When You Can’t Attend the Funeral: Grieving from a Distance
During the grieving process, there are a number of reasons you may not be able to attend the funeral of a friend or family member. Perhaps it’s cost, a sick child, or timing. Whatever the reason for your absence, you can still support those closest to the deceased even when there’s distance between you.
Send a handwritten card/note
There are few things more intimate than a handwritten note, especially in times of duress. A pen and paper are more personal than an email or text message and show you have put thought into what you want to say. According to HuffPost Associate Healthy Living Editor Alena Hall, handwritten notes are a rare commodity that force you to pick your words thoughtfully and illustrate to the recipient just how much you care.
Offer to help with planning
One thing many people don’t talk about after someone dies is the logistical nightmare of planning and preparation with very little notice. It becomes exponentially more difficult when the death was unexpected or away from home. Tasks such as filing insurance paperwork and even choosing the right hair, makeup, and clothing style for the burial are things that must be done, often in between answering condolence calls and trying to process what is actually happening.
You can help with much of this, even if you can’t be there in person. First, find a reputable funeral home, which can help with transportation of the body, casket selection, flowers, and memorial tributes. Next, scour through your photos and videos for images that speak to the nature of the deceased. These can be sent via email to the funeral home. Then, help the family locate a burial plot if they don’t have a family cemetery. Your Tribute offers more information on the different types of resting places here. You can also help the family create a memorial garden for their loved one.
Utilize technology to be ‘closer’ to your loved ones
Although technology has no place when sending a card, it does offer the opportunity to interact face to face with your family and friends regardless of distance. Online video calling (Facebook even offers free video) is a convenient way to offer emotional support in times of extreme sadness and stress. Video calling allows you to pick up on body language and facial expressions that are lost over the phone. Similarly, most funeral venues now offer live streaming services that allow long-distance relatives to virtually attend the final sendoff.
Look after yourself
While you are likely more concerned about your loved ones “in the trenches” of the funeral process, you must take time to mourn the loss yourself. Once the burial is over, you will have time to mull over the events that led up to the death and to your inability to be there. Try not to feel guilty and allow yourself to express your grief in whatever ways help you heal. Online grief counseling programs are readily available and can put you in contact with AIHCP-certified professionals. Likewise, bereavement support forums and live chats are an accessible way to connect with others during times of loss and are especially valuable if you have no nearby support network.
During the grieving process, it’s important not to neglect self-care. Spend some time outdoors, eat well, and say “no” to any obligations you’re not up to fulfilling. And if you’re up to it, try to keep up with your fitness routine. If working out isn’t in the cards right now, you can still relieve tension with some simple stretching exercises. Just remember to keep the space clean and free of clutter, as a messy home can actually increase your anxiety. Also, employ stress-relieving techniques such as controlled breathing, such as “7-11 breathing.” This technique can help you lower your heart rate when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed by everything.
Maintain contact after the event
It is easy to disconnect after a loss. Contrary to your immediate feelings, the sun will rise tomorrow and you must move on with your life. However, it is important that you maintain contact with your friends and family after the funeral. You will all need one another’s support. Having others with whom to discuss those who have passed on will help you retain your link to the lost and is an important part of the grieving process.