Death is one of the hardest things about life. The death of a beloved family member or friend can be distressing and disrupt the flow of work at the office. When a colleague or a colleague’s friend or family member dies and the bereaved task you with writing the death announcement to send to the rest of the office, it may feel daunting. This is a serious responsibility, and one that calls for a professional manner and careful thought.
Getting Basic Information
Speak with the deceased person’s partner or next of kin to convey your condolences as well as obtain the basic information you will need to write an informative, respectful announcement. Obituaries customarily include the person’s age and immediate surviving family, so verify these. Next, find out whether there will be a public memorial or funeral, and if so, the particulars of where and when. Also ask about any special memorial practices and get the particulars for those as well.
Asking About Sensitive Information
Inform the deceased person’s partner or relatives that you will be announcing the death to your workplace, and find out what additional information if any should be shared. Be respectful of the grieving person’s wishes. In particular people at work will inevitably be curious about the details of the death, but you should only share this information with the consent of the family, and only if the details are appropriate for the workplace. For instance, a death resulting from illegal activity or under humiliating circumstances, or one involving graphic violence, is usually inappropriate for a general announcement in a workplace setting.
Drafting the Announcement
Draft an email about the death. Use a cordial tone throughout the announcement, and make it brief. After announcing the death itself, mention the cause of death and any other circumstances, if appropriate. Otherwise go straight to mentioning the person’s age and survivors. Add a few words about the loss to the company, if the individual worked there. Remark that this is a difficult time for the surviving friends and family, and then segue into any details about the memorial, funeral or other special activities. If the family does not plan to hold any such events, state that no public memorials are planned.
Next, if you or others will be circulating a condolence card around the office, mention this and invite interested parties to be sure to sign it within a given time frame. You can suggest a formal or informal office meeting for colleagues to get together at work or a nearby park or restaurant to reflect on this sad occasion. If so, remember to give details about when and where it will be. Lastly, if you like, you can conclude with a tribute in the form of an appropriate quotation or picture.
Sending the Announcement
If any of the bereaved work at the office, run the final draft of the death announcement by them before sending it out. Then send out the announcement to everyone in your general work sphere – everyone on your floor, in your department or in your working group. Do this as early in the workday as you can, so that people have time to react. Be prepared to receive condolences, and make a note of these to pass along to the bereaved. Also be ready to receive questions and try to answer them in a timely fashion, as appropriate.
Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.