What is the Etiquette for Missing a Funeral?
If someone you know has passed away and you’re on the fence about whether or not to attend, you’re not alone. Many people struggle with the idea of attending a funeral, and, if they decide not to attend, aren’t sure how to make amends for missing the funeral. Keep reading to find out more information on why people skip funerals and what to do if you’re not going to one.
6 reasons not to go to a funeral
There are many reasons why people aren’t able to attend funerals, even when there’s not a pandemic going on. Here are some of the most common reasons someone misses a funeral or can’t attend:
Health concerns. In the time of COVID-19, attending a large gathering is highly restricted in many of the states and cities around the country. Funeral homes can enact a capacity limit to the funeral, families may decide not to invite all of their relatives and loved ones, or you may feel as though attending the funeral is too large of a risk.
Work issues. Unfortunately, there are times when one’s work prevents them from attending important life events. While missing the funeral of a close loved one is much less likely due to work circumstances, there are times where attendees simply can’t take the time off of work to attend a funeral, especially if it’s out of town.
Family history. While attending a funeral of a family member is generally expected, there are plenty of scenarios where attending a funeral of someone is something family members or loved ones choose to actively avoid. Many families have their own type of conflicts and internal issues, but some of these conflicts can lead to broken and irreparable relationships which can end up in relatives not attending a funeral.
Emotional volatility. Funerals are difficult for everyone involved, but sometimes it may feel inappropriate for your grief to take the spotlight. Funerals are about acknowledging the loss of someone and honoring the deceased. If you feel as though you’d be unable to contain your emotions at the funeral, consider attending a different part of the service (such as the wake or reception) that may cause you less emotional pain.
Distance. If the funeral is far away, plane tickets and other travel expenses may be more than you can afford. In addition to that, many funerals happen relatively quickly, meaning that travel expenses are generally more expensive than they would be in other scenarios.
General discomfort with funerals. Death and loss is sometimes too difficult of a reality for many to face while for others, the pressure of not knowing what to say or how to act can make the idea of attending a funeral an impossible one. Everyone grieves differently, and you should respect your own grieving process.
Unable to travel. Depending on the distance and location of the services, individuals may be unable to make the flight or car ride it would take to attend the services. This can be due to a number of reasons, but there are plenty of folks for whom travel is out of the question, especially during COVID-19 restrictions.
Etiquette for missing a funeral
If you know you’re going to miss a funeral and still want to support the family, the good news is that there’s plenty of ways to show your support that don’t involve you attending the services in person. Here are some potential steps to take when missing a funeral:
Update your RSVP. Many families request RSVP's for funeral events so that they can get a headcount on all those attending. If you’ve already marked yourself as an attendee, be sure to notify the family that you won’t be able to make it. (When you’re notifying them, do not offer a list of excuses for why you can’t make it. Simply express your regret over not being able to attend and offer your condolences.)
Send a sympathy card. Sympathy cards express your sympathy and condolences to the family during their time of grief. They often include a brief condolence and message of support to the family. Sympathy cards are usually mailed in, but you can also express your condolences on an Ever Loved memorial website, if they have one, or via email. This should be one of the primary things you consider doing as you do want the family to know that while you cannot attend the services, you are thinking about them and do want to support them however you can.
Send sympathy flowers. Sending a floral arrangement is a traditional way to express your condolences after a family has lost someone. Flowers are generally delivered to either the funeral home, the location of the services, or the family’s home and usually contain a note of sympathy alongside them. Keep in mind that some families (depending on their religion) would not view sending flowers as an appropriate gesture, or might consider certain flowers or arrangements to be inappropriate, so do a bit of research before selecting a bouquet.
Offer your help. Families in mourning have a lot of things to deal with right after losing someone. Not only are they likely planning a funeral (which takes a lot of time, energy, and money), they’re also dealing with the accounts and personal affairs of the deceased. On top of that, they’ve just lost someone and are grieving. Offering your help might seem out of place, but it’s usually really appreciated by the family, especially if you offer concrete tasks you’d like to help out with. Consider offering to help with everyday tasks or larger projects you’re aware of. Some examples include: offering to make meals, watch kids, watch pets, take care of household tasks, help with cleaning, etc. In any case, if you do offer your help, be sure you follow through on your offer.
Attend the services online. Even if you can’t attend the funeral in person, check to see if there are other ways that you are able to attend. Many families are now offering livestreams of the services so that those who can’t physically attend can still participate in the services. Check with the family (or on their Ever Loved memorial website) to see if a stream will be available for viewing. If you can't attend a livestream of the service, you can ask the family if there was a recorded version of the service that you can watch after services have taken place.
Attend any other services that you can. Funeral services are often broken up into sections and include different parts. If you can’t attend the funeral service, see if it’s possible for you to attend the celebration of life or the reception that follows a funeral service, for example.
Donate to a cause in their name. Many families struggle with funeral expenses and need your help to cover unexpected funeral costs. If they have a memorial fundraiser on Ever Loved, you can donate to their personal fundraiser directly on the site. Other families start up fundraisers for multiple causes, including charitable causes or causes that the deceased cared about. Donating to help the family with expenses or to support a cause that was important to the deceased is a great way to show your support to the family.
What do you say when you can’t attend the funeral?
If the family is collecting RSVP's to their event, simply let them know that you won’t be attending. If they specifically ask you for an explanation, give them a brief explanation and express your condolences. In general, you shouldn’t try to offer excuses or explain why you can’t attend the funeral unless you’re asked. While giving your condolences, it’s often a good idea to express sadness or remorse over the fact that you’re unable to attend the funeral. Aren’t sure what to say or how to offer condolences? Here are some templates to get you started.