We get questions often about what to say to someone whose father died, what to say to someone whose mother died, along with questions of what to say to anyone who is grieving! It is tempting to ask the question “how can I comfort someone grieving” or “how can I console a friend whose parent died”. But before we go any further, we want to stop you right there. It is important to remember that nothing you say or do will be able to “fix” this situation, so “console” or “comfort” is the wrong way to think of it. People grieving don’t want you to fix their situation or to take away their pain. What most people grieving want is for people to:
- acknowledge their pain
- be present and not scared of their pain
- to remember their loved one
- show up not just in the short term, but also in the long term
Okay, got it. But what do I actually SAY.
You might have come here for an exact list of things to do or what to say to someone whose mother died or someone whose father died. Don’t worry, we’re going to give you some specific ideas and tips. But we also want to remind you that your own voice and authenticity are important. Also, you know your grieving friend or family member and we don’t! So keeping in mind that your job is not to take away their pain and looking at those four bullet points above, take a minute to consider what comes to your mind right now, before you read our suggestions. Those words will be genuine and it is important to consider them first. Ok, have some ideas? Great! Read on for our tips.
- check out this article if you’re specifically looking for what to write in a sympathy card
- check out this article if you’re looking for sympathy gift ideas other than flowers
Helpful Things to Say to Someone Whose Parent Died
- I wish I had the right words, but I don’t. Please just know I am here for you no matter what – next week or next year.
- Would you like company right now? I can come to stay with you or you can come to stay here.
- I am always here if you want to talk. I’m also here if you don’t want to talk and just need some company or a distraction!
- I’ll keep checking in each week to see how you’re doing and what you need. If you’re not up for responding, please don’t ever feel obligated to reply. And if you start to get annoyed by that, just tell me to back off! (don’t offer this if you aren’t going to do it! Once you’ve offered, set a reminder in your phone).
- I wish I had gotten to know your dad (or mom). I would love to learn more about them sometime, if you’re up for it.
- You’re mom was so great. I’ll always remember ____________________ (share a memory or something about their parent that you loved).
- I know grief is so different for everyone and right now you might not even know what you need, but if there is anything I can do please tell me – anytime, now or months from now!
- I wish I could take away your pain, but I know that’s not an option! So is there anything helpful or practical I can do? I would love to ______________ . (insert whatever you can think of here – bring you some food? / I’m going to the grocery store – I’ll pick up whatever you need / Can I come by and help you with anything around the house – cleaning, mowing the lawn, whatever!
- Want more ideas of what to say to someone whose mother died or to someone whose father died? Check out this list crowdsourced by grievers of the 64 best things to say to someone grieving
Helpful Things to Do for Someone Whose Mother Died or Whose Father Died
- Set reminders on your phone to check in before Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
- Put their parent’s birthday and deathiversary on your calendar, so you can check in then.
- Remember that holidays and special days will be tough! Check-in with them to see if they have someone to spend holidays and birthdays with, especially if they normally would have been with their parents.
- Bring them food – IF THEY WANT IT (not everyone wants your casserole, sorry not sorry).
- Send them a self-care sympathy box like these wonderful ones by Here For You (*bonus: Here For You gives a contribution to WYG’s free grief support every time someone uses this link).
- If you work together, check in with how their work is going and offer to take a few things off their plate if you can.
- Also if you work together, if your employer allows you to donate your vacation hours to another employee use for bereavement leave, give them hours or a day.
- Keep inviting them to things, but always include the reminder that you understand if they aren’t up for it.
- Share memories of their parent, not just immediately after the death, but also long-term. It is a great comfort for people to know that their loved ones made an impression and are remembered!
- Any time they post things about their parent or about grief on social media, engage with it! This is often a way of seeking connection and keeping a loved one’s memory alive. When people don’t engage with those posts, your grieving friend may start to feel like their friends are uncomfortable with their grief and remembrance.
Unhelpful Things to Do or Say Someone Whose Parent Died
- Don’t ghost them. This might sound obvious, but it happens. Sometimes people come here asking what they should say to someone whose father died or whose mother died, they say it, then think they should give someone “space”. Unfortunately, that often leaves them feeling abandoned. Don’t assume they want space unless they ask for it!
- Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing so much that you say nothing at all. There are no perfect words to say to someone whose mother died or whose father died, so don’t stress about finding them. And remember that if something comes out wrong, you can just apologize and let them know that you’re struggling with what to say. People generally understand that this isn’t easy!
- Don’t rush them and don’t think they are going to go back to “normal”. Grief is forever, though it changes and evolves with time. Most people feel forever changed by their losses.
- Still worried about saying the wrong thing to someone whose parent died? Read this crowdsourced list of the 64 worst things to say to someone grieving
We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.