Death to euphemism

A guest blog by Kirsty Hunt of bereavement charity Cruse Bereavement Care 

I have a problem with the words we use to talk about death.

Let’s start with the deceased. Is that a word you’d chose to describe your mother/father/brother/sister/aunt/uncle/best friend who’s just died?  Or the late Mrs Smith. What exactly is she ‘late’ for? 

These are the words that lots of businesses default to when talking to the recently bereaved. Surely there have to be better, more compassionate, more empathetic ways to write about your customers who have recently died? (Not ‘passed away’, you notice.)

How businesses can complicate death

In a normal year, around 550,000 people die in the UK, and on average their relatives or close friends need to contact 21 different organisations to let them know. That’s a lot of admin and many, many emails and letters asking for different pieces of information, copies of death certificates and even copies of any will. Sadly, in 2020 that number has rocketed.

I understand that businesses need to get the correct information, check identities and so on. But do we have to use such formal and legalistic language? How might you feel if almost every piece of post you open has your loved one’s date of death in it, or refers to them as ‘the deceased’?

When someone important to us dies, the emotional impact can be huge. In the first weeks and months, grief can touch of every part of your life. It can affect our ability to concentrate, impact our sleep, muddle our thinking, cause anxiety and make us emotionally vulnerable. Add to this other, more practical things that we might have to deal with: caring for an elderly person; new childcare arrangements; coping with a significant drop in income. Things can get pretty tough.

With all this going on, the communication from your organisation alone probably won’t change much in the bereaved person’s world. Get it right and they might not remember (lots of us become forgetful when we’re grieving). But if you get it wrong, you may end up making an already tough time that extra bit tougher.

(By the way, don’t get me started on ‘at least they had a good innings’, unless you’re talking about cricket…)

Cruse can help you help

I work at Cruse Bereavement Care, and we’re the UK’s leading bereavement charity. As well as supporting over 40,000 people each year, we provide training and consultancy to businesses who want to improve how they respond to the needs of bereaved people, be they customers or staff members.

If you want to find out more about how to help, visit www.cruse.org.uk, or email training@cruse.org.uk for more information. 

And if you need support following a bereavement, the Cruse Helpline is 0808 808 1677.

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