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Information for Doctors and Nurses

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What is appropriate when informing families/survivors of a loved one’s death by violence?

  • Provide a quiet, private area.
  • Have a telephone/beverage/restroom, etc. easily accessible.
  • If possible, have as many of the family/survivors in the room as possible before informing them of the victim’s death.
  • Have only one professional speak with the group.
  • After introducing yourself, obtain the identity of whom you are addressing to assure the correct family/survivors are in the room.
  • Sit with whom you are addressing; do not stand above them.
  • Speak directly to the individual you are addressing, maintaining eye contact.
  • Touch the person, such as placing your hand on the person’s knee or holding their hand.
  • Speak softly and directly; avoid being “wordy”.
  • Be precise and timely with the information. Family/survivors are understandably impatient in such situations, so lengthy introductions are not appropriate.
  • Use the word “dead.” It is universally understood. What is suggested is; “I have bad news for you” and then inform them of the victim’s death.
  • Never use words such as “passed away,”/ “gone to a better place,” “with their maker,” etc. Such comments are easily misunderstood.
  • If the patient is not dead; but death is expected or a possibility, inform the family/survivors the patient is “critical.” Inform them of on-going resuscitation. What is recommended is: “Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.”
  • Be aware of individual and cultural differences regarding the grieving process. Some cultures may respond in a calm manner. Others express anger, disbelief, or respond in a loud, verbal manner.
  • Be aware the moment you are sharing is a moment the family/survivors will never forget. The face and voice of the professional delivering such a message will forever remain in their memory.
  • Offer the family/survivors the opportunity to spend a few moments with the deceased. Prepare them for what they may view and inform them of why items, such as evidence and medical procedures, may not be removed from the victim’s body.
  • Provide the opportunity for the family/survivors to contact you if additional information is necessary or unanswered questions remain. Such a moment is very emotional and confusing. Questions and/or need for additional information may arise during the following days, weeks or months.
  • After leaving the family/survivors, return a few moments later to assure all information has been provided and additional arriving family/survivors have been adequately informed of what has occurred.
  • Provide religious/spiritual support, if indicated or requested.
  • Explain potential Law Enforcement/Medical Examiner Policies that impact and possibly restrict what will happen to the victim’s body.
  • Provide assistance regarding funeral arrangements, if requested.
  • Do not leave family/survivors alone for extended periods of time. Provide constant visitation from a physician, nurse, social worker, etc., so prompt assistance is available.
  • If discussing a patient’s status with a family member or friend by telephone, be as honest and clear as possible. Do not provide false optimism. If the patient is dead and you have documented the identity of the caller, tell the caller the truth.
  • If the family/survivors inquire regarding pain and suffering experienced by the victim, make every effort to respond to their questions in a compassionate, honest, thorough and professional manner. Family/survivors need and want the truth. Therefore, be as straight-forward as possible.

For more information on working with survivors of homicide victims, or to schedule a training session in your area, contact POMC at or call 513-721-5683.

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