Unable to attend a funeral?

There are many reasons why you may not be able to go to a funeral, but there are also many ways to participate even if you cannot attend a funeral service in person. Saying goodbye to a loved one plays a significant part in the process of accepting their death and starting to come to terms with life without the person you loved in it. It is therefore important to be involved in some way.

CPJ Field have been Funeral Directors since 1690 and families often come to us with friends or family members in different parts of the country, or abroad. Fortunately, there are lots of ways you can join in without being physically close to the funeral location and we always fully support this.

Here we discuss the reasons that might prevent you from attending in person, how to let the family know that you cannot be there, ways to participate even if you cannot attend a funeral service, and what to do on the day of the funeral and afterwards if you are not there.

Reasons for not attending a funeral

It is certainly not a given that everyone can attend a funeral service and it is not disrespectful if you cannot be there in person. It must also be your decision; it is completely up to you. There are many reasons why you may not be able to do so, and it is not always straightforward. Reasons include:

  • Working commitments
  • Distance - live too far away and travel would be challenging
  • Illness or a medical condition making it difficult, uncomfortable, and perhaps impossible
  • Sadness and emotional difficulty
  • Children are too young to attend
  • Uncomfortable – may not have seen the person for some time
  • Financial and or personal circumstances
  • Service is private
  • Family conflicts

How to let the family know that you cannot attend a funeral service

There are several ways to let the family know that you cannot attend the funeral. The option you choose may depend on the relationship you had with the deceased person and have with the bereaved family.

  • Send a token such as a card, flowers or a plant
  • Write a letter
  • Send an email
  • Text your apologies
  • Talk on the telephone

A short message can be very poignant

With a card, flowers or a plant, the message may have to be brief, so make every character count. It is quite acceptable to give the reason why you cannot attend and to apologise. You might want to add that the flowers you are sending remind you of the deceased person, as they are their favourite colour.

Examples of messages you can send

  1. I’m so sorry that I cannot be there with you to say goodbye to Jean. I have such fond and precious memories.
  2. I do so wish I could be there to say goodbye to Jean, but I am recovering following my operation and am unable to travel. I want you to know that I am thinking about you and the rest of the family.
  3. It is so disappointing that I cannot be with you at the funeral service. I do hope you enjoy the roses I am sending, as I know they were Jean’s favourites.

Share memories in a handwritten letter

If you knew the person who has died well, you may want to send a longer letter. In this you can share the memories you have, and the family may really appreciate and cherish a handwritten note sharing stories they may not have heard before. You can share anecdotes about the person that made a difference to your life, perhaps their kindness, cheerfulness, dedication, and helpfulness.

Emails, text messages and phone calls if you cannot attend a funeral service

Emails will arrive straightaway and can be the appropriate way for some people to express their disappointment at not being able to attend. You can also offer condolences and apologies in a text message. These can be short, but be mindful of the time you send them, as you would not want a text message to arrive during the service although before the service might be a good time so that the family knows you are thinking of them. Calling the immediate family is another alternative whereby you can express your apologies and convey your sympathies. Sometimes there never seems to be the right way of phrasing your feelings but it is better to try and bring some level of comfort than shy away and say nothing at all.

Examples of text messages

  1. Thinking of you at this sad time. I do wish I could be there with you.
  2. You are in my thoughts, although I cannot be with you today in person.
  3. I’m sending a virtual hug to you, and you are in my thoughts.
  4. I wish the circumstances were different and I didn’t live so far away as I would be here with you today.

Ways to participate as a close family member if you cannot attend a funeral service

You can help in advance of the funeral if you cannot attend. Family members can help with the organisation from a distance, which could include administrative duties, such as contacting friends and other family members. You can also get in touch with people to do the readings, and perhaps talk about the deceased person. You can also get involved with booking the venue. Other ideas include:

  • Write a message to be read out at the funeral
  • Record a message on a video to be played
  • Choose music or a poem
  • Send a condolence card
  • Send flowers – funeral home or the family home
  • Make a donation to a charity that the deceased person supported
  • Participate in memorial pages posted on social media

What to do on the day of the funeral or after the funeral if you cannot attend a funeral service

  • Hold your own memorial
  • Live streaming
  • Join via audio and/or video links if made available
  • Arrange to see the bereaved person at a later date

Hold your own memorial during the funeral service

If you hold your own memorial, it can include lighting a candle and spending a period thinking about the deceased person. You can look at photographs and play music that they enjoyed. This could be anything from classical, blues, jazz to rock tunes. You may want to pray or meditate, wear clothes that represent their favourite colour or simply raise a glass to them.

Arrange to see the bereaved person at a time that is convenient to you all

If you know you will be able to visit the bereaved person at a time following the funeral, you can arrange this. It might be that you have recovered the medical condition that prevented you from attending or you are spending time in the area. It will give you the opportunity to visit the bereaved to see how they are and to talk about memories.

Live streaming allows the funeral to be watched online in real-time

Live streaming of the service is becoming more and more popular. With the evolution of digital technology, the funeral service can be streamed. It provides a means of connecting with those who cannot attend a funeral service including family and friends living abroad or those who are prevented from doing so due to ill health. Live streaming also creates a lasting memorial of the event. The funeral can also be audio or video recorded.

How can CPJ Field help with your funeral arrangements?

There are many ways to participate even if you cannot attend a funeral service and mourn in the more traditional sense of being there in person. We hope that you have found some of our suggestions helpful.

If you are struggling to come to terms with not being able to attend a funeral in person, please check our bereavement support page. We are a family business that dates back over 300 years and today we are compassionately creating personalised funerals for the twenty-first century.