There’s no way to measure grief. There isn’t a timeline you can compare yourself to other people who have experienced loss. That being said, there’s no pain quite as singular as the pain of losing a parent.
Your parents are the first people in your life. They’re there for you from the moment you’re born. It’s hard to imagine life without them. No matter how old you are, the loss of a parent can make you feel like a child again.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How to Offer Condolences to Someone Who Lost a Mom or Dad
- Examples of What to Say to Someone Who Lost a Parent
If you haven’t had the misfortune of losing a parent, you may find yourself at a loss for words when someone you know loses their mother or father. You may not even know how to offer condolences for a loss so profound.
Read on for some guidelines on ways you can best express sympathy for a friend who is grieving.
(For more information on end-of-life planning after the death of a loved one, let our post-loss checklist guide you through the process.)
Every person handles grief and loss in their own way. You can make a guess how they will respond to condolences based on their typical personality types, but grief can make people act in opposition to how you usually know them to be.
A stoic person may be uncharacteristically loquacious when sharing memories of their mother. Your most bubbly, extroverted friend may become silent and withdrawn after their father dies. Pay attention to how they react, and be sure to adjust your position accordingly.
Send a text
While members of older generations may complain about cell phones, they can’t deny the convenience of a direct link to family, friends, and other loved ones. But still, many of us hesitate to pick up the phone and call someone who has just lost a parent.
We worry that they are busy planning the funeral or taking a nap or grieving, and we don’t want to intrude. Sending a text enables you to communicate in real-time with your friend or acquaintance without fretting about interrupting something important.
If they text back, you can always ask if they’d rather chat by phone or continue texting. This gives them power and control over the interchange.
Everyone knows that the traditional way of conveying condolences on the loss of a parent or other loved one is to send flowers to a funeral. Beautiful, fresh flowers can act as a visual representation of love for the deceased and sympathy for the family.
However, be sure to pay attention to obituaries or funeral home announcements. Nowadays, some people prefer you to donate on their behalf in lieu of flowers.
Send a condolence card
Taking time to send a handwritten condolence card is a thoughtful and personal gesture that is usually appreciated by the family of the deceased. You can keep it short and simple on a sympathy note for flowers.
However, if the family has asked for no flowers, you can send a separate card with more room to express your sympathies.
Send an email
In today’s world, it’s not unusual to count someone as a close friend, even if you haven’t met them in person. And, even if you know someone’s most personal secrets, it’s possible to have no idea what their mailing address is.
In that case, you can feel free to forego the handwritten condolence card on the passing of their parent and send an email with your sympathies instead.
This is also an appropriate venue to send condolences to a client or work colleague if you want to be slightly more personal than scrawling your name on a group sympathy card from everyone in the office.
Post on social media
Expressing condolences through social media can be a tricky proposition. If you find out that someone you know lost their parent, but you haven’t seen them posting about it publicly, you should avoid making a public message about it.
Instead, wait until they’ve made a post and leave a comment there. This will also allow your loved one to turn off notifications for a single post if the reminders are too painful, rather than hunting down other individual posts.
You can also send private condolences via social media, like through a private Facebook message or Twitter or Instagram direct messages.
Share your final wishes, just in case.
Create a free Cake end-of-life planning profile and instantly share your health, legal, funeral, and legacy decisions with a loved one.
Now that you know how you can reach out to people about the loss of their parent, you can start thinking about the specific words that you want to say. If you struggle with verbal or written communication, take some time in advance to prepare something to say.
What to say in person
It can be nerve-wracking to think about expressing condolences to someone face to face. But no matter how uncomfortable you feel with it, it could be worse. You could be the grieving person who has to hold variations of their end of the conversation several times a day for the foreseeable future.
If you keep that in mind, it might help you feel less self-conscious. Here are some examples that may also give you some ideas on where to start.
- “I know you feel raw right now. Know that whenever you need to talk about your mom, whether it’s in six weeks or six months or six years, I’m here.”
- “Your dad was such an amazing guy. If I ever have kids, I hope to be the kind of father he seemed to be for you.”
- “Do you remember how your mom always set up a sundae bar at your birthday sleepovers? When you’re ready, let’s go get sundaes and toast to her.”
- “I never met your father, but from the way you spoke of him, he sounded like the best dad. I hope when you’re ready, you’ll continue sharing stories about him.”
What to say on social media
Remember that only immediate family or people they’ve designated should make a public post about the passing of their parent. Once they’ve made a post, feel free to leave your condolences as a comment to that post.
- “There are no words that can begin to capture the magnitude of your loss. I’m so sorry that you and your family are going through this.”
- “Every time I ran into your father, he couldn’t wait to tell me about your latest accomplishments. I hope you know how proud he was to be your dad.”
- “Your mother was one of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever known, and her compassion continues to shine on through you.”
- “I’ll miss running into your stepdad at the coffee shop every morning. Seeing him was always a highlight of my day.”
What to say in an email
An email offers up a slightly more private way of expressing your condolences electronically. They are also a great avenue to reach out to a work colleague or more casual acquaintance.
- “I’m so sorry to hear about the passing of your mother. If there’s anything I can do to help you here at the office, don’t hesitate to let me know.”
- “I just wanted to reach out and let you know that I am keeping you and your family in my thoughts during this difficult time.”
- “I lost my dad a few years ago. While I don’t know exactly how you feel, I remember my own grief. I’m here to listen with no judgment.”
- “We started a pool in the office and have donated some of our vacation hours so you can take time off if you need to without worrying about money.”
What to say via text message
Text messages are the perfect venue to reach out in a very low-pressure way. You can have time to choose your words thoughtfully and carefully in a way in-person interactions don’t allow, and you’re giving your friend space to reply only when they feel up to it.
- “If you need to talk, please call me anytime. I’m always up late and happy to provide a listening ear.”
- “I know you have a lot on your plate right now. If you need help making any plans or need moral support, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.”
- “If you need a break from being polite to people, come on over. I have wine and a pile of thrift store plates. Let’s drink and break stuff and cry.”
- “I’d love to bring you a casserole or send you some take-out on my dime. What are you in the mood for, and when would you like it?”
What to say in a card
Cards are a good option for sending condolences to someone. If you’re good with words, you can choose a blank card and write a lengthy message. If words aren’t your forte, pick out a card with a message inside that captures what you want to say and add a brief note of your own.
They also offer a tangible keepsake for the kind of person who likes to save cards and other mementos from critical moments in their lives.
- “Please know that we are holding your family in our hearts right now.”
- “I’ll never forget the kindness your mother showed to me when I needed it. She taught me what being a mother is all about.”
- “Your dad was so funny. I really miss watching the lengths he would go to when he wanted to entertain people. I miss him so much.”
- “When I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, your stepmom took time to talk with me and find out my interests. I owe so much to her.”
Being There When Someone Loses a Parent
Losing a parent is never easy, and knowing how to talk to someone about that painful and personal experience can be a major challenge. Reaching out with a heartfelt message and maybe even a sympathy gift are great ways to show your support as someone grieves. At the end of the day, no one will remember if you got the words exactly right: they’ll care about your effort and your good intentions most.