Funerals are an opportunity to say your last goodbyes after losing a loved one. In a perfect world, your decision whether or not to attend a funeral would be straightforward. However, like all other parts of life (and death), things aren’t always so simple.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What to Consider Before You Go to a Funeral That’s Far Away
- How Can You Tell Someone You Can’t Attend the Funeral Due to the Distance?
- How Can You Pay Your Respects If You Can’t Attend a Faraway Funeral?
One of the biggest reasons not to attend a funeral is the distance. Is it wrong not to go to a funeral, even if it’s far away? If you’re not exceptionally close to the family or to the deceased, you might not know what to do if this question comes up in your own life.
It’s important to remember that funerals are very much for the living. There is no right or wrong when it comes to deciding whether to attend a funeral, especially if you’ll need to travel a great distance to be there.
To help answer the question of whether you should go to a faraway funeral, here are the most important things to consider. Paying respect is possible no matter how far away you live. No matter whether you attend or not, make sure you’re sending physical or online condolences.
What to Consider Before You Go to a Funeral That’s Far Away
The most important thing to remind yourself when deciding whether to go to a funeral that’s far away is that this occasion isn’t about you. It’s a time for the family to grieve and say their last goodbyes.
The focus of this moment is on the family of the deceased and ensuring they have the support and comfort they need. It’s best to put your personal needs aside to focus on what really matters. That being said, distance is a legitimate reason not to attend. There are a variety of factors like your budget, career, family, and other responsibilities that are worth considering.
1. Your budget
While you might be able to plan for a trip in advance that’s more affordable, it’s hard to plan an inexpensive trip out of town if someone dies suddenly. Depending on the distance, you might need to buy last-minute airfare or a train ticket. If you don’t have a car of your own, you might need to pay to rent one.
Because most of these travel arrangements are made very last minute, sometimes within 24-hours of travel, it can be incredibly expensive. It’s true that many airlines offer fee waivers as part of their bereavement fare, but that doesn’t mean this won’t still cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
If you’re unable to afford travel, this is a perfectly legitimate reason to skip the service. You might be able to plan a trip at a later date or show support in a different way.
2. Work or school obligations
Similar to planning a last-minute trip out of town, you might not be able to take last-minute time off work. While many workplaces are accommodating for cases of bereavement, there are a number of other factors. You might need to work to earn enough to cover living expenses, or you might have an important upcoming project.
While you can always speak to your employer about bereavement leave, you might not control just how much flexibility you have. Attending a funeral out-of-town, particularly one very far away, can be impossible in some work situations.
Similarly, if you’re a full-time or part-time student, you might need to stay in classes to avoid disrupting your education. Again, many schools and professors have policies for bereavement, but this alone might not be enough.
3. Family responsibilities
Many people have families and obligations that come along with this. You might have young children, pets, or elderly relatives who you care for. Including them with you on the trip might not be an option, and finding last-minute, qualified caretakers isn’t easy.
In reality, family responsibilities are important. Whether you have children, pets, or other people counting on you, it’s okay to put them first when you need to. You can always pay respects from a long distance.
4. Your health
Everyone has different experiences when it comes to their own health and wellness. You might not be physically able to travel, or it could pose a risk to your health. This is entirely between you and your doctor.
Family and friends should be understanding if you’re unable to travel for health reasons. Travel is a stressful situation, and it could cause complications or increased risks that just aren’t worth it.
5. Relationships and social concerns
If you’re not incredibly close to the deceased or the family, they might not expect your presence at the funeral. It isn’t practical to travel long distances to attend the funeral of someone you don’t know very well.
In addition, there are some social situations in which your presence could make the experience more stressful for others. If you have an estranged family or challenging relationships, your presence might not be necessary or could even be more trouble than it's worth.
While you should still offer your condolences, don’t burden yourself with attending if it’s not something that will put others at ease. This could be the case if the funeral is for an ex-partner, estranged relative, or so on.
How Can You Tell Someone You Can’t Attend the Funeral Due to the Distance?
The hardest part about not attending a funeral due to it being too far away is communicating this. It’s always best to be frank and upfront. Don’t wait until the last minute to let the family know you won’t be able to make it.
The best way to tell the family is to send your condolences and your apologies. When possible, do this over the phone and not over text or email. Don’t focus on making excuses for why you’re not able to attend. Just be clear about your regret and how it’s just not practical right now.
Say something along these lines:
- “I am so sorry to hear of Jennifer’s passing. I know how much she meant to you and the entire family. Unfortunately, I’m unable to make it to the service, but I would love to send flowers in her honor.”
- “My heart goes out to you and your family. I’m not able to make the trip home right now, but I just wanted you to know I’m thinking of you.”
- “My condolences to you for losing such a beloved friend. Though I can’t be there in person, is there anything I can do?”
Keep your message quick and to the point. If possible, focus on the memory of the deceased and their loss. If you’re close to the family, ask how you can help or if there’s anything you can send to lessen this burden.
How Can You Pay Your Respects If You Can’t Attend a Faraway Funeral?
If you’re unable to pay respects at the funeral, you can still offer your support in other ways. People just want to know you’re thinking of them, and there are a number of easy ways to do just that no matter where you’re located.
Flowers are the best ways to show your support. Unless the family requested something in lieu of flowers, mail flowers from a florist directly to the funeral home or to the bereaved family. Include a note and sympathy message, so they know you’re thinking of them.
Make a donation
Many families request donations to be made in honor of their loved ones. If this is the case, make a donation and let them know what it means to you. This is a powerful tribute, and you can make a donation easily online from anywhere.
Join a livestream
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for funerals to include live streaming or other hybrid digital elements to include those who are unable to attend. If you can’t be there in-person, join digitally to show your respect.
Sign an online memorial
Many families choose to publish an online memorial or guestbook. This is an opportunity for friends and family to share memories, tributes, and say final goodbyes online.
You can complete an online memorial on your own time, so there’s no reason not to take this thoughtful step.
Last but not least, be sure to follow up with the family. After the funeral, most people return to their daily lives but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still struggling with grief. Calling, sending a care package, and just being there for them after the funeral means a lot.
Making the Decision for Yourself
There are no rules when it comes to grief. While you might wish to attend every funeral or memorial you’re invited to, it’s not always so straightforward. The world is a big place, and traveling from far away for a funeral isn’t practical in every situation.
Just as you prepare what to bring to a funeral, prepare if you’re unable to attend as well. Distance is a legitimate reason to skip a funeral, but you can still honor the deceased and the family in other meaningful ways.