When someone close to you is facing the death of a parent, it can be challenging to know what to say. It’s natural to feel uncomfortable and unsure of how to respond. There may not be the perfect words that can truly express your sadness and empathy for what they’re going through. It may also be hard for them to open up about their feelings, but words of comfort and support are important when someone is mourning the loss of a parent.
Expressing your support and understanding can mean more than you realize – even if it just involves listening without judgment or trying to distract them from their grief with a simple activity or chat. Here are some ideas of how you can lend support and show your care in this difficult time:
- Let them know you’re available to talk and listen.
- Send a card or letter expressing your sympathy.
- Offer to help with practical tasks.
- Suggest activities to take their mind off things.
- Share fond memories of their parent.
- Invite them to join you in remembering their parent.
Understanding the Pain
Having a parent facing the end of life can be unbearable for a person. It is impossible to imagine what that person is going through and what questions they might have. Finding the words to say to someone whose parent is dying can be difficult. Even the most comforting words might feel inadequate.
It is important to remember that understanding and compassion can go a long way in providing comfort to someone in pain.
Recognize the grief
When someone’s parent dies, finding the right words can be hard. As a friend, family member, or even a stranger, you want to be supportive and respect their privacy and boundaries. Here are a few things I have learned that could be helpful for you if you are ever in this situation.
- It is important to recognize the grief that your friend is experiencing. This isn’t easy to do when most of us don’t really know what the grieving process looks like. Even if they don’t say it out loud, they need time and space to process their emotions without feeling any judgment or pressure to respond in any specific way.
- Acknowledge their experience without offering advice – sometimes expressing simple understanding without trying to “fix” anything can be enough. It may also be helpful to allow them space for silence.
- You might start with something as simple as asking an open-ended question like “How are you feeling today?” It can also help just by being present and letting them share whatever they want (or don’t want) to share with you about their experience.
Offer your support
When you hear that someone’s parent is dying, you may feel helpless and uncertain about what to say or do. You want to be supportive, but words may not come easily. I have found that the best way to help is to offer your support in whatever way you can – be present, express care, and listen without judgment.
Make sure they know they are not alone. Tell them simply that you’re sorry and here for them in any way they need. Ask how they are feeling or if there is anything they need help with. Let them express their feelings without judgment, and try not to give unsolicited advice unless asked.
If possible, offer practical help such as attending doctor appointments with them or helping out around the house if needed. Visiting often is important, and being willing to talk about the dying person can be comforting for both of you – sharing memories could also provide some great comfort during this difficult time.
Your words of support matter more than ever during this time, so don’t hesitate to reach out, even if it seems like there are no words that can fully express your sympathy and comfort. Your care and presence can greatly ease their pain, so don’t forget – your consistent compassion will never go unnoticed!
Acknowledge the pain
When someone you love is going through the pain of having a parent die, it can be hard to know what to say. It’s normal to feel awkward about this situation, but making an effort to acknowledge the painful reality of your friend’s situation can be a form of comfort in itself.
Start by telling them you know this is tough and that you are here for them. Let them know that you are there if they want to talk, cry, or just be heard. Showing that kind of support – without expecting anything in return – can mean the world.
Don’t forget to tell them how much they mean to you and that you will always be there for them no matter what happens.
What to Say
Losing a parent can be an incredibly difficult and painful experience. It can be unimaginable to imagine what the other person is going through. In this situation, being mindful of what you say is important. Words can go a long way to comfort someone grieving their parent’s loss.
Read on to find out what to say to someone whose parent is dying:
Express your sympathy and condolences
When someone you love has a dying parent, it can be not easy to know what to say to express your sympathy. The feelings of loss and grief that come with a parent’s death are complicated and deep, making it hard for family members and friends to know what words of comfort might bring solace.
Everyone experiences grief differently, so there is no one ‘right’ thing to say when a loved one’s parent is dying. Instead of finding the perfect platitude or phrase, focus on expressing your genuine sympathy— showing someone you care works far more than using scripted words.
You could try saying something like:
- I am so sorry for your loss. Is there anything I can do?
- I am sending my love and thoughts in this difficult time.
- I understand how hard this must be for you—please let me know if there is anything I can do to help ease the burden.
- Your family will be in my thoughts during this difficult time.
- My heart goes out to you during this time of sorrow and loss.
Offer your help
When someone you know is in the midst of a difficult situation – whether that’s the illness and death of a parent or any other tough time – it’s natural to want to offer support.
That said, many of us don’t quite know what to say. We want to assure our friends that we care for them, but sometimes finding the right words can be difficult.
When it comes to offering your help, remember that there are always ways you can assist someone during a tough time:
- Offer specific ways you can help and follow up with actions such as bringing meals or visiting as often as possible.
- Encourage them to talk about their feelings and sit there while they express all their thoughts and emotions in whatever way they need.
- Show that you are available by not allowing distance (either physical or emotional) to keep you away from being available if and when your friend needs it.
- If it applies, share your own stories of times when something similar happened in your life – this can help them feel less isolated and more connected.
- Remind them about activities that make them feel better – for example, suggest ways to unplug from stress, such as reading a book, going for a walk with no phone, or taking up a new hobby.
- Offer an ear without advising unless asked for. Just listen without passing judgment.
Share your own experiences
Sharing stories about happy memories of the dying parent is an important part of comforting your friend or family member. Even if those memories are painful, these stories help to provide comfort by emphasizing the importance of shared love and loyalty for the dying parent.
Sharing your own experiences with grief can be especially helpful – you don’t have to have lost a parent yourself; everyone has experienced loss in some way. Talk about how you dealt with that loss and how it helped you cope. Connect your story to something positive – remember how loved ones came together in a difficult time or recall funny moments during a difficult moment.
Acknowledge that saying goodbye is never easy, but it can be made easier by being surrounded by caring people and sharing special moments together while they last.
Share stories and memories
Whenever I’m speaking with someone who is in the process of losing a parent, I often encourage them to talk and share memories. Allowing ourselves to express thoughts and feelings can be an important part of grieving. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the life that has been lost and demonstrate our appreciation for their role in our life.
I personally like to ask my friends about stories from their parents’ past; I truly believe that keeping their memory alive can be incredibly helpful in times of grief. Doing this also allows us to remember and honor all the joy, love, and guidance they gave us throughout our lifetime.
Talking about our beloved parents can bring up both happy and difficult moments. But it helps to realize that everyone experiences grief differently, and conversations about them often help us heal. Whether we share stories or acknowledge how much we miss them–letting our emotions out will make us feel relieved, even if it’s just for a moment.
What Not to Say
When a loved one faces a terminal illness, knowing what to say can be difficult. As a friend or family member, you want to offer comfort and support, but you may not know the right words to use. It is important to be aware of what not to say and how to use the right tone of voice when speaking to someone whose parent is dying. This article will discuss what not to say to someone whose parent is dying.
Don’t try to fix the problem
I know it can really hard to watch a loved one suffer through an illness such as cancer and then have them pass away. It’s natural for us to want to try and make it better, but unfortunately, some attempts can do more harm than good. When someone you care about is facing the loss of a parent, there are several comments you should avoid saying because they can come off as insensitive or, worse yet, make the person feel guilty for not being able to “fix” the situation. It is important to remember that the best thing you can do is offer comfort and support without trying to fix their problems.
First, try not to minimize their grief by commenting, such as “It could be worse” or “At least they aren’t in pain.” These statements might be intended helpfully, but they come across as dismissive and don’t consider how hard it is emotionally for someone dealing with their parent’s death.
Another statement that usually doesn’t help is “I understand how you feel” because although we may have all experienced loss in some form, no two experiences are identical. Instead of trying to relate your story or compare your experiences, it is often best to listen without offering advice unless asked directly.
Finally, avoid phrases like “Now you will have more freedom” or “At least now you won’t have so much stress about…” (the situation). Even though these statements might be based on genuine observations about the lifestyle change that often comes with losing a parent, they don’t convey any empathy towards what the person has gone through and may actually cause guilt if they appreciate any advantages of their loved one’s passing on down the line.
Listening carefully and allowing space for feelings are two things that go much further when comforting someone who has lost a parent than any attempt at problem-solving—for them or yourself.
Don’t say, “At least…”
When someone’s parent dies, there is no remotely ‘right’ thing to say. But while the best way forward might be to say nothing at all, some people find themselves coming out with something – anything really – to comfort. Unfortunately, this often leads to saying something that can inadvertently hurt more than help.
One particular thing you should definitely avoid saying is, “At least…” No matter how well-meaning, any sentence that follows such a statement will likely come off as patronizing or dismissive of the person’s feelings. This includes statements like “at least he’s not suffering anymore” or “at least she lived a long life.” It implies that whatever happened wasn’t so bad after all and minimizes your loved one’s feelings of pain and loss.
When a relative or dear friend is losing their parent, all they need from you is your unconditional support, understanding, and empathy. Please don’t say anything that suggests any justification for their grief because, whether inspired by words or not, it may cause them further emotional pain. Instead of trying to explain away the situation by saying, “At least…”, take time to be with them and listen without offering advice or criticism – be present and offer them your love and comfort in any way you can during this difficult time.
Don’t make assumptions
When someone’s parent is dying, navigating it can be challenging. It isn’t your parent, so remember that you will never truly understand what they are going through. Even if other family members have had similar experiences, everyone processes and grieves differently.
Regarding communication, one of the most important things to avoid is making assumptions or being patronizing or judgmental. Whether it’s talking about cancer treatments or their emotions, never assume that you know what they are going through or all of their experiences with the situation. Ultimately, it is their journey, and everyone deals with death differently.
Another commonly unhelpful comment is offering unsolicited advice about how to cope with such a trying situation. Of course, every situation is different, so what may work for one person does not necessarily work for another. Everyone has their own way of coping. Unless you are specifically asked for help, keep your opinions and advice gracious and respectful even if you feel compelled to say something more direct than the typical “how are you” conversation starter.
At the end of the day, it can be difficult to be at a loss for words when someone’s parent is dying, and sometimes silence can be one of the most comforting things we can offer in these moments – so don’t feel like you need to say anything at all (but do let them know you care!).
Don’t compare their pain to yours
It’s natural to want to connect with a loved one who is going through a difficult time, but when it comes to talking about the death of a parent, comparisons can be hurtful. Your own feelings and experiences are not the same as theirs, and you should always avoid comparing. A better way of expressing yourself is by acknowledging their real and valid pain instead of trying to compare it to yours.
If you have recently lost someone close or had your own personal losses in the past, this is also not an appropriate point of reference when dealing with a loved one’s grief. Your pain is unique and should be treated as such. It can be tempting to want to use this as an opportunity for understanding and empathy, but what people really need during this difficult time is:
Although it can be difficult to discuss, it’s important for those whose parents are dying to receive the support and comfort of family and friends. It is also important to remember that conversations don’t have to be perfect or said in the right words to make an impact. You must be present with them and offer whatever assistance or support they may need during their time of grief.
I hope this guide has given you some useful insight into different types of things to say and consider when supporting someone whose parent is dying:
- Be present with them and offer whatever assistance or support they may need.
- Listen to their stories and share your own.
- Be honest and open about your feelings.
- Offer practical help and support.
- Be patient and understanding.