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Things to say to someone who lost a parent

This guide is tailored for individuals looking to support a grieving adult. To support a grieving child, check out What To Say To A Child Who Lost A Parent

Losing a parent is a deeply painful and life-altering event. 

It forever changes the landscape of one’s life, leaving an indelible mark on the heart and soul. 

The pain, the void, and the myriad of emotions that surge can be overwhelming.

In such delicate moments, finding the right words to comfort someone can seem like an insurmountable task. 

We often fear saying the wrong thing or unintentionally causing more pain. 

Let’s explore what we can do and say that can provide solace during such a difficult time.

man talking to a distressed woman

What to say to someone who lost a parent

Express empathy

In times of grief, it’s not always necessary to say a lot.

The true emotion behind even the simplest of phrases can resonate deeply.

A heartfelt “I’m really sorry for your loss” can convey more than a lengthy speech. 

It is the authenticity of your concern and your presence during their challenging time that truly matters.

  • “I can’t imagine how tough this must be for you, but please know I’m here for you.”
  • “It’s okay to grieve and take your time.”
  • “I wish I had the right words, but please know I’m holding you close in my thoughts.”
  • “I’m sending you all my love and comfort during this difficult period.”
  • “You’ll be in my thoughts.”

Listen more, talk less

When we witness a loved one in distress, our natural instinct is to comfort them and find the right words or actions that might alleviate their pain. 

We often feel compelled to offer advice or solutions, believing we must help them find a way out of their sorrow.

However, more often than not, what they truly seek isn’t a quick fix or well-intentioned counsel. 

Instead, they may yearn for someone to be there, listen without judgment, and provide a safe space to express their feelings and be truly heard.

Sometimes, the most powerful thing we can do is to offer our silent presence and a compassionate ear.​1​

Ask them to share

The bond between a parent and child is unique and deeply personal. 

Each family has its own dynamics; some have more complex relationships than others.

Our perceptions of someone’s feelings of brief might not align with their actual experiences.

Unless you know they have a strong relationship with their parent, using usual condolences like “She was an amazing person” might not resonate accurately.

Rather than presuming the nature of their parent-child relationship, give them space to open up and discuss.​2​

Ask them gently about their feelings and let them express their emotions and memories in their own way. 

By doing so, you show genuine care and respect for their individual experience of grief.

  • “Do you want to share a cherished moment you had with her?”
  • “I’d love to hear about your favorite memories with him.”
  • “What moments with her do you hold close to your heart?”
  • “Are there any stories about him you’d like to share?”
  • “How did she inspire or influence you in memorable ways?”

Offer help

Be there for them. 

Being present for a bereaved person is invaluable. 

Offering tangible help, like assisting with daily tasks, meal planning, or organizing activities for their children, can alleviate some of their burdens.

A simple “Whenever you need to talk or need anything, I’m here” can be a great reassurance. 

It reassures them that they’re not alone in their journey and that you genuinely care.

  • “I’m just a call away if you need help.”
  • “Losing a parent is never easy, and I’m here to help in any way I can.”
  • “Your strength is admirable, but remember it’s okay to lean on others during this difficult time.”

Remember Them on Significant Days

Immediately after losing a parent, many find themselves surrounded by support. 

However, as time passes, the conversations often fade as people return to their daily routines, perhaps out of a desire to avoid uncomfortable topics.

Some people might experience an extended period of grief or take more time to get through the different stages of grief.

To stand by your friend, try to reach out during poignant moments like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. 

Check-in on their feelings and offer them the opportunity to share. 

They will appreciate a personal message such as the following.

  • “I know today might be tough for you; I’m thinking of you and sending love your way.”
  • “As Mother’s Day approaches, I wanted to let you know that I’m here for you and thinking of you.”
  • “Remembering your dad with you today. If you want to share memories or talk, I’m here.”
  • “I can’t imagine how you might feel today, but please know you’re not alone. I’m just a call away.”
  • “On this significant day, I wanted to reach out and say that I’m thinking of you and holding you in my thoughts.”

Send a thoughtful note

A sympathy card or a heartfelt message can be a thoughtful gesture. 

It’s a simple yet meaningful way to convey that they are in your thoughts at this emotional time. 

Such acts of kindness can provide comfort and remind them they are not alone in their grief.

What not to say to someone who lost a parent

When supporting someone grieving the loss of a parent, be mindful of our words. 

Some phrases, though well-intentioned, might inadvertently cause more pain.

Avoid minimizing their pain

Steer clear of saying, “I know how you feel,” regardless of your personal experiences with grief. 

While you might intend to express solidarity, it can sometimes be perceived differently. 

This moment is about them, not you.

If you’ve faced a similar loss, now isn’t the time to share your personal stories.

Center the conversation on their feelings. 

If you haven’t walked in their shoes, such statements can seem insincere, potentially implying their grief is easily understood or even trivial.

Avoid unsolicited advice

It might be tempting to say, “Time will make it better.”

But don’t.

Grief is a personal experience that varies for everyone. 

Offering unsolicited advice or suggesting that they should “move on” or find “closure” may not be helpful. 

Healing doesn’t follow a set path, and each person must find their own way through their emotions at their own pace.

Avoid Comparisons

Every person’s pain is unique, and it’s not a matter of weighing one against another. 

Grief isn’t a contest where one person’s greater pain overshadows another’s, making them ineligible to mourn. 

Everyone has the right to their feelings.

Suggesting that someone else’s situation might be worse can invalidate their feelings by hinting that certain losses carry less weight.

Also, do not compare whether they’re at the worst age to lost a parent.

Avoid platitudes

While clichés like “It was meant to be” or “They’re in a better place” are often used with good intentions, they can come across as insincere or impersonal. 

Having been repeated so often, such overused phrases might lose their impact, especially to someone in grief who has likely heard them multiple times. 

Avoid dictating how they should feel

It’s not our place to prescribe how someone should feel or suggest there’s a “correct” way to mourn. 

Instead, prioritize being present and offering support.


  1. 1.
    Marcella J, Kelley ML. “Death Is Part of the Job” in Long-Term Care Homes. SAGE Open. Published online March 1, 2015:215824401557391. doi:10.1177/2158244015573912
  2. 2.
    Stroebe M, Schut H, Boerner K. Cautioning Health-Care Professionals. Omega (Westport). Published online February 13, 2017:455-473. doi:10.1177/0030222817691870

Updated on September 28th, 2023 by Pamela Li

Pamela Li is an author, Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more


    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *

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