Knowing what to say when someone’s parent dies can seem impossible. The death of a parent is a loss that is unparalleled no matter how old you are when it happens. Losing a parent when you are a child can lead to increased economic hardship, depression, and other issues. Losing a parent when you are an adult is no easier.
In fact, losing a parent when you are an adult can be complicated because our relationships with parents are, also, sometimes complicated. No matter your relationship with your parent when they pass, their death can cause depression, anxiety, and other psychological issues.
We share this as a reminder that when someone you love loses a parent, they are dealing with complicated emotions and feelings that are likely difficult to navigate. Remembering that they not only are grieving the loss of a parent, but that they might be conflicted about their feelings, can help you understand what to say, or what not to say, as you are offering words of condolence.
What to Say When Someone’s Parent Dies: For Children
How we speak to a child who has lost a parent can make a difference in their life.
Because children often don’t have the capacity to understand many of life’s big questions, it’s important to use clear, simple language when speaking about death. Using words that are clear and direct help them understand not only what has happened, but how others feel. An example of this might be, This is hard to say, but I need to tell you that Grandpa died today. I am sad, and it is ok if you feel sad, too.
It’s also important to help children put words to feelings. Depending on their age, they may not know what grieving is, but they know they feel different and not good. They might show their emotions through actions (like a toddler who is angry because he cannot reach a favorite toy on a taller shelf) because they don’t yet have words to describe their feelings. They will rely on an adult to help them understand and express themselves.
It’s good to explain to children what will happen, and to answer their questions as they ask them. Explain the timeline of events, tell them what to expect at the funeral, let them know that some people cry but others do not, and that’s ok.
What to Say When Someone’s Parent Dies: For Adults
There are things grieving people rarely want to hear. Common thoughts, like they’re in a better place or I know just how you feel can have the opposite effect of what’s intended.
Instead, let them know you’re here for them and you’re ready to listen. It can be reassuring for someone to hear another person say This is so hard and I am so sorry. It can also be helpful if you share a happy memory of their parent, or tell a story, or say something kind. Even if you haven’t seen their parent for some time, you can share a memory. For example, you might say to a friend from high school, I remember how great your dad was on our class trip. He had a great laugh and I felt really safe when he was with us.
Because our parents have an enormous effect on who we are and how we move in the world, when a person’s parent dies they might feel adrift or alone. They might wonder who they are without their parent in their life.
If they were close to or admired their parent, it might comfort them to hear you say I see so much of your mother in you. I can’t imagine how much you must miss her. On the other hand, if the relationship was strained, they might need to hear from someone that they can endure this life-changing event. Saying I see how strong you are, but please know it’s ok to ask for help can be a godsend to someone who is struggling and needs permission to ask for assistance.
Quotes For When a Parent Dies
Sometimes when we don’t know what to say or can’t find the right words, borrowing some from others can help. Here are a few quotes that might resonate with you or the person you loved who is dealing with the death of a parent.
“And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly.” Maya Angelou
“I often feel that when someone passes, you now have an angel you can call by name.” Oprah Winfrey
“Something that is loved is never lost.” Toni Morrison
“What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” Helen Keller
“Let me tell you, he is the hole in my heart. His loss is my scar. But let me tell you something, his memory drives me forward every single day of my life.” Michelle Obama
“You see, my father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable. And that is — it is what we do with that loss — our ability to transform it into a positive event —that is one of my father’s greatest lessons.” Ted Kennedy, Jr.
“Grief is the price we pay for love.” Queen Elizabeth II
“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.” Anne Roiphe
“The death of any loved parent is an incalculable lasting blow. Because no one ever loves you again like that.” Brenda Ueland
Please remember that helping someone who is grieving or who just experience a life-hanging loss can be difficult. If you think your friend or family member needs help, there are resources available and we are always here as a resource.