As my Grandfather told me once, “Phil When you get older you start attending more funerals” than other social engagements. With all these memorials coming up in your calendar, how do you decide which ones you can or indeed should go to and those you can skip?
If you find that you can’t or don’t really want to go to a particular funeral, will people think you are being rude?
Not attending a funeral isn’t a breach of social convention, as long as you have a good reason and duly honor the deceased. The most common justification for your absence to a funeral is bad health, logistics, or the financial burden. If unable to go, make sure you still participate in some way.
If you are on the fence about whether you should (or are obligated to) go to an upcoming funeral, then this is the article for you.
I’ve put together a comprehensive list of reasons for which it’s socially acceptable to miss a memorial service. I’ve also given you some tips as to how to avoid any sense of rudeness or hurt your absence may otherwise cause.
Health and Wellness
It is easy to excuse someone’s absence when they are physically unable to attend a funeral. Being bedridden with illness, or terminal themselves, is unquestionably justified. But the line becomes less clear when we consider less serious illnesses.
Is it ok to miss a funeral if you have the flu? How about a chesty cough? What if your ankle is sprained? Or perhaps a broken leg?
The list could go on, but in this case, I think it’s a judgment call. If you are the person with the health issue, after assessing if your illness is a danger to others or not, and deciding it is not, you simply have to ask yourself. “Is attending this funeral more important than my comfort?”
If the answer is “no”, then perhaps you have no place going. But if you answer “yes” then I suggest you visit a pharmacy and tough it out. This is especially true if we are speaking about a close friend or relative’s funeral.
America is a large country filled with many people. It’s not uncommon for someone that grew up in upstate New York to find themselves working, living, and raising their own family in some suburb hundreds of miles away from their hometown. This is true of many places the world over of course. Even with modern transportation, traversing these distances can take time, time that is taken away from their own lives.
The funeral services themselves might only take, on average, about 1-2 hours, but there is a lot of other time spent with the bereaved. You can expect to allocate at least a day, and in some cases, several days are needed to perform your responsibilities.
This might not be an acceptable use of time for some. It may sound harsh on the face of it, but in most cases, a funeral happens within a very short time of death and so often comes as a surprise.
In society, if we find that someone has had to miss a funeral, we can remember that they might have responsibilities to others already before we judge them. When it’s you in this position, just make it clear that your hands really are tied!
Funerals are expensive now with a cost averaging in at about $9500, but these costs don’t consider the costs that the guests incur. Let’s consider that we are one of the guests that also has a great distance to travel.
Let’s say we need to travel from California to New York to attend a funeral.
A round trip, for a single passenger, averages in at about $300 and that is compounded if your family is joining you.
Seeing as people don’t live walking distance from the airport, you will also need to find transportation from the airport to the location of the funeral. Perhaps a taxi, or public transportation my suffice, but most likely you will be renting a car for 2 days adding another $200 to the bill. Now, we do suggest that you pool this cost with other guests that might also be arriving around the same time as you. (Most people will come within hours of each other).
Finally, we need to add in the cost of lodging as we will most likely be staying the night, and with so many people returning for the funeral, there will most likely be little space for everyone. This cost can range quite drastically depending on which location you need to stay but we can ballpark this cost at about $100. So incidentals are already up to $500 and we haven’t even considered food, gifts, and wardrobe.
Now there is the old adage that money is not the most important thing in life, and surely it is not. And, how can you put a price on saying your final goodbye to someone you love. But that being said, there are certainly a large number of people that simply can’t spare $500 from their other responsibilities for this expense. Besides, saying goodbye to a loved one could be done on one’s own terms.
Another sensitive consideration is whether or not your presence will create discomfort for the people that will be there. Assuming that you haven’t been invited to attend a funeral, but it is declared a public service, this may or may not be a consideration. Sometimes people, especially in the fragile situation of mourning, are not equipped with the patience to deal with uncomfortable social exchanges.
A simple example of this is perhaps a former spouse, from a prior divorce, might create unwanted feelings in the current spouse, particularly if the most recent spouse has spent a substantial amount of time with the deceased.
Another example might be someone that has caused problems for the family members in mourning or was the bearer of terrible news. In this case, it’s not so much a question as to “should I or should I not go,” rather it’s a question as to whether the people want you there. After all the funeral is more of an event for the mourning family as it is for the deceased. I will repeat it here, saying goodbye can be done on one’s own terms.
The final consideration, allows you to take into account all of the above reasons under the simple umbrella of “what would he/she want me to do?” As mentioned above, the funeral is as much for the mourning family as it is for the deceased party. So why would considering what the deceased would want to be of any importance? Look at it this way.
The funeral might be a day of mourning for some or a day of a celebration of life for others, but for all, it is a day to remember the lost soul. And what better way to remember someone than to bring into light the wishes and will of the dearly departed.
In some cases, this might be attending a funeral even though you are sick, or even if it is too far, or perhaps even if it is too costly, or even if it might make some people uncomfortable. However, it might simply be a reason not to go. If the deceased, in life, was the type of person that was known to say things like, “Don’t worry about me, take care of yourself,” or “Considering other’s feelings is paramount” you might be paying your respects simply by staying away.
Now, deciding to stay absent from a funeral is no easy choice, and every individual will have different considerations for making the decision or not, I hope that the above has either helped you to justify your absence or the absence of someone else.
Making your Excuse more Excusable
If you are the person that has decided not to attend, but you still feel that you would like to do something here are a few tips that you can consider.
Send your condolences & apologies
One possibility is to send something heartfelt to express your regret at not attending. Some common examples would be
- A handwritten card
- A photo album or a photo the family doesn’t have
- A dedication or a donation
- A gift, (perhaps a prepaid vacation, or a memento)
- Prepaid cleaning service (housework needs to be done even during grief)
- Food or food supplies (paper plates, cups, etc.)
Make the Call
A simple phone call might also be enough, especially if you are missed. Put aside a fair amount of time for this phone call, and do not anticipate it being a quick call, but also don’t be discouraged if it turns out to be just that.
Don’t focus too much on making excuses as to why you can’t go, just make it clear that if you could be there then you most certainly would. After that, focus on the memories you have of the deceased and perhaps talk about what you may have said at the memorial if you were present.
Attend the Wake
If your issue is a time-sensitive one, attending a wake can speak a lot on your behalf even if you are going to miss the formal service. Another reason to attend the wake instead might be if your reason is of the social baggage type. There will be far fewer people hanging around the wake and attending that might cause less of a scene.
As funerals are an emotional time, often messages and gestures get lost in the grief of the day. So, if you feel it’s necessary you can explain to a friend or relative who is close to the recently bereaved widow or widower why you aren’t attending the actual funeral. However, sometimes actions do speak louder than words.
Take Part in Social Media
We live in the digital era now, and very few things are not put on social media of some sort. If you can’t attend the service, you can check if any of the immediate family is planning any social media memorial campaign, and if so, you can make sure to make a presence in that. However, I wouldn’t start such a campaign on behalf of the deceased without the immediate family’s expressed wishes.
If oceans or continents separate you from the funeral service and you are a member or close companion to the bereaved family then the digital age can bring you closer.
Sending a message is good, but sometimes a memorial video or even a well-edited photo montage could be your contribution to the funeral despite your absence. Of course, check the likely response before you commit yourself to anything.
Visit the Bereaved
Missing the funeral might look bad on you, or it might even make you feel guilty. But actually, finding the time, soon after to visit bereaved can mean a lot more than even going to the funeral at all.
Grieving for a lost loved one can affect people for months and even years after a death. Although we are all very good at honoring our deceased loved ones at their funerals, we often forget that those who are left behind still need that show of support after the service.
So, if you have been caught out by the speed at which the funeral took place, then perhaps plan that visit to fit in better with your own schedule so that you can still show your support. This extra effort may actually do more good for the bereaved than just one more face at the memorial.
Reconnect on the Anniversary
Sometimes, families like to take time once a year, to remember the day of passing. If you missed that first funeral, you might get a second chance next year. This might sound cheesy, but it might mean a lot for the family to see you on this anniversary. However, as mentioned previously, you probably don’t need to wait a whole year.
Hold your own Private Memorial
The whole purpose of a funeral is to pay your respects to the family and to say your goodbyes to the deceased. I have given you a few tips on how to pay those respects if you have missed that chance. But we didn’t touch a lot on the actual goodbyes.
If this is what you feel you have missed out on there is a simple solution. Take an old photo, and lacking that, look at some old memorabilia, lacking that also, just search your memory for something that captures the essence of who your departed was and then, say goodbye.
Use your heart, and look deep, and let them pass on so you can move on. A simple goodbye can do wonders for allowing you to live the rest of your life content with knowing you have done the right thing.
After all, the question of whether it is rude or not to skip a funeral comes from a place of guilt within you as you know that saying a good farewell is important for all when facing loss in life.