How to Write a Letter Informing of a Death

Remain compassionate and empathetic as you write a death announcement.
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Nothing can be as disheartening as having to write a letter that must inform extended or distant family members, friends, students or employees of the passing of a relative, friend or colleague. The best way to handle such a communication begins with putting yourself into the shoes of the recipients, and keeping compassion and empathy close at hand as you write.

1 The Salutation

How you address the letter is determined by those receiving it. For example, to send a letter to colleagues or employees, start with a salutation of "Dear Mr." or "Mrs. Jones." To address letters to extended relatives and friends begin with writing, "Dearest Jack and Jill" or "My Dear Timothy." Keep the salutation formal in respect for the death of the person you are announcing.

2 The First Sentence

Start the letter with compassion and empathy. For example, you might say when writing on behalf of a company to employees, "We are sorry to bear the sad news of the passing of . . ." or to distant or overseas family members and friends, as in, "Our family is deeply saddened to inform you . . ." You can also write something such as, "I am so sorry to inform you . . ."

3 The First Paragraph

Because you are informing others of the passing of a loved one, colleague or friend, let them know what transpired to bring about the person's death. For example, you might say, "As many of you may already know, Joe has suffered the last few years with throat cancer. He passed peacefully in his sleep without further complications." The idea is to convey what caused the death, while ensuring a peaceful transition. No one wants to hear about a traumatic passing. If the person died in an accident, briefly mention the accident such as a "skiing accident," "car accident" or from a "slip at home." Do not give the details.

4 Services Notification

Include notification of the services, including any funeral details, memorials or graveside services. For instance, "There will be a short memorial service at 3 p.m., Thursday, June 19 at the Forest Lawn chapel with graveside services to follow." Include a notification of where people can send memorial gifts, such as, "In lieu of flowers, please make contributions in the name of the deceased" to a named scholarship fund or charitable organization.

5 In Closing

Let the recipients know in the closing area of the letter that you offer your sympathy and condolences for their loss. A common phrase for this is, "We are sorry for your loss." If you are writing a letter to employees, let them know to contact their manager to make arrangements to attend the funeral and that counseling services are available for those who are grieving.

As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.