What To Do When a Friend Loses a Parent

Six months ago my dad passed away (it still takes my breath away to say that). Before this, I didn’t have much experience with death. My dad’s best friend passed away when I was in college and both of my grandfathers passed away shortly after college; and these obviously affected me, but nothing prepared me for my dad’s. I want to write about dealing with the grief of losing a parent along with having a toddler but I’m still not ready to do that (I promise, I will, though).

Instead, I’m going to talk about what I learned. I learned that some of your friends will be extremely supportive, and others unfortunately won’t. My dad’s death was fairly sudden but we did have some lead up time to it and in that time (and the time following) I really learned what friends I could count on. I had several friends who offered to watch Ryan (and did) so that I could be at the hospital; I had other friends who ordered or dropped off food for us to eat; and I had friends who would check in every day to make sure I was doing okay. And yes, I had friends who did all of this…and even more! I also, unfortunately, had some friends who did not even mention the passing to me. I was later told this was because “they didn’t know how to handle the death of a friend’s parent”.

I’m not going to lie to you, it’s very hard to understand before you have personally gone through it, so I can’t completely fault them for not knowing what to do. Now that I have gone through it, though, let me help you support your friends if and when they go through the same. 

Here are the 5 things I would suggest you do if a friend loses a parent:

1. Say Something (even if it’s not perfect)

Shortly after my dad died I was reading It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) by Nora McInerney. In it she talks about the stupid things people said to her after her husband died. A lot of the things were awkward and some were even funny but after hearing it all she concluded, “It’s okay for us to stumble for words when we’re faced with death and sickness and grief; it’s okay for stupid and awkward ones to slip out where we’d hoped sweet and comforting ones would have appeared. You may be the person who says the wrong thing, but that’s better than being the one who says nothing at all.” (McInerney, 232).

This really hit me. I never know what to say at funerals or if someone is going through something hard and, likewise I honestly don’t know what I wanted them to say to me. But I wanted them to SAY SOMETHING. I had a few people say things to me that weren’t the most articulate or even helpful, but I appreciated that much more than the silence. Acknowledgement can go a long way so just remember that when someone you know is going through something hard.

2. Offer to Help (in a specific way)

After my dad died everyone said “let me know what I can do to help”. I so appreciated that but to be honest with you I rarely cashed in the favor. I could barely think straight so I had a hard time coming up with ways that people could help me (even though I probably could have used their help). What really helped was when someone said something specific like, “I’m going to call during lunch so you’re not alone with your thoughts”, or “lets go for a walk and talk about it” or “I’m going to drop off dinner in a few minutes, I’ll just leave it on the porch so you don’t have to host company”. Thinking of specific things you can do for the person is so much more helpful when they are in the heat of grief. 

3. Send Something (if you can’t help)

Obviously not all of my friends live around us or were able to help directly because of their schedules. Many that couldn’t specifically help, though, sent something instead. Whether it was a meal from a local restaurant, a gift card to a meal delivery service, or just a donation to the charity we belong to, it all really meant something to us!

4. Show Up (if you’re able to)

Whenever I saw a friend show up at the funeral I would cry. That doesn’t sound good, but I promise you it was. Just having a support system the day of the viewing and/or funeral was essential to me making it through it (even if those friends were crying just as hard as I was!). So make sure you show up if you’re able to, you never know how much your friend is depending on that!

5. Check In After the Funeral (and even 6 months later)

Dealing with the death of a parent is hard, there is honestly no sugar- coating it. Once the funeral is over, it’s out of the minds of many, but definitely not out of the family’s. It’s not something I want to talk about all of the time but just having friends check in once in a while makes me feel better. Especially on the days that it’s obviously tough, like birthdays and anniversaries; I had several friends check in on me on Father’s Day and it really made the day easier. I know we’re all busy with our own stuff, but really try to think about your friend and check in occasionally. You never know when they’re having a rough day!

Seems easy enough, right? Let me know what helped you through the death of a loved one, I’m sure there are things I missed.