It can be tricky to find the right words to comfort someone who has gone through a death in their family. It can be even more complicated when someone loses an estranged parent.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What to Say to a Friend Who Lost a Parent They Weren’t Close With
- What to Say to a Family Member Who Lost a Parent They Weren’t Close With
- What to Say to an Acquaintance or Colleague Who Lost a Parent They Weren’t Close With
Determining a thoughtful thing to say depends on your relationship with the person. If you are a close friend or family member, it’s important to acknowledge the complicated nature of the loss. If you don’t know the person that well or it’s a work colleague, simple expressions of condolences are more appropriate.
We’ve come up with some short phrases that you can use when comforting a friend, family member, colleague, or acquaintance who has lost a parent they weren’t close with. Use these as jumping-off points, and make them your own.
What to Say to a Friend Who Lost a Parent They Weren’t Close With
When we see our friends in pain or going through a difficult time, all we want to do is help and try to make things better. Losing a parent is such a difficult part of life, and when a parent is estranged, the emotions can be even more complex. Here are some ways you can offer support without pushing your friend away during what can be a very painful and lonely time.
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1. “I know that it’s been complicated, and I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this.”
Given that you know your friend had an estranged relationship with their parent, it’s a good idea to acknowledge that while offering your condolences. Ignoring the elephant in the room is not only uncomfortable but can be extremely isolating for your grieving friend.
2. “I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you. I’m here for you.”
This is simple and effective. Let your friend know that they are not alone, and you are here for them. Losing an estranged parent can feel very lonely.
Let them know that you’re not going to pretend to know how they feel, and that they might be having a lot of conflicting, confusing, and uncomfortable feelings. Make sure they know that’s totally normal. You’re here to listen to any and all of it that they want to get off their chest.
You can also offer to help in tangible ways — you could cook them a meal, help with their kids, or even offer to do some housework.
3. “Let’s go get a meal.”
Take your friend out to eat, and be there for them in any way they need. Maybe they just need a fun night out as a bit of self-care, or maybe what they need is a good cry, laugh, and some reminiscing over a meal.
It’s important when offering this type of support that you first acknowledge their loss. This way they know that you understand that they might be feeling a lot of emotions, and that it’s okay to talk about them with you.
4. “My heart is with you.”
This would be a good sympathy message for a friend who you aren’t super close with. It is loving, compassionate, and lets them know you’re thinking of them. If you aren’t super close with them, they may not feel comfortable talking about the situation or how they’re feeling since it may be quite sensitive.
That’s okay. Let them know you are thinking of them, your heart is with them, and if you think it’s appropriate, you can always ask if there’s anything you can do to help lighten their load.
5. “I’m so sad to hear about your mom.”
Let your friend know that they aren’t alone in their sadness. Even though they weren’t close with their parent, there are still so many emotions that come with losing even an estranged parent.
Putting words to grief can be very comforting, and will hopefully open up some dialogue if your friend feels up to sharing.
What to Say to a Family Member Who Lost a Parent They Weren’t Close With
If you have a family member who lost an estranged parent, you might be wondering the best way to support them. The most important thing you can do is be there for them without taking sides or judging.
Even if you took a side when the parent was still alive, that can all be in the past now. The last thing you want to do is make them feel shame or regret for not contacting their parent before they died. Here are some ways you can comfort a family member who lost an estranged parent.
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6. ”You are not alone.”
Your family member might think that because they were estranged from their parent, they don’t have the right to feel sad or grieve. There may be a whole host of complicated emotions going on. Let them know that it is okay to feel whatever they are feeling and that you are here for them regardless.
It is comforting to have a family member’s support. Especially someone who intimately knows the history of their estranged relationship.
7. “Can I help you with the arrangements?”
If your family member is tasked with making funeral and end-of-life arrangements for their parent, offer to help them or even take over. It might feel too excruciating and overwhelming to make these arrangements for an estranged parent.
Given that they were out of touch with their parent, it might also be uncomfortable for them to make the call to notify other friends and family of their parent’s passing. This could feel like a giant weight off their shoulders.
8. “I know you might feel raw and vulnerable right now. I am here for you for whatever you need whenever you’re ready.”
Your family member has had a seriously complicated loss. Acknowledge that things might not feel okay right now, and that what they might need is space.
Let them know that you love them and are here for whatever they need as soon as they’re ready — even if that’s days, months, or even years away.
9. Reflect on memories.
One of the most comforting parts of the grieving process is reflecting on memories with family and friends. All relationships, even the good ones are complicated. ,When you’re dealing with an estrangement, there are tons of confusing emotions. Make sure you follow the person’s lead on this.
If you bring up a loving memory that you all share, and they start to shut down, stop and apologize. If laughter and tears come, then this is a great exercise for healing. If they want to vent about leftover anger or resentment, that is okay too. Be there to listen and support their grief however it shows up.
10. Organize a meal train.
Even if they aren’t grieving in a traditional way due to the complicated nature of their relationship, your family member might be experiencing some major emotional turmoil. This is a major life event, even if their parent was no longer part of their life. Offer to help by organizing a meal train so that they have a couple of weeks’ worth of comfort food.
There are other ways you can offer to help too. Perhaps you can offer to host a wake or shiva if that’s something they would be interested in. Maybe you can watch their children while they have some alone time, or offer to run some errands.
What to Say to an Acquaintance or Colleague Who Lost a Parent They Weren’t Close With
When dealing with an already complicated situation, adding the additional layer of not knowing the person very well can make it even more difficult to come up with the right words to say.
This is too sensitive of a topic to dig into with someone who you’re not close with. In this case, we recommend keeping it simple, and using a message you would normally use when an acquaintance or coworker’s parent dies.
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11. “Thinking of you in this difficult time.”
Saying something simple is much better than saying nothing at all. This lets the person know that they are on your mind, and you are acknowledging that they are grieving.
Given that you know that the person was estranged from their parent before their parent died, this message avoids getting too emotional or personal. It’s an ideal message for a colleague or acquaintance that you don’t know too well but still want to offer your condolences to.
12. “Is there anything I can do to support you?”
Even though your coworker wasn’t close with their parent, they are likely still grieving, and also might have a lot of arrangements to make. Offer to help by taking on some of their workload, or postponing some joint projects or meetings.
It’s a good idea to ask someone directly what you can do to help. If you say, “let me know if there’s anything I can do for you,” they may be unlikely to take you up on the offer. Instead, let them know you are here right now to help in any way you can.
13. “Wishing you strength and peace.”
Regardless of how your coworker or acquaintance felt about their parent, losing a parent is difficult and requires a great deal of strength.
Given that they were estranged from their parent, they might be having a great deal of inner turmoil. Wishing them peace is a gentle and kind sentiment.
14. “I am praying for you.”
If both you and your colleague or acquaintance are religious, this is a beautiful message of sympathy.
Knowing that someone you aren’t close to is going to pray for your well-being can be deeply comforting.
15. “There are no words. I’m so sorry.”
If an acquaintance or coworker tells you their sad news, you might feel at a loss for words. Sometimes, the best thing you can say, is that you’re speechless.
There truly are no words to express this kind of grief, and acknowledging that while offering your condolences is a much better choice than using a cliche or fumbling over words.
When Words Aren’t Enough
If you’ve read through this article, and feel like there’s more you should be doing, consider sending a thoughtful gift.
Here are some ideas:
- Spa gift certificate
- Restaurant gift certificate
- Charitable contribution
There isn’t any perfect thing to say or do. Be genuine. How you offer condolences is much more important than the actual words. Whatever you choose to say or do, be authentic and compassionate.