Grieving the loss of a loved one is an individual experience often marked by the end-of-life rituals familiar to particular customs and traditions. When circumstances take away those customs, processing a significant loss becomes more challenging or stalls altogether.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Why Is It Hard to Grieve When There Isn’t a Funeral or Memorial Service?
- How to Express Your Grief When There’s No Funeral
- How to Help a Loved One Express Their Grief When There’s No Funeral
The worldwide pandemic has created such a shift in how the Western world memorializes loss, at least for now. Until life gets back to a new normal, expect funeral services to take a backseat to new ways of honoring deceased loved ones.
While there isn’t a current ban on funeral services, many individuals are now opting to forgo the formality of a funeral when the time comes. Not only are funerals expensive, but they’ve become more of a financial burden for the families of the deceased than a necessity, especially when requests for cremations are on the rise.
Nonetheless, not having a funeral service presents some issues for extended family and friends wanting to pay their last respects.
Why Is It Hard to Grieve When There Isn’t a Funeral or Memorial Service?
Traditionally, funeral and memorial services served as a way to pay last respects to the deceased while offering comfort and support to the family. This rite of passage is familiar to almost every culture and tradition. At times, funerals serve as one of the few times extended family and friends come together.
When you take away this opportunity, social support for the bereaved diminishes or goes away completely, leaving them with one less grief resource to count on to help them through their suffering.
Funerals also make the finality of death real and give closure to bereaved individuals. Without a funeral or memorial service to attend, accepting the death of a loved one is challenging because it's like the death didn't happen.
It's tough to accept that a loved one died who lived far away or who you didn't get to see often. You may not recognize your loss for many weeks or months after your loved one's death when their absence hits you, usually around special occasions or the holidays.
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How to Express Your Grief When There’s No Funeral
The way our lives have changed through the pandemic has taught us how to grieve when there’s no funeral service, as many people across the country weren’t allowed to have or participate in this traditional end-of-life formality.
We’ve had to adjust to hearing about the death of a loved one without participating in the conventional in-person funeral or memorial service. As a result, we’ve learned other ways to express grief and find closure out of necessity. The following are some new and not-so-new ideas on processing loss when there’s no funeral to attend.
Have an online memorial service
In-person memorial services are fast becoming a thing of the past, especially as new technology emerges. Now, individuals worldwide can join in on a virtual group video chat and take part in paying their last respects online and in real-time. Organizing these events is free and easy, allowing anyone with the right technology to participate.
You can still honor the deceased's life by planning and hosting a funeral or memorial service online and inviting friends and family to participate. To create a meaningful virtual memorial service, consider enlisting the help of a professional memorial planning website, creating a theme for the service, and sending out invitations ahead of time.
Set up an altar
When you feel the need to gather in honor of your deceased loved one, but there’s no planned funeral or memorial, consider setting up a memorial altar in your home. Altars are common in many religious and spiritual traditions and provide you with a daily reminder of your loved one who’s died and a place to visit when you need to be alone with your grief.
You can make your altar as ornate as you wish as there are no special requirements. Think about what items resonate with you when thinking about the deceased. Consider adding a favorite photo of them, a white candle, and other spiritual things that bring you peace and comfort. Leave the altar up as long as you need to, and visit it when wanting to connect to your deceased loved one.
Carve out alone time
Whenever someone you love dies, anticipate that you’ll experience unfamiliar and unsettling grief reactions when least expected. You’ll need time to acknowledge your loss and process your feelings as you go through the different stages of grief. Not having a funeral or memorial service to attend may delay the onset of grief.
Making sense of your feelings and emotions can take longer due to you not seeing your loved one for the last time to say your goodbyes. Spend some alone time each day or week to allow you to reflect on your loss and learn to accept that your loved one is no longer there.
Reach out for support
Most people have access to the internet in modern Western society, allowing them to connect and get involved with their online communities. One way to get the grief support needed is to make a virtual announcement of your loss.
Consider posting an online tribute on your Facebook page or through other social media outlets. When you openly express your grief, it validates your loss. Bereaved individuals benefit from solid social support following a significant loss, and online friendships can be just as valid as those fostered in real life.
Turn to your spirituality
The loss of faith can complicate the grieving process for specific individuals having difficulty accepting the death of their loved ones. Any traumatic experience can shift individual perceptions about God, convictions, and personal beliefs. If you’re experiencing a lack of faith, consider turning to spiritual or religious books on death, dying, and bereavement.
Reading scripture about what spirituality teaches about grieving may serve as a lifeboat when you’re barely keeping your head above water. Experiencing a loss of faith can lead to depression and a lack of motivation to go on with life, depending on the type of grief you’re experiencing.
How to Help a Loved One Express Their Grief When There’s No Funeral
Helping others through their grief sometimes feels intimidating over the fear of not knowing what to say or do. Lack of knowledge and not knowing how to react to loss is one of the main reasons people isolate themselves from grieving individuals. They think that it’s better to give a bereaved person space than to be there offering them support. The following are some ideas to help you navigate your loved one’s grief who’s having difficulty coping.
Plan an intimate service
The lack of closure is a leading cause of complicated grief among the bereaved. When there’s no funeral or memorial service to attend, survivors can struggle to accept their loved one’s death. To help your loved one find closure and bring an end to this chapter in their lives, offer to orchestrate an intimate in-person memorial service for the two of you and other close family and friends. The service can be nothing more than a luncheon hosted at someone’s home or a dinner at a local restaurant.
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Sit and listen
Everyone grieves in unique ways. Some people may benefit from processing their grief independently, while others need the added comfort and support. Helping someone get through their suffering doesn’t have to be complicated. A bereaved individual may benefit from the retelling of their grief story over and over until they start to feel better.
You don’t have to offer any advice or think of clever ways to help them get over their grief quicker, as there’s no timeline to the grieving process. The more a person retells their story of loss, the quicker they begin to heal from it.
Set up memorial gifting
Memorial gifts are an age-old way of keeping the memory of your loved ones alive through charitable gifts and donations to organizations linked to a person or how they died. Charitable gifting can start with a minimal sum each month or year and increase as you direct the contribution.
Check with the charities closest to the deceased person's causes to see their minimum gifting requirements. Typically, you can donate as little as five dollars per month in their memory. To add monetary value to the initial donation, you can ask for additional gifts through social circles who knew the deceased personally or your loved one who's grieving.
Look through old photos
Pent-up grief causes many adverse emotional, physical, and psychological complications in the bereaved. Suggest an evening of going through old photo albums and reminiscing about the deceased to help them process the loss. Share stories from the past to help shape a legacy in memory of the person that died.
Going through old photos helps your loved ones open up and begin releasing their emotions. Take caution not to keep an eye on the clock as your loved one can view this as insensitive. Consider taking the photos and getting them made into a beautiful memorial coffee table book as a go-to whenever they need to feel close to their loved one.
Saying Goodbye With No Funeral
Funerals and other social grieving rituals are a fundamental part of the grieving process. Without the ability to openly grieve with friends and family offering support, bereaved individuals can suffer through distortions in the grieving process.
The breadth of loss is difficult to gauge without the physical presence of the deceased, leaving many people to question if their loved one died. Fortunately, there are many alternate ways of coping with your grief or helping your loved ones get through this.