4 Times ‘Modern Family’ Tackled the Topic of Death & Loss

modern family goodbye gallery cover 2
Peter "Hopper" Stone/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images; ABC/Nicole Wilder

It’s never easy to say goodbye! And even though fans will have to do so to Modern Family this April, the series is making its final run one to remember.

On Wednesday, January 15, in one of the final season’s more shocking episodes, [Spoiler Alert] we learn that Phil’s (Ty Burrell) father Frank (Fred Willard) has passed away. The emotional episode has us reflecting on the other ways in which the show has dealt with grief and loss. Below, we round up four episodes that do just that.

“The Last Walt” (Season 3, Episode 20)

Aired: April 18, 2012

(Credit: Peter “Hopper” Stone/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

In an episode exploring grief, Phil and Claire (Julie Bowen) tell Luke (Nolan Gould) their neighbor and the boy’s friend Walt (Philip Baker Hall) has died. Things don’t go as planned when they break the news and Luke has barely any reaction — and Claire’s weird tick of smiling when talking about death doesn’t help. But eventually, Luke shares his feelings surrounding Walt’s death, opening up the discussion for the families watching.

“Goodnight Grace” (Season 4, Episode 24)

Aired: May 22, 2013

(Credit: Peter “Hopper” Stone/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

Though viewers never saw Phil’s mother Grace onscreen, her funeral was a pivotal moment for the family as they came together to support the Dunphys. Taking place in Florida, the episode culminates in a funeral that gave the comedy a serious but touching tone. Unlike the episode focusing on Luke’s grief, this installment honed in on Phil coping with the loss of a parent.

“Good Grief” (Season 10, Episode 5)

Aired: October 24, 2018

(Credit: ABC/Nicole Wilder)

Marking the show’s annual Halloween installment, this episode got off to a sad start when DeDe’s (Shelley Long) husband Jerry (Ed Begley, Jr.) calls the family to deliver the sad news that she’s passed away. Converging at the Dunphys’ house, Claire and brother Mitchell deal with the complex emotions around the loss of a mother with whom they had very different relationships.

“Legacy” (Season 11, Episode 11)

Aired: January 15, 2020

(Credit: ABC/Peter “Hopper” Stone)

In the most recent death-focused episode, Fred Willard makes one final return as Phil’s dad Frank Dunphy in an emotional twist not many saw coming. Phil travels to Florida to see his father, and the episode follows the two throughout a day on the town, completing simple tasks like having a meal and getting a haircut. Later, while sitting on the couch at home, Phil says, “We didn’t do much that day, but it might have been one of the best days I ever had with my dad. I just didn’t know it would be the last.”

The shock is sure to get the best of fans, but it was a perfect sendoff for one of the show’s recurring characters over the years. Along with Phil, Claire and Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) are tasked with sorting through their mother’s things in Jay’s (Ed O’Neill) garage, leaving them to deal with their own lingering grief.

Modern Family, Wednesdays, 9/8c, ABC