Mother’s & Father’s Day: How to support a friend or loved one who has lost a parent

Mother’s and Father’s Day are special opportunities to celebrate our love and relationship with our parents. But what about those who have lost a parent? What can you say or do to help ease their pain?

If you’re unsure how to support someone who has lost a parent, don’t worry—you’re certainly not alone. Here are some tips on how to support someone during these occasions and year-round.

Check-in with your friend

Checking in with any friend or loved one feeling a sense of loss can be especially helpful around special occasions like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Grief can be very isolating; reach out to them with a phone call, email, text, or plan a get-together to let them know you are thinking of them and care about their well-being. 

Be a good listener

Listen to your friend or loved one if they want to talk about their loss, and be supportive without trying to fix things or offer solutions. Simply being there to listen and offer a shoulder to cry on is sometimes the best thing you can do. 

Be sensitive to their needs 

Everyone grieves differently. Some people may appreciate having someone to share their feelings with, while others may struggle to talk about their pain. Pay attention to your friend’s cues and respect their boundaries. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t push or force it. Offer your support in other ways and allow them to take the lead and approach the subject if and when they are ready.

Help a friend honor a late parent

Everyone has their own way of grieving and honoring their loved ones who have passed away. Ask your friend if there is anything special they would like to do to remember their parent on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. You could help them plan a memorial or tribute, make the parent’s favorite meal, or visit a place with special meaning. It could also be something as simple as lighting a candle or spending time with them as they share fond memories of their parent.

Offer specific, hands-on help and support

Instead of saying, “Let me know if you need anything,” offer specific ways that you might be able to help lighten their load. You could help cook meals, run errands, take care of practical tasks or chores, hug them, or listen if they want to talk. 

Small gestures can make a big difference when even day-to-day responsibilities can feel overwhelming. 

Encourage self-care 

Encourage your friend to practice self-care by doing things that bring them joy or support healing. Many people find exercise, meditation, or spending time in nature helps them cope with the complex emotions they experience through the grieving process and either limit or avoid the negative ways grief physically manifests in our bodies. This is also a good opportunity to connect with other family members or friends experiencing similar feelings around this time.

Destigmatize grief 

Grief is a natural part of the human experience, and there are proven benefits of crying and expressing our emotions; however, many still mourn in silence or isolate themselves while they grieve. Grief can cause a range of emotions during special holidays—from mild discomfort to debilitating sadness. Remind your friend that it’s okay to take time to process and work through complex feelings and share your own experiences of loss if you feel comfortable doing so. 

Seek professional support 

If your friend is particularly overwhelmed and struggling to cope with their grief amidst everyday life, encourage them to connect with a grief counselor, therapist, or support group. Many excellent resources are available (books, websites, podcasts, conversations, and counseling) to support and equip grievers and those in their circle with the tools and methods needed to get through a difficult time.

While being there for someone who has lost a parent may seem daunting, your compassion and support can make a big difference in their healing process. As isolating as grief can feel, we can take heart knowing it is a universal emotion that can inspire us to deeply connect with others. 

About Joseph Stern, MD

Dr. Joseph Stern is a board-certified neurosurgeon dedicated to changing the narrative surrounding grief and its effect on our lives. His touching memoir, Grief Connects Us: A Neurosurgeon’s Lessons on Love, Loss, and Compassion, and insightful articles have helped readers understand the concepts of grief and compassion, and how to find hope in the darkest of times. He is featured in various articles in popular news outlets, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as on book reviews and podcasts. Learn more about how you can help yourself or loved ones through the grieving process by following Dr. Stern’s social media accounts or signing up for the newsletter

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