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Death Notifications: Life is Not Survivable

“Death comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes” – John Donne

We are all on the same trajectory. Death is inevitable for all living things, and if you have been in EMS for any length of time, you have had a front row seat to these phenomena. Dealing with death is hard, sometimes it can be awkward, and many times, we as providers try to avoid conversations about the topic all together. The days of transporting cardiac arrest are becoming less frequent, and as a direct result we are calling more “codes” and terminating resuscitation efforts in the living rooms of America. Now what!!! We have to relay tough messages to the survivors – the friends and family of the decedent.

Reflect back on your initial training – how much time was spent on learning how to deliver death notifications to family? Probably not much – but don’t feel bad, the study of death, and delivering notifications has been pulled out of or even ignored by many healthcare fields. It’s been reported that physicians historically received less than two days (16 HRS) of education specifically related to death while enrolled in medical school. We all avoid what scares us – think about it! FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. Collectively, we can all do better in this arena and face our fear, as even our best efforts in medicine only delay and redirect death.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

PEARLS around death + death notifications


· Encourage the family to watch the resuscitation efforts

· If staffing allows, continuously inform them of what’s happening – LIVE

· Including family helps providers with closure as well

· Allow time to grieve and ask questions – allow for response (EMS + Family)

· Explore a new and emerging science called - Thanatology

· It’s never too early to plan/complete your own Advance Directive/Living Will

· Be direct with family – use the words (death, died, dead) to avoid confusion

· Skip the euphemisms – they only help YOU

· Invite survivors to say goodbye

· Offer to call someone on their behalf (clergy, family)

· There’s always room for more empathy

January 9, 2023

Author: Joshua Ishmael, MBA, MLS(ASCP)CM, NRP

Pass with PASS, LLC.

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