Sympathy Etiquette for the Loss of a Mother

writing a sympathy letter

The Spruce / Margot Cavin 

Have you ever found yourself at a loss for something to say when the mother of someone you know passes away? Do you worry that if you say something, it will come across the wrong way?

Losing a parent is one of the most difficult situation we have to face. The pain of grief can be so overwhelming that anything someone says can be heightened by emotion.

Finding the right words after the death of someone you care about is always difficult and can make even the most eloquent person tongue-tied. But you know you still need to say something to express sympathy and show that you care, no matter how difficult it is.

It’s never easy to come up with the right words when a friend loses a loved one. The loss of a mother is devastating, even to adults, so take some time to think about what you want to say before you speak or write the final sympathy note. Jot down some thoughts, take a step away from what you wrote, and then come back and read it aloud.

Don’t take too long to gather your thoughts into a card—a day or two at most—but don’t rush it either. Even simple words of condolence require some thought.


If the person who lost her mother is a close friend of yours, you’ll want to visit her to show that you care. Provide comfort by simply being there. Let her know that you don’t want to intrude, but you’ll be available if and when she needs to talk. Offer to do a task she may dread, such as clean out a closet or address thank you notes for funeral flowers

If the person who lost her mother isn’t a close friend, you may want to call instead. Express your sympathy as briefly as possible, offer your assistance with whatever you are willing to do, and get off the phone so others can get through.

It's always good to go to the funeral to offer support to the survivors. However, if you're unable to attend, let the person know that your thoughts and prayers are with the family.

Send a Note or Flowers

Send a sympathy note, card, or flowers to the person as quickly as possible. Keep the message short but meaningful.

Here are some examples of what you can put in a note:

Sample 1

Dear Martha,
I am so sorry to hear about your loss. Your mother was one of the sweetest women I’ve ever known. She always had a nice smile and friendly greeting when I saw her. Please don’t hesitate to call if you need anything.

Sample 2

Dear Sylvia,
I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s passing. She must have been proud of you and all your accomplishments. Give me a call when you feel like talking.
Prayerfully yours,

Sample 3

Dear George,
I’d like to send my heartfelt sympathy on the loss of your mom. I always enjoyed hearing the stories you shared in the break room, especially the one about how your mom baked cookies for all the neighborhood children. I know she will be missed.
Your coworker and friend,

Offer Assistance

Most people who lose their mother appreciate offers of helping out, even if they don’t accept. It’s comforting to know that people care enough and are willing to take the time to do something.

Some things you might want to offer include meals, running errands, or assisting with the funeral arrangements. If the person has children, you might even offer to babysit. Don’t get your feelings hurt if the person turns you down. Just let him or her know that your offer stands.

After the Funeral

After everyone leaves the funeral, some of the more everyday things will become more difficult for the family of the deceased. This is often when they need the most support.

Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Help ease some of the pain by being there after the funeral. Many people go through their mother’s funeral in a state of numbness. However, after it’s all over, the feelings return, and that may be when your friend really needs someone. Sometimes your simple presence is all your friend needs for comfort.
  • Call and ask if there is anything you can do. Allow your friend to bring up whatever comes to mind because no one else knows how he or she is feeling. Listen and respond to direct questions or requests for assistance.
  • Offer to help with some of the routine activities. This includes such things as cleaning house, cooking, walking children to the bus stop, or picking up groceries. Doing so will enable him to mentally sort through some issues that come with losing his mother. It is also a reminder that there are still caring people in his life.
  • Help sort personal items. If your friend has to go through his mother’s belongings, you may offer to help. This could involve physically sorting through her belongings or going through important papers related to insurance and her estate. Be sensitive to personal information and know when to help and when to back off.

Return to Normal

After a couple of weeks have passed, try your best to go back to normal activities with your friend, knowing she will still be in a state of grief that can last for a very long time. The distractions may give her the much-needed break from the constant feeling of loss. Over time, you'll see some of the grief fade, even if the sadness is still there.

Birthdays, Holidays, and Anniversary of Loss

Some upcoming days will be more difficult than others. Many people suffer from melancholia on their mother’s birthday, Mother’s Day, during the holidays, and on the anniversary of her passing. Take the time to drop a note on those days to show that you are thinking of your friend. Offer to take her out to dinner or to a movie to help soften some of the sadness. However, you should also be willing to talk and reminisce if that is what your friend prefers.