How to Tell a Teacher or Professor About a Family Death


Family emergencies are unpredictable, and they often strike at the least opportune times, leaving you to choose between doing the right thing and doing what you need to at the moment. Students facing a crisis at home must reach out to their teachers or professors as soon as possible to let them know a loved one has died. They may require special consideration and flexibility regarding deadlines or upcoming exams.

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There’s never a right time to tell your teacher or professor that you’re dealing with a difficult situation. The sooner you notify them of your emergency, the smoother things will go for you when you can resume your studies. Leaving your professors out in the dark about what’s happening at home may mean failing your classes or getting withdrawn administratively, creating a hassle for you when you try and come back. 

When Should You Tell a Professor or Teacher About a Death in the Family?

You should consider telling your professor or teacher about the death of a close loved one as soon as possible by sending a death notification letter directly to them by mail or email. You don't need to go into the details of your loved one's death other than providing basic information about what's happened so they can expect your absence in class or failure to meet deadlines on assignments and examinations.

You may also want to notify your campus chaplain if you have one to help intervene on your behalf in times of significant crisis. They can immediately facilitate the reporting to your teachers or professors of your family emergency to allow you additional time to send your notification letter or email. You may also want to familiarize yourself with your school's policy on absences to see how much time is allowed for a death in the family. 

Consider placing immediate phone calls to them at a minimum until you find the time and emotional energy to send your letters out. Your professors may not otherwise know what you're struggling with or how they can help you through this challenging time. 

» MORE: Are you preparing for the loss of a loved one? Get support now.

When Should You Ask for Excused Absences, Assignment Extensions, or Other Accommodations?

Not every school offers excused absences, even for family emergencies like the death of a parent or sibling. You'll want to ensure that you're clear on your school's bereavement policy as it applies to asking for and getting excused absences, extensions, and other accommodations as you deal with your crisis.

Try to take care of this immediately upon deciding that you may need to take some time away from your studies. If you're emotionally unable to take care of asking for special considerations, ask a trusted friend or other loved one to do it for you. 

Most professors will understand the heavy toll a near-death has on their students' mental and emotional well-being. However, some professors refuse to allow themselves to get emotionally involved in their students' issues and might be indifferent to your particular situation. You'll want to carefully review your class syllabus and any special requirements and policies for each class you're thinking of missing. 

If you can ask for and receive excused absences and extensions on your assignments, give proper notice no later than twenty-four to forty-eight hours, or however long your particular school policies allow. Although your crisis might meet with apathy from your teachers, you still need to keep everyone informed and updated on when you plan to return to class and turn in your assignments.  

The following examples will walk you through how you can word your emails to say your loved one died.

Example Emails to Send a Professor or Teacher About a Death in the Family

Example Emails to Send to a Professor About a death in the Family

When struggling with telling your professor about a death in the family, it can be challenging to put together a cohesive email. You’ll want to ensure that your professor or teacher knows about your situation at home and your expectations on resuming your responsibilities with assignments and deadlines.

Keep your communications professional and refrain from asking for special treatment or favors when requesting accommodations for your grief. The following sample emails detail different possible scenarios for your particular situation. Make sure to change the information in each one you use to personalize and tailor it to your specific situation. 

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An email with a request for excused absences

There's no telling how long grief lasts after suffering the death of a close loved one. You can expect to need a few days up to a week of excused absences to help get you through the initial stages of grief, such as shock and disbelief.

Don't be afraid to ask for what you need regardless of your professor's stated classroom policies. Most educators know the toll a death in the family takes on a student's mental health. However, never assume that your absences will be excused without first hearing back from your teacher, professor, or school administrators. 

Asking for and receiving special treatment outside of what the school typically allows must be accompanied by a valid reason, such as the death of a close family member. However, prepare for the possibility that they will deny your request if your school has a strict no excused absences policy. If your professor denies your request, don't take it personally. Many people suffer through similar circumstances without accommodations for their grief.

Here is a sample email you can send to ask for several days off. 

Dear Professor [Name], 

I hope this email finds you well. My name is Sammy Student, and I am in your PoliSci class that meets every Wednesday at 10 AM. I am emailing you to advise you of the death of one of my close family members. Their loss was sudden and unexpected, leaving my family scrambling to make sense of the situation. 

As you may already know, this loss is profoundly shocking, and I need a few days to take it all in. The student syllabus doesn't allow for excused absences from your class. Does this include family emergencies such as these?

I hope that you consider and allow me a few days off without penalty. We are handling the funeral arrangements now, and I should be back in class within a week.

Please let me know as soon as possible so I can rest easy and focus on my loss. 


Your Student [Name]

An email with a request for assignment extensions

Anytime tragedy strikes close to home, you can expect sudden changes to your routines. These changes may include an abrupt halt to work and school and canceling planned trips and activities. It's hard to focus on doing what's required when facing grief and loss. You may need extra time to meet your obligations, and taking some time away from your regular duties and responsibilities is okay. Don't be afraid to ask for extensions wherever needed. 

Any written communication you send to your professor should be kept professional, short, and concise. Always assume that your written correspondences or interactions with your professors will become a part of your student record. Also, remember that your professor may have a duty to inform your school administration and the student chaplaincy of any exceptional circumstance that may directly impact a student's mental health and well-being.

The sample email below should help as a blueprint for drafting a request for assignment extensions.

Dear Professor [Name], 

I hope this email finds you well. My name is Sammy Student, and I am in your Economics class that meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1 PM. This week has been unusually traumatic and heartbreaking for our family, dealing with the death of one of our close family members. 

According to the syllabus, our class syllabus requires us to turn in mid-semester projects at the end of the week. Because of our family's extraordinary circumstances, I haven't given much thought or attention to my schoolwork and related projects. I need some extra time to complete my research and findings to contribute to our group project that's due. Will you consider extending our project due date by one week? 

I understand the predicament this puts you and my project members in and will work diligently to catch up on the assignment as soon as possible if you grant the extension. 

I look forward to your response. 


Your Student [Name]

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An email notifying a professor of a change in mood or behavior while grieving

Mood and behavioral changes are often a part of the grieving process. And, unless someone knows what you're going through, they may assume other influences, such as alcohol or substance abuse, are at play. 

Your teachers and professors may be required to report any changes they notice in their students to the school administration. Before they start to raise suspicion, it may be good to let them know what you're going through. 

Although many people suffer in silence, changes in their outward behavior and demeanor may not always be so easy to hide from the people they know and frequently interact with at home or school. Consider letting your teacher or professor know what you're dealing with to avoid potentially painful situations later to defend your grief to others. 

Consider this email example if your changes in mood or behavior may be a concern. 

Dear Professor [Name], 

I hope this email finds you well. My name is Sammy Student, and I am in your Creative Writing class that meets on Mondays at Noon. 

I recently suffered the loss of a close family member, and I've struggled to adjust to my grief these past few weeks. I'm not sure anyone's noticed any changes in my personality or behavior, as I have tried to keep my grief to myself while in class. 

There's no doubt I'm having difficulty coping, and I've already contacted student mental health services to help me through this challenging time. Please be advised that I may seem disconnected and withdrawn in class due to my grieving. I am working on understanding and processing my grief and wanted to bring that to your attention. 

Of course, you're under no obligation to make any special accommodations for my sadness, and I want to let you know the reasons for any changes in my behavior or mood in the last weeks. 


Your Student [Name]

Telling Your Professor About Your Loss 

Grieving the loss of a close loved one is a challenging experience that usually takes your mind and focuses away from everything else you have going on in life. Students find it difficult to concentrate on their schoolwork and will likely fall behind on assignments due to absences. One of the best practices to correct the course is openly communicating with your professor about your loss, so they know your unique circumstances.

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