Whenever tragedy strikes, you may be left not knowing what to do or how to react. The onset of grief comes naturally and can be instinctual. Most people rely on their instincts in knowing what to say to a loved one as they say their final goodbyes. But, after everything settles and they’ve had an opportunity to look back at how things unfolded, they may be feeling regret for not saying everything they needed or wanted to.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How to Say Goodbye to the Deceased If You Can Attend the Funeral
- How to Say Goodbye to the Deceased If You Can’t Attend the Funeral
When someone you love dies, the grief process will take its natural course, and you'll learn to cope with your pain and sorrow as time progresses. You may already know how grief works and have prepared yourself for it. But, like many people, the question of how to say goodbye to a loved one at a funeral may come up for you.
The following guide will help you say goodbye to a dying loved one, or to your loved one who's recently passed.
COVID-19 tip: If you're planning or attending a Zoom funeral using a service like GatheringUs, the order of service, etiquette, and timing will vary. Consult with the funeral director, event planner, or religious leader to see what changes will be made to the ceremony, wake, and reception.
How to Say Goodbye to the Deceased If You Can Attend the Funeral
If you can attend the funeral, it’s a good way of showing support to the family and of paying your last respects. You don’t have to stay long if you don’t want to.
A good guideline to abide by is to stay for a few minutes, say no more than 10-15, and then leave. You can always stay longer if you feel like doing so. Here are other ways of saying goodbye if you’re able to attend the funeral.
1. Attend the viewing
One of the last opportunities you get to see your loved one may be at the viewing. Try not to skip out on this important death ritual. Whether it's an open or closed-casket viewing, consider it a special gift for you to be able to say your final goodbyes in person.
Your attendance is a sign of respect toward your loved one who's died, and a show of support to your family. Some etiquette rules apply as you say your last goodbyes.
2. Donate toward final expenses
When an unexpected death occurs in the family, the final expenses can add up quickly. It’s always in good taste to offer the family financial support. You can always donate toward the final expenses by calling the funeral home directly.
The average funeral costs can be anywhere from $7000 to $12000, not including any ancillary costs. You may still need to account for flowers, clothing, food, refreshments, printing of programs, religious or spiritual leader service fees, and any upgrades to the casket or services included below.
3. Plan a memorial
Another way of paying your last respects and honoring your loved one is to arrange and pay for a memorial service.
This can be something as informal as taking everyone out to eat after the funeral. If you feel compelled to do so, you can plan for a more elaborate memorial service with a sit-down dinner and a formal guest list.
4. Write a short eulogy
You don’t have to be an expert at attending funerals or greeting people. Saying your last goodbyes in person can be a wonderful opportunity to let others know what your loved one meant to you.
Consider writing and giving a eulogy as a way of honoring the life of your loved one. You can go online and check for short eulogy examples to give you some ideas of where to begin with yours.
5. Sing a song
If you’re brave enough, you can ask to sing a special song at the viewing or funeral. Consider singing a traditional funeral or bereavement song, or an original one that you’ve composed in honor of your loved one.
There are thousands of songs that touch on a life well-lived, death and mourning, missing someone, or simply what love means to you. You can sing a song that is personal to you and your loved one or a touching and popular funeral song.
How to Say Goodbye to the Deceased If You Can’t Attend the Funeral
Sometimes it’s impossible to attend the funeral of a loved one who’s died. There may be some unexpected things that come up that may prevent you from going. So, how do you pay respects if you can’t be there in person to say your goodbyes?
There are many ways to honor the life and memory of your loved one who passed. The following are some ideas that may help you find some unique ways to pay your respects if you can’t be there.
6. Send a gift
Whenever you’re unable to attend the funeral for any reason, consider sending a sympathy gift to the family to express your condolences. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or out of your price range, but it should always be given with sincerity and in good taste.
Sending a card to express your condolences is also considered a gift of sympathy. You don’t have to send it right away. It’s perfectly acceptable to wait a few days or weeks to send a gift to let the family know that you’re thinking of them in their time of sorrow.
Some gift ideas are:
- Specially engraved memorial wind chimes
- Memorial garden stone or plaque
- Sympathy bracelet or necklace
- White sympathy candles
- Book on coping with grief
7. Light a candle
When you light a candle in memory of your loved one, you’re sending prayers and thoughts of love into the universe. Even if you’re not particularly spiritual or religious, saying a little prayer or meditating on your loved one will bring you a sense of peace and calm.
Consider arranging a small altar or table in a corner somewhere in your home where you can go sit in quiet contemplation.
8. Attend by video
Modern technology has made it very easy for us to stay in touch with people all over the world through the use of video chat technology.
If you’re able to make arrangements to attend the funeral or memorial service via video conferencing, you’ll get the sense of being there and you won’t miss out on the service entirely. You can read our guide on Zoom funeral etiquette for more.
Donating in honor or in memoriam of your loved one to their charity of choice is another way of saying your last goodbyes.
When you donate to a cause that is near and dear to your loved one, you’re doing your part in ensuring that their vision continues. You don’t have to give any particular amount. Give what you can and what you’re comfortable with. Don’t feel pressured into turning your donation into a major bequeathment.
When unable to be there in person to help your family and loved ones with the final preparations and burial, volunteer to help in other ways that make sense.
One of the most tedious things to have to do when a loved one dies is to have to call everyone to give them the news of the death. You can offer to help by making these phone calls or publishing a death notice online.
These are the ways in which you can organize your tasks:
- Call your loved one’s family
- Give your condolences
- Ask if you can help make phone calls
- Get permission to publish a death notice
- Obtain all the pertinent facts
- Go online to Facebook or Twitter to spread the news
- Call the funeral director to coordinate the online obituary and death notice
- Gather and give information on what, where, and when
- Ask your loved ones who are online to help spread the word
- Follow up with the family
Post-mortem tip: If you lost your loved one too quickly to be able to see or talk to them and are not able to attend the funeral, let us guide you through what to do when you didn't get a chance to say goodbye.
Saying Your Last Goodbyes
Saying goodbye one last time to your loved one will leave you with a sense of closure. As you work through your grief, you’ll find that closure is an essential part of the path toward healing. Find your best unique way of saying goodbye.
There’s no right or wrong way of doing so. If you’re called to take action in any certain way when it comes to saying goodbye, and it makes sense to you, go for it. These are your final goodbyes. Make them memorable.