How to call someone who isn’t alive anymore


Have more questions and don't know where to turn?

Join our community and get access to monthly support calls, an online chat forum for questions, and even monthly 1:1 calls with Rachael! CLICK HERE for more information.

Are you enjoying my blog posts? Grab a free download of one chapter from my audiobook here and also receive any future helpful tips and posts right to your inbox!

This post is inspired by a question I received the other day on my Facebook page about my podcast. (So many mediums to find me!) Anyway, this reader asked about her mother, who constantly wants to visit and call her own parents. My reader is distraught by how frustrated her mother is—“Why don’t they ever visit or call me?”—and doesn’t know what to tell her. I completely understand, and I have a solution based on something I actually did years ago.

About three years ago, I was working at a dementia care community and sitting in my office when one of my residents approached. “Hey hun,” Renata started. “Can you help me with something?”

“Of course,” I smiled. “What’s up?”

“Well,” Renata paused. “I…haven’t heard from my son in a while…do you think I could use your phone to call him?”

Damn it, I thought. Renata’s son had died a couple years earlier. Certainly, I did not want to remind her of this awful fact, but how could I help her? She was asking me a very direct question with a very obvious solution. I thought quickly and responded, “Sure!”

I picked up my office phone and dialed my cell phone’s number. I waited until it rang a few times and heard the start of my voicemail, “Hi, you’ve reached Rachael Wonderlin…” and turned to Renata. “It’s going to voicemail,” I said. “Would you like to leave him a message?”

“Oh yes,” she said, accepting the phone. “Hi Lenny, it’s your mother…I hope you’re doing well, just wanted to check in with you. Please call me back soon and let me know how you’re feeling.”

She hung up and handed the phone back to me. “Thanks, hun,” she said, sighing lightly. “I feel a little bit better.”

Renata never asked about calling her son again. Instead of solving the FACTUAL problem—whether or not she could actually reach this man—I solved the emotional one.

This is how you solve a dementia-related “problem” like this: focus on the emotional problem, not the physical, tangible one. Use the tangible things around you to help the person feel better, like a phone call. Never, ever use these tangible things to convince that person that their loved ones have passed away. Instead, find ways to make them feel like they’ve done what they set out to do.

Learn more about what I offer.

Liked it? Take a second to support Rachael Wonderlin on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

2 thoughts on “How to call someone who isn’t alive anymore”

  1. gwen mikell kaldenberg

    This was a situation that I encountered when I was the Director of a Memory Care Unit. We had a resident who would ask to speak to her deceased husband. I had a list of 10 of the male staff at the community. I had spoken to each one and shared with them information about this resident. When this resident would ask to speak to her husband we would call one of the men on the list. All the men fully embraced this and enjoyed being part of “embracing this resident’s reality”!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

16 things poster
Get the FREE “16 Things” poster!

You're not alone!

Get personal support from Rachael and connect with other Caregivers when you join our community.

16 Things I Would Want If I Got Dementia

Get the FREE “16 Things” poster for your personal use—or better yet—your dementia care community’s staff break room!

I wrote this poem years ago, but to date, it’s the most popular piece I’ve ever created.

When you sign up, you’ll also get access to Rachael’s weekly newsletter so that you can get her top tips, links to new content as soon as it’s released, and special offers directly in your inbox! We’ll never sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

16 things poster
Shopping Cart

Have questions?

Book a Dementia Detective
call and talk to a DBD expert!