Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Don't Be Shocked: It's Okay to Not Attend the Funeral

There are many reasons that people do not attend a funeral.

Let's run through some reasons, all of which, I have professionally witnessed:
  • Away on vacation
  • About to take vacation, which is nonrefundable
  • Moving (this happened to me!)
  • Bad weather
  • Lack of travel means or funds
  • Poor health
  • Too many deaths in close succession
  • Not speaking to surviving family members
  • Myriad fractured-relationship issues
The Condolence Coach says of any and all reasons:  IT'S OKAY. A funeral should be a magnet for care and respect, NOT an arena to revisit wounds or iron out strife.
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How do you say "I'm not coming"?

I'd advise diplomacy. You do not need to release a rant, or whine with guilt.

If you have positive feelings but conflicting circumstances
  • Express your sincere sadness over the death.
  • Express your regret at being unable to be at the funeral, but suggest a visit at a later date.
  • Under the crush of details and sadness, the responsible person may agree that "later" sounds peaceful. In truth, "later" visits and condolence notes fill a void.
  • In the interim, spend some time reflecting on the deceased:  do you have unique photos, keepsakes, or memories to share?
  • Set a reminder, if necessary, to make that future visit happen.
If you have positive feelings but prohibitive circumstances:
  • Again, your sincere sadness over the death should be expressed, as well as your regret to not attend the funeral.
  • Since "later" may not be an option, you must do more than send flowers or sign your name to a card. While those emotions are peaking, begin jotting down memories, browse through a photo album and pull one or two images. Think about the deceased: what made them unique? Did they have an influence on you? How would you characterize their legacy? Your condolence note may turn into a long-winded letter but it will be special!
  • If you are physically unable to write, dictate to someone who can, or consider a recording. Yes, a phone call is an option but as my readers know, it lacks a permanence only possible with hold-in-your-hand notes and pictures.
If you have negative feelings
  • You--and they--don't belong at the funeral. It doesn't matter if your distaste is for the deceased or survivors--please stay away.
  • I am not judging your feelings; no doubt you have suffered angst and/or anger. The fractured relationship is probably not a secret, and I can assure you that the deceased's family may have had a whispered, anxious conversation about whether you would show up.
  • It happens: funeral home staff are asked to watch for, and bar, an unwanted visitor; sometimes an arrangement is made for a private viewing by the "difficult" family member, while family leaves for dinner.
  • Please remember that a funeral (we're using that term to cover all associated pre-and-post gatherings) is a tradition designed to render comfort. Accept your limitation in this regard.
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Beyond negative feelings: 

Now that you've read the 'DON'TS' surrounding negative feelings and funerals, here is the 'DO': 
  • Listen to your heart. If you notice a caring thought or endearing memory pushing through your negative feelings, jot it down. When you feel able, visit that thought or memory again and go a little deeper. jot down a little more. 
  • Maybe you have a snapshot somewhere, showing a good time once shared; put it with your notes.
  • It's not time--it may never be time, for you to write a condolence note to someone else, but as an act of compassion to yourself, you could be the recipient of the condolence.
  • You can also write a note to the deceased! I explain the why and how in my post, Dear Frank, I'm Sorry You Died: Writing to the deceased, . This may be an excellent tool for you to express your feelings, the highs and lows. This is not a letter that will ever be read, but it can provide important catharsis.

Boundaries and Freedom

American psychologist and co-founder of the Humanistic Psychology movement, Dr. Clark Moustakas, noted that we gain freedom through exercising boundaries. He pioneered self-acceptance over self-condemnation, and wrote: 
"Accept everything about yourself--and I mean everything. You are you and that is the beginning and the end. No apologies and no regrets."
Thank you for caring!


Steph said...

I have buried two young children within a three year period of my life. While I appreciate your post, I disagree. I asked my husband a few weeks after our daughter's funeral if one of our long time friends had attended because I didn't remember seeing him that day. My husband replied "no, he wasn't there....he doesn't do funerals". WHAT??? I was infuriated and yelled back "No One DOES funerals....but you DO IT any way"!

I will never forget the words..."he doesn't do funerals" and I will never forget that this person didn't attend.

Just my 2 cents.



Thanks for writing: you've given powerful testimony! I do believe the support rendered by presence at a visitation/funeral/memorial has significant value. I tried to address difficult circumstances--many for which I have been asked advise.