When you got the call that your friend's parent died, you most likely jumped into action at the ready. You were sure that you'd know exactly what to do when a friend's parent dies, as you’ve been friends for years, after all. You’ve read all the books on how to help a grieving friend. You’ve even practiced out loud some "right" things to say.
But then reality sets in when you're standing in front of them and see how overwhelmed with grief they are.
Everything you thought you knew goes out the window. Most likely you felt immediately scared of saying the wrong thing. Maybe you didn't know what to do to console them. Frozen in fear, you did what most people do. You retracted to give them their space to grieve. Below are some tips that might help you overcome being at a loss when you're trying to help your friend through their grief.
Post-loss tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, the emotional and technical aspects of handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
1. Invite Conversation
Talking to your friend about the loss of their parent shouldn’t put added stress on you. Trust in your friendship that no matter how awkward it can be to give and receive condolences, you each are doing the best that you can.
Nothing prepares you for the overwhelming grief that attaches to the loss of a parent. When your friend's grieving the loss of theirs, it’s understood that you want to be there for them. A great way to start the conversation is to ask them how you can help.
2. Pay a Visit
Friends don’t need a special invitation to show up when needed. Nothing is better than a face-to-face visit to offer your condolences whenever possible.
When you're at a loss about what to say, show up and offer a shoulder to lean on. Your silent presence can be worth more than any words you can think to say. If you're unable to visit due to distance or other constraints, you can still support them no matter how far you two may be from each other.
3. Video Chat
Advances in technology can help you stay connected with your loved ones to support someone who’s grieving from far away. If you own or have access to a smartphone, laptop, or computer, you can download special apps to help you stay in touch for free.
You can use apps like FaceTime, Google Duo, or Zoom to speak virtually face-to-face.
4. Send Texts
Sending text messages has become the newest way to communicate. It's fast, simple, and doesn't require much effort to send someone a message. We all realize that this might not be the best way to console someone, but it's often the easiest.
Sometimes it's less painful to say what we mean through a text than having to say it out loud. In reality, if we could all get away with texting our condolences, we'd probably chose this way of communicating over a phone call.
Some examples of comforting texts are listed below:
- “I’m devastated at your loss. My heartfelt condolences to you, my friend.”
- “I know this is difficult for you. You’re not alone. Is now a good time to stop by?”
- “I’m so sorry for your loss, friend. Tell me what I can do for you right now.”
- “I’m thinking of you. Can I bring you anything?”
- “I just heard the terrible news. It saddens me to hear your dad/mom has died. Can I make any phone calls for you?”
Read our guide on how to send a comforting message via text for more ideas.
5. Grab Lunch
Be open to the possibility of meeting your friend for lunch to see how they're doing. They most likely need a break from everything that's going on concerning their parent's death. They may welcome a bit of normalcy back into their life after suffering such a heartbreaking setback.
Consider keeping things light with no pre-planned agenda. Allow your friend to lead the conversation in whatever direction they want. They may just feel like eating in silence, and that's okay, too.
6. Take Action
When talking to your friend about their loss, they may not be fully present with the conversation. They might have a lot of pressing things going on in their head, making it impossible to digest what you're saying. Try breaking the conversations into easy-to-manage bits and pieces.
Call often and regularly. If you know that your friend needs help doing certain tasks, take action, and help out where you can. These are some ways in which you can help out immediately:
- Make phone calls
- Take out the trash
- Mow the yard
- Prepare and deliver meals
- Grocery shop for essentials
- Give financially
- Pay some bills (utilities, rent, etc)
- Write thank-you notes
- Make death announcements
7. Plan a Memorial
A wonderful way of showing your love and support to your friend is to plan and host a memorial service in their parent's honor. One of the greatest gifts you can give is the showing of your respect for their parent who's died.
A memorial service can be small and intimate or a grand affair. Keep in mind their parent's place in society when doing your planning. Don't hesitate to ask others for help should the event become more than you're willing or able to handle.
8. Send a Gift
One of the traditional ways to express your condolences is to send a memorial gift. These gifts range from sending flowers to the funeral home, financial gifts in honor of the person who died, to memorial plaques engraved with dates of birth and death.
It's up to you to decide what makes more sense considering your relationship with the deceased. Whatever you decide on sending, know that a hug and comforting words are just a precious a gift as any other.
Some other gift options include:
- A fruit basket
- Engraved wind chime
- Memorial jewelry
- Seasonal flowers to the home
- Engraved birdbath
9. Be Sincere
Friends don't judge each other under normal circumstances. But when things aren't normal, your words and actions may cause some unintended harm and resentment. Losing a parent can leave your friend feeling deep despair and sorrow. Their emotions will be running on high for the next few weeks and months.
Don't make the mistake of telling your friend that you know how they feel, or that their parent’s in a better place. Instead, try asking them how they're feeling and invite them to talk to you about what they're going through. It's tough to have these conversations, but your friend will appreciate your sincere efforts to be there for them.
10. Help Manage
You might've already thought about ways in which to help your friend but are unsure of how to bring it up. The most effective way to do so is to plan an in-person visit with them. Bring a pen and paper and get ready to take action. You may want to invite them out for coffee so you can spend some quality time together.
Start by asking pointed questions on how you can help them manage their life, household, or business during the next few days. Be specific in the ways in which you can and are willing to help. And ask them to also be clear on what they need help with.
Then let them know exactly what you're going to do for them and when. It's okay to take the lead and be assertive. That's what friends are for in a time of need.
Comfort Your Friend Whose Parent Has Died
Your friend is likely going through a very difficult time after suffering the loss of their parent. Your loving words of comfort and condolence will help ease some of that pain. And your carefully thought-out actions will enforce the bond between you.