Most of the time, survivors don’t send out invitations to funerals. Usually, a death is announced through the newspaper, over social media, or by word of mouth. The funeral arrangements are distributed in the same manner, and anyone who hears about it is welcome to attend. That is unless you have a complicated relationship with the person who died or a poor relationship with the survivors. Then you may not be welcome at the funeral.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- 1. Share the News with Those Close to You
- 2. Have Your Own Private Ceremony
- 3. Visit the Burial Site Later
- 4. Create a Memory Nook
- 5. Create a Memory Book
- 6. Volunteer in Memory of the Deceased
- 7. Plant a Tree
- 8. Send a Card or Sympathy Gift
Other times, those planning the funeral may clearly let you know that you are not wanted at the service. They may tell you directly, or they may choose to withhold the service information until the funeral is passed.
You may feel treated unjustly. You may research ex-spouse funeral etiquette to learn what estranged family members do when their parent dies. But ultimately, if you decide not to attend the funeral, you may wonder how to handle your own grief. How do you mourn the loss of a loved one from afar?
Here are some ideas on how to pay respects for a deceased loved one if you are unwelcome at the funeral services.
1. Share the News with Those Close to You
Even if you have a complicated relationship with the deceased, you are still grieving. Grief changes you. You may experience unexpected anger or frustration. You may feel overwhelming sadness or suffer from depression. Your estranged relationship with the deceased may amplify those emotions.
Don’t try to walk this road alone. One of the reasons funeral services are customary is so people can receive support in their grief. Since you won’t receive this support at the visitation or wake, you need to make sure you receive it from other sources.
That’s why it's essential you tell your closest friends and members of your faith community about the death. Share the news with those in your inner circle. You may consider seeking the help of a counselor or doctor as well.
2. Have Your Own Private Ceremony
You may wonder if it’s wrong not to attend a funeral. The reality is only you can make that decision. If you feel it is better that you avoid the memorial service, then consider having a private ceremony at home to say goodbye. Here are some ideas on how to hold a funeral at home.
- Light a candle and find a photo of the loved one to display.
- Write a eulogy for the one you lost. Put all your complicated thoughts and emotions down on paper. Writing can be therapeutic, whether you share your words with others or not.
- Play music that reminds you of the deceased or spiritual songs that help ease your sorrow.
- Spend time in quiet prayer or reflection. Read scripture, poem, or quote that reflects on the big picture of life.
3. Visit the Burial Site Later
While you may want to avoid going to the service at the cemetery or mausoleum, you may consider visiting the site later. You can say your final goodbyes to your loved one and offer a prayer.
Consider bringing flowers to the site as well, especially if you didn’t send any for the funeral services.
No matter how complicated your relationship with the survivors might be, a cemetery is a public place that anyone can visit. While this is true, you may want to avoid visiting at the same time as others who would be unhappy to see you there.
4. Create a Memory Nook
You may consider creating a memory nook in your home to honor your loved one. Your designated spot may include a photo, a candle, or other decorative pieces. You may include spiritual images as well, such as an angel, a cross, or a framed piece of scripture.
Sometimes when we lose someone we love, we worry we will forget the essence of what made that person special. This nook can act as a reminder of the one you lost.
5. Create a Memory Book
Instead of leaving up a permanent display in your house that honors your deceased loved one, you may find it therapeutic to create a scrapbook or memory book of the one you lost. Include photos, cards, notes, and other memorabilia that remind you of the person.
Share what you know about the deceased—from the names of his parents and grandparents to where he was born. Make a list of the deceased’s favorite things or include recipes that remind you of the person. Most importantly, write down your happy memories with them.
This scrapbook doesn’t have to be for anyone but you, especially if you are completing it as a therapeutic project. But if you have children, and your scrapbook is about one of your family members, you may consider sharing the final work with them.
6. Volunteer in Memory of the Deceased
At times, losing someone forces us to face our own mortality. Often, the death of others causes us to want to live our lives to their fullest. We want to live more, do more, and be more.
If this describes how you are feeling, you may consider listening to that inner voice telling you to make a difference in the world.
What charities or nonprofits are important to your life? How can you make a difference in the life of a neighbor or a child? Maybe you can do something as easy as giving blood as often as possible.
As you do charitable work, think about the person you lost. They would probably be proud to see you using such a healthy outlet for your grief.
7. Plant a Tree
Consider planting a tree or flowering shrub to commemorate the death of your loved one. This is a common practice by many, and it can be completed in several different ways.
You could plant the tree on your own property. This will allow you to have a visual reminder of your loved one each day.
If that is not an option, you could consider donating a tree to a park, church, or school. Perhaps you can choose a place that was important to your loved one. At times, those overseeing such sites will allow you to place a commemorative plaque at the base of the tree with your loved one’s name.
Finally, there are a lot of international charities that will allow you to plant trees in honor of a loved one. You may receive the approximate location of the tree as well as a certificate to display.
8. Send a Card or Sympathy Gift
If your estranged relationship with your family caused you not to attend the funeral of your loved one, you might consider using the death as an opportunity to make amends.
You may not want to do this at the funeral service, but you could start the conversation by sending a sympathy card or a sympathy gift to the other mourners. You may follow up later with a text, phone call, or visit. If the family created a virtual memorial page using a service like GatheringUs, you could also add a note in the online guestbook.
Life is too short to make enemies of your family members. Forgive and forget as much as you can.
Honor Their Wishes
It’s hard knowing that your presence is unwanted at a funeral. Perhaps you understand why you are not welcome, or maybe you feel you’re being treated unjustly.
Regardless, we should all try our best to take the high road during times like these. Remember that you can’t change yours (or anyone else’s) past actions. You can only alter the future. What decisions are you going to make today that will improve your life as well as the lives of others?