Menu Close

Death in the Family: When a Distant Relative or Acquaintance Passes Away




Nothing compares to the pain and grief you experience following the death of someone you were close to. The death of an acquaintance or distant relative can bring about similar feelings of loss and the uneasiness of confronting your own mortality. Death has a way of making us feel paralyzed, not knowing what to say or how to behave. If you find yourself in this unfortunate circumstance, following is a guide to help you navigate this difficult process.

Explaining Death to Children

Deciding what to say depends on the age of the child. Children between the ages of five and six typically view the world in very literal terms, so death can be described as something more concrete, like the person’s body stopped working. From the ages of six to 10, children are better able to grasp the finality of death, but often not yet accepting of its inevitability.

They may personify death to better understand it or even make wishes for the person to come back to life. By the time they reach the tween/teen stage, children begin to understand death as an adult does. Whatever your beliefs might be, make sure to share them with your child to help them cope and grow spiritually from the experience.

Supporting Those Left Behind

During this difficult time, the loved ones closest to your lost relative need your love and support the most. However, if you’re not especially close with them, it’s hard to know how to act. Send them funeral flowers as a thoughtful gesture, along with a personal note that expresses your sympathy and indicates solidarity in the grief process.

Remember that the grieving process is long and difficult, so make every effort to reach out to the deceased’s loved ones, especially during birthdays and holidays. Consider participating in therapeutic activities with your relatives, such as painting classes, hot yoga sessions and even grief recovery support groups.

Be Aware of Boundaries

Grief is an especially sensitive time for people, so be extra careful about not offending family members with your words and actions. lists the things you should never say to a grieving person, including:

  • Platitudes – Because it’s so difficult to know the right thing to say, we often resort to platitudes like “Time heals all wounds” and “Focus on the blessings in your life.” Though they might be true, grieving people may see these statements as inappropriate and dismissive.
  • Religious instruction – Unless you know for sure that your loved one shares your faith, don’t take this opportunity to push your beliefs onto them. Let them decide for themselves how cope with the situation, and respect their beliefs and decisions.
  • Qualifiers – Avoid statements that try to minimize the problem, such as, “At least now he’s not in pain” or “You were lucky to have her as long as you did.” Again, positive thinking seems like the right approach, but your loved ones should know that it’s OK to feel angry, hurt and upset during the initial grieving stages.