What to Say When You Can’t Attend a Funeral: 12 Messages


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You may be asking yourself, “is it wrong not to attend a funeral?” This is a tough question to answer. 

You want to consider many angles before answering this question, such as your relationship with the deceased, your relationship with the deceased’s family members, your proximity to the funeral, etc.

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As you make your decision, try to put yourself in the shoes of the bereaved family. If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know how comforting it is to surround yourself with those who care about you. It makes you feel less alone in the world to know that those individuals took time out of their busy schedules to say, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

On the other hand, there are times when attending a funeral is not possible. If you regrettably find yourself in this situation, here’s what to say when you can’t attend a funeral.

Tip: Our post-loss checklist can help you navigate the entire complicated process of losing a loved one. 

What to Write in a Card or on Flowers When You Can’t Attend a Funeral

Some people choose to send some tokena card, flowers, or a plant — to the family members of the deceased if they are unable to attend the funeral. 

If you are unable to attend any of the services, use these sample messages to give you an idea of what to write to your friend or family member.

1. I am so sorry that I can’t be there to say goodbye to Aunt Jean. I have so many fond memories of her and Uncle Mike. These pink flowers reminded me of her. 

Just because your message is short doesn’t mean that it can’t be personal. You may have a limited number of characters to work with if you purchase flowers through an online delivery service. Make each of those characters count by being as specific as possible with your message.

2. I wish I could be there with you, but I recently got out of the hospital. Please know that I am thinking about you and the rest of the family. Sending love to all, Roxanne.

Some people state why they were unable to attend the funeral of a family member or friend. If you wish the message to remain private, consider writing it on a card that you mail to the individual instead of writing it on the note delivered with the plant you send to the funeral home.

3. Please accept my sincerest apologies for not being able to attend the funeral. My heart aches knowing that I can’t be there to support you all during this difficult time.

You may not feel it is necessary to explain why you aren’t at the funeral. Still, you may consider apologizing for not coming — especially if you are a close relative or friend. 

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What to Write in a Letter When You Can’t Attend a Funeral

If you knew the deceased well and have many memories to share, you may consider writing a letter to the family members. Emails are certainly acceptable too, but the family may treasure a handwritten note.

Here are some sample snippets to consider as you write a letter to someone who is hurting. 

1. Please know that even though I can’t attend Judy’s funeral, I hold her memory deep in my heart. You may not know the story behind my friendship with your mom. I met her when I was at my lowest. I had just left an abusive relationship, and she opened her home to my daughter and me. She was such a special woman!

When someone loses a loved one, they want to hear stories about how they made a difference in the lives of others. 

2. Please know that I will pay respects from far away. Thank you for providing an online option for those who are not able to attend the services.

Live-streamed funerals are relatively common these days. You may consider this option if several key family members or friends live too far away to attend.

Some institutions are so technologically advanced that they allow the virtual attendees to appear on a screen during the service. 

3. I served with your brother in Vietnam, and I always regarded him as one of my best friends for life. Even though I can’t be there for his funeral since it is so far away, I wanted to tell you what a special person he was to me. 

Include as many details in the letter as possible. Instead of saying that the deceased was hardworking or friendly, give examples that prove it.

Think long and hard before you bombard a family with surprising news about the deceased. Ask yourself if it is necessary before you share a secret with the family. 

» MORE: Explore the modern way to prepare for tomorrow. Get started in minutes.

What to Text Someone When You Can’t Attend a Funeral

Like it or not, people use texting to offer birthday greetings, give thanks for a gift, and offer condolences. Here are some phrases to use in a text when you can’t attend a funeral.

Be mindful of the time when you send the text. It wouldn’t be a good idea to send one at the exact time the funeral is taking place.

1. Thinking of you today! I’m sorry I can’t be there with you. 

You probably don’t want to send lengthy messages to your friend or loved one on the day of the funeral. A short message before the service starts may be followed up with a lengthy phone call that night.

2. I’m sending a virtual hug to you. I know that today is going to be hard. Please know that you are in my thoughts even though I can’t be by your side. 

If you share religious faiths with the person you are texting, you may also include an appropriate verse or the text of a prayer. 

3. Please know that I would be there with you today if circumstances were different.

Recent events caused many people to miss the funerals of close family and friends. 

» MORE: Everyone's wishes are different. Here's how to honor your unique loved one.

What to Say on the Phone When You Can’t Attend a Funeral

Perhaps you are more comfortable speaking instead of sending written messages. If that describes you, consider calling a friend or family member to offer condolences and explain why you can’t attend the funeral.

Keep in mind that your friend or family member may be busy making funeral plans immediately after the death of a loved one. There’s a lot to do -- choosing music for the funeral, creating a slideshow of photos to use at the service, picking out clothes to wear. They may not have the luxury of free time to spend on the phone with you when their to-do list is so long. 

Here are some ideas of what to say to someone who recently lost a loved one.

1. I know it’s hard for you to talk on the phone right now, but I wanted to tell you sorry I am to hear about your grandma. I can’t get off work to attend the funeral, but I would love to hear more about her. Can you meet for lunch next week?

Your friend may be too emotional to form the words to talk on the phone right now. Consider scheduling another time to talk after the funeral. People sometimes hurt the most in the weeks or months following the death, instead of during the service.

2. I was so sad to hear about Uncle Marvin. I know this has to be so hard, especially after saying goodbye to your mom only two years ago. Do you remember when...?

If you sense that your friend or family member has time for a lengthy chat, you may consider using the opportunity to share memories of the deceased. Remember to share only positive stories that put the deceased in the best light. 

3. I was just calling to let you know that I won’t be able to attend the funeral. I’ve been having some health problems, but I didn’t want to burden you with the news until I had some test results.

Sharing bad news over text or email may not feel appropriate to you. Instead, consider calling your friend or family member to explain that you won’t be attending the funeral, as well as the reasons why.

Consider Live Streaming Your Loved One’s Funeral

Because of the recent pandemic, more funeral homes and churches have become more adept at hosting online funerals. Perhaps this practice is here to stay. 

Talk with the funeral director or religious leader about the technology they use. Some broadcast over YouTube, while others may use Facebook live. Whatever type of technology you use, try to have the details of the event situated before the obituary is printed. That way, you’ll be able to inform friends and family who live from afar that this is an option for them instead of travel.

While every situation is unique, please know that attending a funeral is hard for most people. Don’t let your general feelings of discomfort keep you from supporting a friend or family member when you’re needed most.

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