If you missed a loved one’s funeral

4 min read

When you cannot pay your respects at a funeral or memorial

  • Whatever the reason you can’t attend, guilt is a normal feeling. But remember, you did not actually fail your loved one.

  • Let the family know as soon as possible, and offer to help in another way.

  • Say goodbye to your loved one on your own, to start the healing process.

  • If guilt begins to consume you, seek out support on your own to let it go. Focus on honoring the person you lost—it’s about them, not you.

There are many reasons why you might end up missing the funeral of a loved one. Maybe you weren’t notified early enough to make arrangements, or you were simply too far away to get there in time. Or maybe you made arrangements to come and then circumstances like flight delays upset your plans.

However it may have happened, failing to attend the funeral of someone close to you can make you feel guilty, as if you’ve let your loved one down even after their death. This is a natural way to feel, but it is important to keep in mind that it is really just an expression of your grief, and you didn’t actually fail your loved one. There may be some difficult conversations to have with others in your circle, but you don’t need to dwell on your guilt or beat yourself up for not being there.

Funerals are for the living

Although a funeral is held in honor of the person who has passed away, ultimately, the ceremony is for their family and friends, not for them. Its purpose is to start the healing process by giving us a way to say goodbye, and peace of mind knowing that we sent them off properly and with dignity.

But you do not need to be at a funeral to do these things. Though a public ceremony is the traditional way to pay your respects, there are other ways to honor your loved one that can be special and meaningful to you and to the relationship you had.

Reach out to the family

As soon as you know you are not going to be able to be there, get in touch with your loved one’s family to express your condolences and let them know that you cannot be there. Don’t belabor the exact details of why you won’t be attending. You’re reaching out to a family in deep grief, and this day isn’t about whether or not you could be there.

If possible, send the family a bouquet of flowers, a basket of food, or a care package. Offer to help in any way you can, or make a donation to a charity that’s important to the family and the person who passed away. It’s important to acknowledge your absence but still keep the focus on the family and their loss. No matter how guilty you might be feeling, remember that this isn’t about you.

Honor the loss in your own way

Missing the funeral will likely leave you feeling like you need some kind of closure, a way to start the healing process for yourself. This also gives you an opportunity to honor your loved one in your own way.

It’s important to acknowledge your absence but still keep the focus on the family and their loss.

How you decide to do this is up to you; it doesn’t have to resemble a funeral. Some people may find that writing a eulogy and even reading it aloud appeals to them. But others will want to do something else. Read their favorite book, listen to their favorite music, or go to a place they loved and just sit there, feeling their presence. Do an activity you two enjoyed together. Write them a letter. Do whatever will let you say goodbye the best way you can. Just like there is no right or wrong way to grieve for someone, there is no one way to honor their memory. Whatever feels right to you, do that.

Go easy on yourself

You may feel guilty for missing the ceremony, and this is to be expected. But it’s important to not let yourself get caught up in it and drown in it. Not everything can go as planned, and you can’t control the weather or when airplanes take off. But even if you missed the funeral because you were caught up in your own issues, or just couldn’t face the reality of your loved one’s death yet, that’s okay.

Remember that this is hard for everyone, and be kind to yourself. As much as possible, try to look at things objectively, and forgive yourself for not being there. Ask yourself whether your loved one would rather you sit and dwell on your guilt, or whether they would want you to focus on your memories of them and the good times and great love you shared instead. Odds are, it’s the latter.

If some time passes and you are still struggling to make peace with having missed the funeral, don’t hesitate to reach out to your network of friends and family, or even a professional. Sometimes we can only carry our feelings on our own for so long before we need to share them and get another perspective. Hearing someone else say that you also deserve peace can go a long way ●