "Next of kin has been notified."

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. One of the main reasons there should be two people is so that if an individual has a negative reaction there is additional support for them and support for the notifier in case of a person lashing out. 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 may alternatively deliver the news. 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.

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 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.

The process for death notification in the military is a three phase process. The people doing the notifying are also in the military, and are usually in a four-member team.[3]

Phase 1- This phase deals with both logistical and personal preparation such as designating who will do the talking.

Phase 2- This phase involves driving to the home, knocking on the door, and stating

"I have been asked to inform you that your son has been reported dead in [city, state, country] at 0700 on August 26, 1991. [Briefly state the circumstances.] On the behalf of the Secretary of Defense, I extend to you and your family my deepest sympathy in your great loss".[3]

Phase 3- This phase is when the team leaves the home. The team leader must feel that the situation is under control before they leave the premises.

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.[4]

"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."[4]

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.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

Notifications in various settings

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). Death notification can be completed in an office (work) setting and or a hospital. In both of these settings one delivers the notification in a room that the survivor can have their own privacy in. For example, when giving the death notification in a work setting, ask permission from their supervisor and take them to a private room to deliver the notification. When giving death notification in a hospital setting there are already set protocols since it is a large institution, but it would still be in a private room. When giving death notification in a hospital it is key that this notification is not done in a common area such as a waiting room or hallway. Once the notification is complete there are various forms that survivors must complete and the notifiers help in completing these. Aside from the forms, the notifiers also can take the survivors to the body if the survivors chose to do so. The "last" part of the job that the individual notifying survivors completes is to follow up and stay in contact while the family needs support and help in answering any questions about the death.

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 do not 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 (1999). Grave Words: Notifying survivors about sudden, unexpected deaths. Tucson, AZ: Galen Press, Ltd.
  3. ^ a b Buenteo, Russell J.; Haney, C. Allen (1993). "Dramaturgical Analysis of Military Death Notification". Clinical Sociology Review. 11: Iss. 1, Article 9.
  4. ^ a b Seim, Carrie (2014-06-04). "What It's Like to Deliver Bad News for a Living". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2014-06-05.
  5. ^ Iserson, Kenneth (1999). Grave Words: Notifying survivors about sudden, unexpected death. Tucson, AZ: Galen Press, Ltd.
  6. ^ Copeland, Larry (2011). "Police Train to Deliver Tragic News". USA Today.
  7. ^ Leash, R.M. "Death notification: Practical guidelines for health care professionals". Critical Care Quarterly. 19 (1): 21–34.
  • Leash, R. Moroni (1994). Death notification: a practical guide to the process. Hinesburg, Vt: Upper Access. ISBN 978-0942679083.
  • Lord, Janice Harris (2008). I'll never forget those words: a practical guide for death notification. Burnsville, NC: Compassion Books. ISBN 9781878321336.
  • Sheeler, Jim (2008). Final salute: a story of unfinished lives. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 9781594201653.
  • Bennett, D., & Campbell, B. (1992, September 1). In person in time (PDF)

External links

Algor mortis

Algor mortis (Latin: algor—coldness; mortis—of death), the second stage of death, is the change in body temperature post mortem, until the ambient temperature is matched. This is generally a steady decline, although if the ambient temperature is above the body temperature (such as in a hot desert), the change in temperature will be positive, as the (relatively) cooler body acclimates to the warmer environment. External factors can have a significant influence.

The term was first used by Dowler in 1849. The first published measurements of the intervals of temperature after death were done by Dr John Davey in 1839.

Casualty notification

Casualty notification is the process of notifying relatives of people who have been killed or seriously injured unexpectedly (for example, in a car crash). The notification may be done over the phone or in person, but is normally done by a police officer in person when possible, at least for the next of kin.In the case of the United States armed forces, the notification is done by a specialist known as a casualty notification officer (CNO), normally within four hours of learning of the casualty (but only from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. local time) or, for the Navy, by a casualty assistance calls officer (CACO).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 on to.

"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."

Dead on arrival

Dead on arrival (DOA), also dead in the field and brought in dead (BID), indicates that a patient was found to be already clinically dead upon the arrival of professional medical assistance, often in the form of first responders such as emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or police.

In some jurisdictions, first responders must consult verbally with a physician before officially pronouncing a patient deceased, but once cardiopulmonary resuscitation is initiated, it must be continued until a physician can pronounce the patient dead.

Death messenger

Death messengers, in former times, were those who were dispatched to spread the news that an inhabitant of their city or village had died. They were to wear unadorned black and go door to door with the message, "You are asked to attend the funeral of the departed __________ at (time, date, and place)." This was all they were allowed to say, and were to move on to the next house immediately after uttering the announcement. This tradition persisted in some areas to as late as the mid-19th century.

Death rattle

Terminal respiratory secretions (or simply terminal secretions), known colloquially as a death rattle, are sounds often produced by someone who is near death as a result of fluids such as saliva and bronchial secretions accumulating in the throat and upper chest. Those who are dying may lose their ability to swallow and may have increased production of bronchial secretions, resulting in such an accumulation. Usually, two or three days earlier, the symptoms of approaching death can be observed as saliva accumulates in the throat, making it very difficult to take even a spoonful of water. Related symptoms can include shortness of breath and rapid chest movement. While death rattle is a strong indication that someone is near death, it can also be produced by other problems that cause interference with the swallowing reflex, such as brain injuries.It is sometimes misinterpreted as the sound of the person choking to death, or alternatively, that they are gargling.

Dignified death

Dignified death is a somewhat elusive concept often related to suicide. One factor that has been cited as a core component of dignified death is maintaining a sense of control. Another view is that a truly dignified death is an extension of a dignified life. There is some concern that assisted suicide does not guarantee a dignified death, since some patients may experience complications such as nausea and vomiting. There is some concern that age discrimination denies the elderly a dignified death.


In medicine, dysthanasia means "bad death" and is considered a common fault of modern medicine.Dysthanasia occurs when a person who is dying has their biological life extended through technological means without regard to the person's quality of life. Technologies such as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, artificial ventilation, ventricular assist devices, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation can extend the dying process.

Dysthanasia is a term generally used when a person is seen to be kept alive artificially in a condition where, otherwise, they cannot survive; sometimes for some sort of ulterior motive. The term was used frequently in the investigation into the death of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna in 1994.

Fan death

Fan death is a well-known superstition in Korean culture, where it is thought that running an electric fan in a closed room with unopened or no windows will prove fatal. Despite no concrete evidence to support the concept, belief in fan death persists to this day in Korea, and also to a lesser extent in Japan.

Funeral director

A funeral director, also known as an undertaker (British English) or mortician (American English), is a professional involved in the business of funeral rites. These tasks often entail the embalming and burial or cremation of the dead, as well as the arrangements for the funeral ceremony (although not the directing and conducting of the funeral itself unless clergy are not present). Funeral directors may at times be asked to perform tasks such as dressing (in garments usually suitable for daily wear), casketing (placing the human body in the coffin), and cossetting (applying any sort of cosmetic or substance to the best viewable areas of the corpse for the purpose of enhancing its appearance). A funeral director may work at a funeral home or be an independent employee.

Lazarus sign

The Lazarus sign or Lazarus reflex is a reflex movement in brain-dead or brainstem failure patients, which causes them to briefly raise their arms and drop them crossed on their chests (in a position similar to some Egyptian mummies). The phenomenon is named after the Biblical figure Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus raised from the dead in the Gospel of John.


Megadeath (or megacorpse) is one million human deaths, usually caused by a nuclear explosion. The term was used by scientists and thinkers who strategized likely outcomes of all-out nuclear warfare.


A necronym (from the Greek words νεκρός, nekros, "dead" and ὄνομα ónoma, "name") is a reference to, or name of, a person who has died. Many cultures have taboos and traditions associated with referring to such a person. These vary from the extreme of never again speaking the person's real name, often using some circumlocution instead, to the opposite extreme of commemorating it incessantly by naming other things or people after the deceased.

For instance, in some cultures it is common for a newborn child to receive the name (a necronym) of a relative who has recently died, while in others to reuse such a name would be considered extremely inappropriate or even forbidden. While this varies from culture to culture, the use of necronyms is quite common.


Necrophobia is a specific phobia which is the irrational fear of dead things (e.g., corpses) as well as things associated with death (e.g., coffins, tombstones, funerals, cemeteries). With all types of emotions, obsession with death becomes evident in both fascination and objectification. In a cultural sense, necrophobia may also be used to mean a fear of the dead by a cultural group, e.g., a belief that the spirits of the dead will return to haunt the living.Symptoms include: shortness of breath, rapid breathing, irregular heartbeat, sweating, dry mouth and shaking, feeling sick and uneasy, psychological instability, and an altogether feeling of dread and trepidation. The sufferer may feel this phobia all the time. The sufferer may also experience this sensation when something triggers the fear, like a close encounter with a dead animal or the funeral of a loved one or friend. The fear may have developed when a person witnessed a death, or was forced to attend a funeral as a child. Some people experience this after viewing frightening media.The fear can manifest itself as a serious condition. Treatment options include medication and therapy.The word necrophobia is derived from the Greek nekros (νεκρός) for "corpse" and the Greek phobos (φόβος) for "fear".


Notification may refer to:

Notification (Holy See), an announcement by a department of the Roman Curia

Casualty notification, the process of notifying relatives of people who have been killed or seriously injured

Death notification, the process of notifying relatives of a military person who has died

Partner notification, the practice of notifying the sexual partners of a person who has been newly diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease

Notification, a process of allowing legislation passed by the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly to come into effect


An obituary (obit for short) is a news article that reports the recent death of a person, typically along with an account of the person's life and information about the upcoming funeral. In large cities and larger newspapers, obituaries are written only for people considered significant. In local newspapers, an obituary may be published for any local resident upon death. A necrology is a register or list of records of the deaths of people related to a particular organization, group or field, which may only contain the sparsest details, or small obituaries. Historical necrologies can be important sources of information.

Two types of paid advertisements are related to obituaries. One, known as a death notice, omits most biographical details and may be a legally required public notice under some circumstances. The other type, a paid memorial advertisement, is usually written by family members or friends, perhaps with assistance from a funeral home. Both types of paid advertisements are usually run as classified advertisements.

Pallor mortis

Pallor mortis (Latin: pallor "paleness", mortis "of death"), the first stage of death, is an after-death paleness that occurs in those with light/white skin.

Post-mortem interval

Post-mortem interval (PMI) is the time that has elapsed since a person has died. If the time in question is not known, a number of medical/scientific techniques are used to determine it. This also can refer to the stage of decomposition of the body.

Richard Ferguson (barrister)

Richard Ferguson QC, SC (22 August 1935 – 26 July 2009) was a barrister and politician from Northern Ireland.

Born in Derrygonnelly, County Fermanagh, the son of a sergeant in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Ferguson attended Rainey Endowed School and Methodist College. He later studied Law at Trinity College, Dublin and Queen's University, Belfast. He qualified to practice as a barrister in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and from 1972, in England.In 1968, Ferguson was elected to the Parliament of Northern Ireland for the Ulster Unionist Party, representing South Antrim. He was considered a liberal Unionist and was a supporter of the Prime Minister Terence O'Neill.

Before his election, he had called for local government reform including a one man, one vote system.Ferguson held his seat at the 1969 general election. In August, he resigned from the Orange Order, and was subsequently subject to intimidation. He stood down from Parliament in 1970 alongside O'Neill, citing ill health. In April, his house was firebombed in an attack blamed on loyalists.In 1971, Ferguson joined the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland but did not continue in an active political role. Instead, he focused on law, becoming a Queen's Counsel (QC) in Northern Ireland in 1973 and chairing the Northern Ireland Mental Health Review Tribunal from 1973 until 1984. He departed Northern Ireland in 1983 and became a Senior Counsel, before moving to London in 1986 where he became a QC in England. From 1993 until 1995, he served as the Chair of the Criminal Bar Association.He was defence counsel in many high-profile cases, such as those of mass-murderers Rosemary West and Patrick Magee, and successfully defended two British soldiers accused of war crimes in Iraq. By 2003, he was the top-earning criminal defence barrister, with more than £800,000 in that year.

Rigor mortis

Rigor mortis (Latin: rigor "stiffness", mortis "of death"), or postmortem rigidity, is the third stage of death. It is one of the recognizable signs of death, characterized by stiffening of the limbs of the corpse caused by chemical changes in the muscles postmortem. In humans, rigor mortis can occur as soon as four hours after death.

In medicine
After death

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