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Brits prefer to talk, not text, when someone dies

receiving sad news over the phone

Photo by Ehimetalor Unuabona on Unsplash

Breaking the news someone has died is never easy, but it’s something that people in the UK want to be told about, rather than find out via a text, newspaper announcement, or social media post.

More than half of us prefer sad news to be broken over a phone call or face-to-face conversation, according to findings revealed by charity Hospice UK.

It says that few people of any age want to learn about a death via text, email or social media, while Britons prefer to cushion the blow by using gentler phrases than “dead” or “died.”

According to the survey for Hospice UK’s Dying Matters campaign, a phone call is the top preference for 53 per cent of adults to find out about the death of someone they know well but do not live close to. Meanwhile, a third of people said they’d rather have the news broken by a mutual friend.

A call or a conversation is also the top choice of younger people. Nearly half of 18-34-year-olds said the phone was their preferred way to hear sad news.

‘Passed on’

Only three per cent of people are okay with finding out a friend or relative has died via text, while more traditional means of breaking sad news, such as newspaper announcements, written letters, or formal cards are also among the least popular choices, the survey found.

It also revealed that while taboo-breaking movements are inspiring the Britons to become more frank and conversant about end of life matters, they still prefer softer words to break difficult news.

More than half of people prefer phrases such as “passed on” and “passed away” to the starker “death”. Yet only a few use oblique ‘journey-based’ language such as “gone” or “not here anymore.”

Let’s talk

consoling hug

Hospice UK’s chief executive Tracey Bleakley said that while there can still be a “conversational taboo” about death, the findings suggest there are times when people really do prefer to talk about it.

She said: “This survey shows that when it comes to learning that someone we know has died, many of us prefer more old-fashioned methods.

“It might be that we prefer these because they allow us to immediately offer condolences or share memories of the person who has died.”

Dr John Troyer, director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath, said that communications technology has been used since the 19th century to break bad news over long distances. Yet, he added, it’s still instinctive for people to reach out to each other and engage in conversation.

“I’m not surprised by these findings,” he said. “I will personally always choose to make a call when someone dies.”

  • “I’m sorry to hear…” Grief counsellor Annie Broadbent suggests 12 meaningful condolence messages to say to a bereaved person.
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