Technology has changed the way we communicate. It’s now more common to keep in touch by text than e-mail, while phone calls and handwritten notes seem outmoded or obsolete. But when it comes to a death, are these newer forms of communication appropriate, or should we rely on the old fashioned forms of communication? Here are some thoughts:


  1. “A friend’s father-in-law passed away and there was no immediate announcement in the newspaper regarding a service or visitation. I hesitated to call or go by the house for fear of calling at a bad time. Is it appropriate to send a short e-mail acknowledging his loss with a condolence? Or is e-mail too impersonal?”  If you would like to participate in the funeral rituals and are uncertain of when or where they will be, it’s fine to send a short e-mail to express your sadness at the loss and inquire about funeral or memorial plans. You can follow up with a proper condolence note and memorial donation if desired.
  2. “My cousin’s spouse died a few months ago. I sent a condolence note and have not been in touch since. I’d like to check in on her but I’m concerned about calling as I don’t know how she is doing or whether she’d be up to talking. What’s the best way to approach her?”  Grief is a lonely road to travel by yourself and your cousin will most likely appreciate hearing from you. It’s fine to give her a call and if she isn’t home or chooses not to answer, leave her a message that you are checking in to see how she is doing. If you’re not comfortable calling, e-mail is good way to keep in touch as it’s less intrusive and it allows the recipient to respond if and when they choose. You can also e-mail as often as you’d like to maintain contact. Handwritten notes are also a caring way to keep in touch.
  3. “Is it okay to notify friends and family by e-mail that a family member has died?” Several years ago a dear friend was having surgery on a Monday morning. I was anxiously awaiting news on how she did when I received an e-mail from my congregation that said ‘Sad news.’ I was horrified to read that my friend had died. It was such an awful way to hear of her death and I wish someone had been able to call. This is such a sensitive message that it would be a kindness if a few friends or family members were willing to make these calls. If you absolutely have no alternative, notifying by e-mail is better than not notifying at all.



Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.


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