Funerals are emotional occasions, and deciding to attend is often a difficult decision. In the case of estranged relationships, family conflict, and even work schedules, things aren’t always easy. If you’re deciding whether to attend a wake or funeral, you might feel guilty about your decision.
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If you’re asking whether it’s wrong if you don’t want to attend the funeral, the answer isn’t usually black and white. Funerals aren’t about the dead. In reality, they’re a way for the family to find comfort and peace.
While it’s usually a good idea to attend the funeral if you’re close to the deceased or the family, this isn’t always the case. You shouldn’t feel wrong about not wanting to attend the funeral, especially if you have a legitimate conflict. In this guide, we’ll explore what to do if you decide not to attend the funeral.
Virtual funeral tip: If the funeral is taking place virtually using a service like GatheringUs, there are fewer reasons not to attend. However, some of the points may still apply if you're not sure you want to join the event. And if the family is hosting a hybrid funeral service, you may be able to attend virtually rather than going in person, even if you live nearby.
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Etiquette for Missing a Funeral
If you must miss the funeral, there is a certain etiquette to follow to be respectful. Most people understand that not everyone is available and able to attend. Here is the etiquette to follow for missing a funeral.
Tip: Our post-loss checklist can help you navigate the entire complicated process of losing a loved one.
When you should absolutely go the funeral
There are instances when you should absolutely go to the funeral. You should always go to the funeral if:
- If you’re an immediate relative of the deceased
- If you’re close relatives or friends with someone immediately related to the deceased
- If you’re able to take off work and afford any travel needed
If any of the above apply to you, then it’s respectful to attend the funeral. Your attendance helps the bereaved family feel cared for and supported. If you’re not comfortable going alone, you likely can bring someone with you for support.
Remember that this day isn’t about the deceased. It’s about supporting the close family. If you’re in any way tied to the close family, it’s polite to show your support even if you didn’t know the deceased very well. Every family wants to see a large group there to support them and the deceased in their time of need.
When it may be okay to skip the funeral
Sometimes it’s okay to skip the funeral. In general, if your presence would be unwelcome in any way or a disturbance, you should find another way to pay your respects. Here’s when it may be okay to skip the funeral service:
- If your presence will upset the close family of the deceased
- If you’re not close to the deceased or their family
- If the event is not open to the public
- If you’re unable to take off work or get bereavement leave
- Your family or professional obligations the collides with the duration of the funeral
- If bereavement flights are too expensive or difficult to coordinate
- You’re ill or taking care of a loved one who’s ill
Logical complications often happen, and they’re understandable. When in doubt, think about how you might feel about this decision a year from now. Will you regret not going? Will you feel like you made the right choice? This thought process should help with clarity.
Funerals bring a lot of feelings to light. Relationships become more complex, and it’s not always easy to know what choice to make when it comes to attending the funeral. If any of the above situations apply to you, it might be okay to skip the funeral. However, you should still offer your support through another method.
What to Do If You Can’t Make a Funeral
If you can’t make the funeral for any of the reasons above, you can still show your support. Taking some time to do something nice for the bereaved family leading up to or after the funeral shows you’re thinking of them.
1. Call the family
The easiest way to show your support is also the simplest. In the age of technology and social media, picking up the phone and talking to someone means a lot. To let the family know you’re thinking of them, give them a call. Offer your sincere condolences, and ask if there’s anything else they need.
This is also an appropriate time to inform them that you’re unable to attend the funeral. However, keep your explanation short. This isn’t the time for a long-winded chat. Short and sweet is always best.
2. Send flowers
Flowers are a powerful way to show sympathy. In many cultures, flowers play a large role in the symbolism around funerals. Sending flowers to the family’s home or the funeral service in advance lets you be there in spirit if you can’t attend.
Your local flower shop likely has arrangements specifically for funerals. Include a sympathy note with your flowers and make sure they’re sent in time. Alternatively, you can order a vase of fresh-cut flowers from Amazon and send it to their address. Flowers are a sign of respect in most cultures, and this is a welcome gift. Alternatively, you can
3. Mail a sympathy card
Delivery your sympathy messages via snail mail. Picking up the phone is always a kind gesture, but so is mailing a sympathy card, like one of these simple, blank sympathy cards. Offer your condolences with a thoughtful card addressed to the family in their time of need.
Your card is enough on its own, but you might always wish to include some extras since you’re unable to attend the funeral.
Here are some ideas of appropriate sympathy gifts to include with your card:
- Family photographs (especially ones with the deceased)
- Sympathy or religious quotes
- Gift cards for take-out or other food delivery, like to a place like Amazon, DoorDash, Uber Eats, or another similar company
- A donation to a cause that meant something to the deceased
4. Bring the family food
If you’re unable to attend the funeral, there are other ways to show your support. One of the best ways is through food. When the family is grieving, they’re not always able to focus on cooking or other chores. These might seem like small things, but they add up quickly.
Preparing a home-cooked meal or purchasing something from a favorite restaurant is a kind, thoughtful gesture. When delivering your meal, ensure it’s in a disposable container or a dish you don’t want back. Gifting comfort food that’s quick to prepare offers sustenance in a time of need. Food really brings people together, and funerals are no exception.
5. Help with housework
Similar to the idea above, housework piles up quickly after losing a loved one. Offer help if you live locally. Helping with housework and other chores is often welcome days or weeks after the funeral.
The deceased family is usually spending this time managing their grief. Taking over on the cleaning and other chores lends a helping hand when it’s needed most. When in doubt, ask the family what they need from you. Some easy chores to take over are:
- Pick up older kids from school
- Babysit older children
- Clean the home
- Do yard work
- Go grocery shopping for the family
6. Make a care package
If you’re not local to the grieving family, it’s hard to know what to offer if you can’t attend the funeral. You’re not able to do acts of service, like cooking or cleaning. What else is there? Creating a care package is a great way to show your support if you can’t physically be present.
There are a lot of things to include in a grief care package. Consider how you felt if you’ve ever suffered from a similar loss. What did you need most? Think of comfort items, like a warm blanket or a favorite snack. These small tokens of kindness mean the world to those you love.
If you don't want to make your own DIY care package, you can send a pre-made box, like this sympathy gift box, and send it right to their door.
7. Follow up after the funeral
Attending the funeral is a great way to show your support. However, as we already covered, this isn’t always possible. You can still show you care by following up with the family after the funeral. The family doesn’t stop their grief after the funeral. This continues for weeks or even months.
Being there even when others are moving on shows they’re in your thoughts. Call every other week to check in, offer to help when you can, and just show up for those you love.
Offering Comfort Outside of the Funeral
While the funeral is a chance to support the grieving family in their time of need, this isn’t the only way to offer comfort. If you’re unable to attend the funeral for any reason, this doesn’t mean you can’t still be there for those who are facing this loss.
It’s considered proper etiquette to pay your respects in another way if you’re unable to attend the funeral. While you shouldn’t feel guilty if you can’t attend, you should take action to honor the deceased and their family.
- Sullivan, Deirdre. “Always Go To The Funeral.” National Public Radio. 8 August 2005. NPR.com.