Sympathy Etiquette for the Loss of a Father

writing a sympathy letter

The Spruce / Margot Cavin 

Have you ever been at a loss for words when a friend or coworker loses a parent? If so, you know how difficult it can be to know what to say.

This is one of the saddest times in a person's life, and it's normal to struggle to come up with something comforting and sympathetic. When the mother or father of someone you care about passes away, the last thing you want to do is say or do the wrong thing.

Show That You Care 

If you have never gone through losing a parent, don’t pretend that you understand. However, you can listen and be sympathetic. Attend the funeral if at all possible. While you are there, say a few words to each family member to express your sympathy.

Visit or Call

Don’t let too much time pass after a friend loses his father before visiting or calling. If you are good friends, visit. If you are merely acquaintances or occasional pals, a call is appropriate. Whatever you do, keep it short but let the person know that you are willing to listen when he or she is ready.

Words of Condolence

It’s always a good idea to send a sympathy note to a friend who has lost a parent. Relationships with fathers vary, so unless you know the person well, try not to get too personal. Don't ask a lot of questions or try to make sense of the death. If they want you to know something, they'll start the conversation.

There are some things you should include in a sympathy note, regardless of your relationship with the surviving person. Start with acknowledgment, express sympathy, and offer something, even if it’s just the willingness to listen.

Here are some examples of how to word your sympathy note:

Sample 1

I am sorry to hear about the loss of your father. If you feel like talking to someone, know that I am a good listener.

Sample 2

My heart aches over the loss of your dad. He was such an amazing father to you and role model for the rest of us as we were growing up. I learned quite a bit from him, and I’ll always remember his words of wisdom. I’ll call soon to see if there is anything I can do.

Sample 3

I’m sorry about your father’s passing. He did so much for so many people, and we all feel the loss. If you ever need my help with simple repairs, let me know. Your dad taught me how to swing a hammer, and I don’t mind putting that skill to use.


Offer to assist with daily tasks or whatever else you can do to free up your friend for what lies ahead. You may even offer to be with your friend while he or she makes funeral arrangements.

Things you can do to help:

  • Bring meals.
  • Help with an elderly surviving parent.
  • Fix anything that is broken.
  • Babysit.
  • Make arrangements for out-of-town people who are coming to the funeral. If you have room in your home, you may even offer a place for someone to stay.

After the Funeral

Let your friend know that you are always there to listen. Give him or her some personal space and allow several weeks for your friend to grieve. Then encourage the friend to try to do something normal.

Chances are your friend is still in a deep state of grief, but it may help to get back to a regular routine. However, if the person isn't ready yet, don't force the issue.

What Not to Do or Say

There are some things that may seem like the right thing to do, but they may actually make matters worse for the grieving son or daughter after a father’s death. Pay attention to the person's reactions, and if you ever see a grimace or look of shock, stop doing whatever caused it.

Don’t do these things:

  • Bring up the death of every person who ever lost a parent. You might think it helps your friend to know she’s not the only person in her shoes, but chances are it only makes things worse.
  • Say bad things about the person’s dad. Even if your friend had a bad relationship with his dad, this is not the time to bring it up. If you don't know something good to say, remain silent.
  • Avoid your friend. It may be uncomfortable to be around someone who just lost a dad, but suck it up and deal with it. Your friend needs you.
  • Tell your friend what he or she should or shouldn’t do. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for someone else.
  • Rush your friend. If you encourage the person to do something he or she isn't ready to do, it might make things worse.

Being a Good Friend

One of the signs of a good friend is someone who is there in good times and in bad. This is your time to show how good of a friend you are.