What to Do If You Didn't Say Goodbye to a Loved One


Life is unpredictable. Each morning, we wake up to face a new day, never knowing what challenges may come up unexpectedly. You live your life with faith that the day will go on as usual. But sometimes the unexpected happens. Life throws you a curveball that derails your existence for months and sometimes years afterward with the untimely death of a loved one.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Experiencing a significant loss is painful, especially when you don't get the chance to say goodbye to someone you love. Sometimes those closest are taken from you when you’re not prepared for it. Many people lose their loved ones without the chance to say goodbye. 

What to Do If You Didn’t Get to Say Goodbye to a Loved One Before They Died

Having the opportunity to say your final goodbyes to a loved one who’s dying is an integral part of healing. Saying goodbye gives you closure as you move through the grief process. If you’re one of the many people who’ve experienced an unexpected loss and you find yourself lamenting “I lost my loved one and I didn't get to say goodbye,” there’s hope for healing even when you didn't get that last chance.

Here are a few ways that you can still say goodbye to a loved one even after they're gone. 

1. Be kind to yourself

Living in regret, shame, and anxiety are all part of the grieving process associated with not saying goodbye to a loved one who has died. These are natural and normal feelings and emotions that surface as you try and understand why your loved one died suddenly or unexpectedly.

When you dwell on all of the possibilities of what could’ve been different, it’s easy to drive yourself deeper into despair following their death. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of not saying you’re final goodbyes, try instead to remember all of the positive things that you shared with your loved one while they were alive. 

2. Find ways to honor your loved one

Honoring your loved one's life and what they meant to you in yours will help you find peace and gain closure from your pain and sorrow. You may want to hold a special lunch, a get together in their honor, an online memorial service, or put together a compilation of goodbye poems that you can post on social media for others to see and share. 

Any way you can come up with that honors your loved one's memory will help you soften the pain of not saying goodbye to them. 

3. Write a letter

Writing a letter to your loved one who has died is not only therapeutic but healing. One of the best activities in grief work to help you find closure and heal from your loss's pain is writing a letter to your loved one. To help you get started:

  • Find a place where it's quiet and feels comfortable.
  • Write down everything you are thinking and feeling and wish you could've said before your loved one died.
  • Tell them how you're feeling and the experiences that you've had since their death.
  • Don't forget to share with them your favorite memories of you together and anything you miss or regret since they've died.

When you’re finished, consider burning the letter, including it in their casket, or tucking it away in your wallet. 

4. Visit their graveside

When you’ve missed saying goodbye to a dying friend or another loved one, you still have a chance to say your final goodbyes. Set some time aside to visit their graveside. Spend a few minutes or an afternoon sitting there and talking to them as if they were still physically there with you.

Don’t be afraid to open up to them to tell them how sorry you are that you didn’t get to say goodbye or see them one final time. 

» MORE: Create a free online memorial. Honor your loved one, share funeral details, and collect memories and tributes.

5. Say a prayer for your loved one

Your grief can be alleviated somewhat by turning toward your religion or spirituality to help you get through the most challenging days following the death of your loved one. Include your deceased loved one in your prayers and ask your higher power to deliver the message that you regret not having the opportunity to say goodbye to them.

Ask that your prayer be heard and answered. You may want to ask for a particular sign that’ll let you know that your loved one received the message. 

6. Consider grief counseling 

Many people have never heard of or don’t know what grief counseling is. Grief counseling can help you make sense of your loss and move forward from your grief. It encompasses the following four components:

  • Learning about grief. Grief counseling helps you learn and understand the normal grieving process and what to expect after experiencing loss. It teaches you to tell the difference between normal grief reactions and other conditions beyond grief, such as chronic sadness and depression. 
  • Expressing grief-related feelings. Grief counselors and therapists encourage you to openly express your feelings and emotions as they relate to your grief. They focus on talk therapy and other means of self-expression such as art therapy, role-playing, and different types of grief work. This kind of work can include writing letters to the deceased, looking through photo albums, and visiting your loved one's graveside. 
  • Building relationships after loss. Grief counseling helps you rebuild broken relationships affected by the death of a loved one and developing new ones. A skilled grief counselor also helps you continue the relationship with your loved one who has died through the use of continuing bonds therapy. This type of treatment focuses on keeping your loved one's memory alive instead of getting over or moving beyond your loss. 
  • Developing a new identity. Grief counselors can help you develop a new sense of self and purpose following your loved one's death. For example, a parent dealing with the sudden death of a child will need to redefine their role after their child dies. Or a widow known in her community as the wife of her spouse will need to reinvent herself with a new identity based on who she is without her spouse. 

What to Do If You Didn’t Get to Say Goodbye to a Pet Before They Died

Pets can be a significant part of your life and maybe even considered a part of your family. When they die suddenly or unexpectedly, not having the chance to say goodbye to a pet can be emotionally devastating.

Like any other death of a loved one suffered, you’ll go through the ebbs and flows of grief as you heal from your loss. Consider the following ways to say goodbye to your pet after they’ve died to help you get through the grieving process. 

7. Put together a scrapbook

Scrapbooking is a form of grief therapy that can help you resolve some of the guilt and regret you may have over losing your pet without saying your goodbyes. The physical act of putting photos together into the book helps take your mind from the pain and sorrow associated with your pet’s loss.

Allow your feelings and emotions to flow through without judgment, and be kind to yourself without placing self-blame or having unrealistic expectations over a situation that may have been avoidable. 

» MORE: Our story doesn't end at the grave. Honor your loved one with a free online memorial.

8. Bury them close to you

Consider laying your pet to rest in your backyard or under a favorite tree. Keeping your pet’s remains close to you will help you with your grief as the weeks and months go by.

Having them near makes it easier for you to spend some time with your pet so that you can continue the closeness of the bond you once shared. 

9. Write a grief poem 

Penning a special poem in honor of your pet will help you as you struggle to cope with their loss. There isn’t a correct way to write a poem in your pet’s honor. Write down what comes from your heart and express everything that you’re feeling.

Read the poem aloud at your pet’s memorial service or when you lay them to rest. Another sweet way to memorialize your words is to have them inscribed in a memorial stone or bench in your pet’s honor. 

10. Spend some time with them

Before you lay your pet to rest for the final time, spend some one-on-one time with them. Depending on your pet’s physical condition, you may want to talk to your pet, hug, and caress them before cremating or burying their body. If they died in a traumatic way, you might not want to see or touch them in such a condition.

Consider waiting until their body has been prepared or cremated before having this conversation with them. Allow yourself to express your feelings and emotions openly. There is no shame in loving your pet and lamenting over their death. 

Saying Goodbye After Loss

A missed opportunity to say goodbye to your loved one or pet before they die doesn’t mean that you can’t still say your goodbyes. There are many creative ways to find closure in their death that will help you heal from the profound pain and suffering you might be experiencing.

Keep an open mind as you explore the different ways of saying goodbye to a loved one after they’ve died. When one way doesn’t feel satisfying enough, consider other ways to help you attain the closure you’re looking for and that you need as you bid farewell to your pet or loved one. 


Icons sourced from FlatIcon.