Ask a counsellor: ‘Is it appropriate to notify my mother’s friends of her death by email?’

Ask a counsellor: ‘Is it appropriate to notify my mother’s friends of her death by email?’

The problem…

“My mother is 75 and has terminal cancer. She knows she is dying but you’d never think so to look at her because she is so happy and otherwise full of life. We both know she hasn’t got long to go and she’s even trying to take the worry away from me by saying she has put all of her affairs in order, including her funeral arrangements.

“In a funny sort of way, she’s dealing with this better than I am. I know that she is going to die, but all I can worry about is how on earth I am going to tell everyone. She has hundreds of friends – most of whom I don’t know – and I have no idea what to say to them when the time comes.

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“My mother said ‘just send them an email’. Yes, she’s that organised, she’s got most of them as email contacts on her computer! The thing is, I’m not sure about this as I don’t know how people will react to an email popping up on their screens saying she’s died. I know I would be shocked.”

Fiona says…

“Your mother sounds amazing and I’m quite sure you’re going to miss her hugely, which is probably why you feel sensitive to the idea of just sending an email to people. She is clearly someone who is positive about life and so she’s dealing with death in an equally positive way.

“It’s never easy telling people that someone’s died – and when it’s someone you’re close to, it’s particularly hard. So, whether you do it by phone, by letter, by email or in person, it’s always going to be difficult for you. When the time comes, the only thing that really matters is that you express yourself compassionately – because talking about death makes people very conscious of their own mortality.

“It’s usual to start by saying something along the lines of: ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you that…’, and include a little information about her illness. It’s also a good idea to include details about the funeral arrangements and whether your mother has a preference for flowers or a charity donation.

“As your mother is so open and prepared for this, it might be an idea to talk to her now about telling her friends. It may be that she’s told them already – and that’s something you need to know because it will affect what you say later. If she hasn’t, perhaps she could consider doing so, but the only problem with that is how all her friends will react. People may want to commiserate or become very weepy, they may want to start controlling what she does – and none of these things sound like something she’d want.

“Another option would be for her to compose her ‘final’ email now for you to send when she’s gone. That way, you don’t have to think about the words you use – she knows her friends, so she will have a better idea of what she should say and how they will react. Obviously, you will have to add your own note to the email to explain the funeral arrangements.

“Having said all this, I think that rather than worrying what to say to other people, right now you should be thinking about what to say to your mother. You say she is handling it better than you and she sounds like a very courageous lady. She sounds as if she’s determined to enjoy to the full what time she has left, and you should be enjoying that time with her.”

:: If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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