Breaking Bad News
February 17, 2009
- Be open and honest; don't try to shield the family from the circumstances of the death. They may well find out the details through other channels.
- Let them know how very sorry you yourself are about what has happened. Helpful phrases may include:
- "I cannot begin to imagine how you may be feeling at the moment."
- "May I say how very sorry I am about what has happened."
- "I'm so sorry that we are meeting under these tragic circumstances."
- As you talk of the circumstances of the death/injury, let them control when they want detail and when they don't. Think of it as giving them the remote control for this. Appropriate words might include the following:
- "Would you like me to tell you what we know so far about what happened to (use name)?"
- "This will be upsetting, so please stop me at any time. Tell me if there is anything I say that you don't understand, or which you want me to repeat.
- "Do you want to write any of this down?" Have a pen and paper to hand in case they do want to do so.
- Be prepared to repeat yourself because of the enormity of what the family are taking on board.
- Do not say: "I know how you feel" or "Are you happy with that?" You cannot know how they feel. The words "happy" and death are not compatible.
- Do not try to finish off anyone's sentences. Let them formulate what they want to say, even if this takes some time.
- Accept that you won't have answers to all their questions. It can help if you write their questions down, and say you'll do your best to find the answers and let them know as soon as possible.
- Don't ask them to fill in any forms at this point — e.g. on National Insurance, death certificates etc. Come back to these later.