Death notification training valued in the grieving process


Jaweed Kaleem writes on Huffington Post that training in notifiying someone of a death, an often overlooked part of a job, is starting to be more valued:

“The way many people are told — that moment — that their loved one has died really has an impact on their journey through the grieving process,” said (Jan) Withers (president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving). “So an officer or anyone who is informing someone that their loved one has died — if they have the skills to do it in a compassionate and direct manner they can literally be the very first step in that person moving toward healing. If it is done incorrectly, if they say the wrong things, are rude or abrupt, it can be a huge detriment.”

About 120,000 Americans die annually from accidents, whether they are due to car crashes (33,000), accidental poisoning (33,000), unintentional falls (26,000) or other causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies have shown that death notification is one of the most disliked aspects of the job for law enforcement and military officials who do it, and it’s often an area where they receive the least amount of training.

But strides are being made. Each year, MADD trains up to 1,400 police officers and chaplains nationwide how to talk to families about death. The organization has provided training since 1988, and its program grows every year. MADD also has implemented a national, standardized training program through a grant from the Department of Justice.


Research into death notification is a growing area of the psychological study of death and grieving. One study from the University of Florida, published in 2001, found that 41 percent of death notifiers never received training for the job, though 70 percent had done a notification at least once. Withers and Morgan said that as the nation experiences more high-profile deaths, such as the recent spate of mass shootings, conversations about how to appropriately notify survivors are becoming more common.

The article focuses mainly on law enforcement, military officials, and chaplains. Many clergy have had this type of training, but perhaps not since their Clinical Pastoral Education time in seminary. Doctors and other medical staff would likely benefit from the same kind of training.

If this is part of your profession, what sort of training have you had? Was it helpful, or is more needed?

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Peter Pearson
Peter Pearson

This actually sounds like it would be a good training.

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