When a relative died a few years back, the funeral was on a Wednesday, in a city several hours away from where I lived. The weather forecast called for snow, and I was in the middle of a tough week of graduate school. It just so happened that another relative was making the drive there and back and had room to bring me along, but if that hadn’t been the case, I might not have made it.
If I hadn’t, though, I certainly wouldn’t have been the only person—or even the only person in my social circle!—to miss the memorial of a loved one. Travel times, money, and work all make taking time off for funerals and memorials a challenge and sometimes, despite our best efforts, we’re unable to make it to the ceremony.
When I asked around, many people expressed having been in similar situations, which meant there were a lot of ideas for showing support for grieving friends and relatives from far away. Many people expressed the importance of sending a hand-written card or note if you’re not going to make it to a funeral—not only does it let other mourners know you’re thinking of them, it’s also something tangible that can be put away and kept forever. One thing suggested by etiquette and lifestyle coach Elaine Swann is to make your note as specific as possible—“talk about the feeling you got when your aunt made you cookies as a child, and really go into detail so that people feel like they were there with you,” she offers as one example. If you were especially close to the deceased, or feel like other family members will expect to see you at the funeral, consider writing something that can be read aloud. One person on Twitter even suggested using Skype or FaceTime, and while that might not work at more formal services (like in a church, or at very large gatherings), it can definitely be a great way to make your presence felt—one idea might be to schedule a time to video chat with friends and family before or after the service.
Not going to a funeral doesn’t mean you can’t help in other ways, too—sending gift certificates for meals or travel is a great way to take some of the pressure off other mourners. If you’re a close relative or friend, consider offering to help with an aspect of funeral logistics you can do from afar—take charge of the photo memorial slideshow or program, or offer to be a phone contact for people who might have questions.
It’s also a good idea to remember that just because you can’t make it to the actual funeral doesn’t mean you can’t visit another time. One of the most common complaints mourners have is that once a memorial service is over, it’s back to normal for most people and the start of a new life for them. If a friend or relative loses a spouse, consider planning a trip to visit them a few months after the funeral—not only will it give them something to look forward to, it will also serve as a way for you to help out once the initial outpouring of support has died down. A visit could also be timed around a birthday or anniversary, events that can be hard when you’re experiencing grief.
As social networks continue to be spread out across the country and even the world, it’s normal that making it to every funeral just isn’t going to happen. Finding other ways to show up can be a meaningful way to participate in honoring the loss of a loved one.
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