Faraway Funeral: Are you obliged to attend?

by EPI Staff on January 10, 2011

Q: My good friend’s father is being buried on a weekday morning — in a town three hours away. Am I obliged to take a day off from work and go?

A: No, you’re not require to be there — however, your presence may mean a lot, so weigh the decision carefully. Think about what would best help your friend. Could she not imagine making it though the funeral without you? Or will she have a lot of support that day and need you more in the weeks and months that follow? Answer these questions, and you’ll know the best course of action.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Alicia January 10, 2011 at 3:15 pm

It is likely thyat the wake is occuring during the weekend even if you can not attend the weekday funeral driving three hours each way for a good friend to at least make an appearance at the wake or to sit shiva or whatever the family does in the pre funeral mouring is likely to be a good thing for your friend. People remeber who takes the time during these awful moments to be there and if you are close going ti at least the weekned wake/shiva is a kindness you should consider.

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Sara January 13, 2011 at 4:58 am

At 52 years old, my father died of cancer; I was only 20. I have a large family, and while all of them attended and while I had a very strong support group, it meant the world to me when a good friend showed up. She was only able to stay for a brief time, but it meant so much to me to discover that she cared more than I originally thought. It wasn’t that I thought she didn’t care, but it was a com forting surprise to know that she cared more than that. Even if you can only be there briefly, go; it’s worth it for a good friendship.

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Rayna Bomar May 2, 2011 at 1:53 pm

My teenage son was killed last spring. Most everyone has been very kind, and I appreciate that.
However… I have maintained contact with some college friends and distant relatives through Christmas letters and maybe a visit every ten years or so. The week after Christmas, I sent a note thanking each one for his/her letter and telling what had happened to my son. Out of six such letters, I received just one response. My questions are (1) was it somehow crude or impolite to let my “Christmas” friends/relatives know about my son and (2) why didn’t they respond? I know that you don’t know the answer to my second question but maybe you or your readers can help me understand this.

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Alicia May 2, 2011 at 2:12 pm

First, I am very very sorry about your loss. I’m certain your occasional friends/distant relatives are as well.
However, they probably did not know what to say or to write. It was months after the fact and during the holidays. They probably thought ” oh i’ll write something after the new year so as not to ruin her holiday any more” and then it slipped their minds. Or they did not know if they should write or not given how long after the death. Some folks have really no idea what to say in order to be of comfort and thus avoid saying anything at all. As you have no learned this is not the best way either. None of this is an excuse for not writing but perhaps can make you understand why people who are well meaning may not write even though they are thinking of you and your son.

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Country Girl May 2, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I am also very sorry to hear of your loss. It was in no way crude or impolite of you to let (what I assume are somewhat distant) friends and aquainances know of your loss.

I will share this, which might help you with your second question. A somewhat distant aquaintance of mine just lost her husband. I felt so badly for her and her family, but I had a great deal of trouble coming up with the right words to say because I hadn’t seen her in years and also didn’t know her husband very well. Most of the things I came up with to write to her just sounded so trite. I must have written, and erased, a dozen different messages. As Alicia described, most people are just at a pure loss of what to write to those mourning a loss so they will avoid writing anything, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t in their thoughts. Also some folks are just not good at writing their feelings, so might be looking forward to sharing their sympathy the next time you speak in person or on the phone.

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Graceandhonor May 2, 2011 at 4:53 pm

And it is times like this when our immediate fallback position should be in front of the sympathy card rack. It is inexcusable to do nothing because of time delay or because it causes one discomfort to write a note. What self-absorbed attitudes.

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Rayna May 2, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Thank you, Graceandhonor.

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Graceandhonor May 2, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I feel so badly for you, Rayna. My heartfelt sympathy to you.

Pam McCoy May 2, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I am 48 years old and although I mourn the loss of common courtesy and the demise of social graces in our society, there is NO EXCUSE for what you have described. Yes, sometimes people just don’t know what to say, especially with the sudden loss of a child, much less and only child. In this busy world we now live in, not only have we tossed out common courtesy, decency of human compassion and plain and simply good manners, we have replaced them with the microwave instant mentality of the world wide web. We all have succumbed to the new world philosphy that everyone is “so busy”. Busy doing what….. FB updating, sending tweets, telling everyone about me, myself and I. Are you kidding me? This is clearly a societal problem and a complete breakdown of humanity. A card would be the minimum acceptable response. A call would have been better and a face to face visit, if at all possible, would have been the most appropriate. I am stunned….. No I’m not. But I guess I will cling to the hope that before our complete demise, we will wake up and realize…. this could be you one day. There’s a lot to be said for the Golden Rule… “Do unto others and you would have otherse do unto you.” Everyone will experience loss in their lives. And sudden loss is the worst. But the loss of a child has got to be the most devestating pain known to man. Shame on your “Christmas” friends/relatives.

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Alicia May 2, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Pam,
Although I agree with you in some sense I disagree in others. These are the extremely extended social contacts. They went 8-9 months after the kids death not knowing he had died. Your response is fair if these were close social and family contacts but fr the extended folks that are barely known that is a smidge harsh of a judgment. It is truly understandable that someone 9 or more months later (spring to after christmas) who has not spoken to the person in all that time des not know what to say. Likely they do not have the phone number in order to call, do not know what to write and even if they should write after all this time. A visit after at least 10 years of not seeing someone and likely not living in the same state would be alkward at best. Would you really go visit the most extended person on your Christmas card list that you have not seen in a decade or more because they suffered a loss in the family? I would not and I would find it odd if someone else did. If I did not find out for 9 months I’m not sure I would send card either as I would worry about it being too late and bringing up bad memories particularly if I was never close with the person who died. There is every chance that the extended folks mean well and the writer will be happier if they assume that rather then assume that even people they barely know have some sort of bad motive associated with failing to write.

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Rayna May 2, 2011 at 3:06 pm

I suspect you don’t have children if you think that a “few months” after the loss of a child is a long time. A simple sympathy card with “I’m sorry” would have been sufficient – or, even a Facebook message. If my friends and I have been close enough through the years to send Christmas letters updating about our families, especially our children, then surely we are close enough for them to acknowledge such a devastating event. The lack of some kind of contact – any kind – says to me “your loss was not important enough to me to take five minutes to write a short note or send a card saying ‘I’m sorry.’” I’ve finally decided that the lack of response says more about them than it does about me.

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Graceandhonor May 2, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Brava, Pam, brava!

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PJ, aka, Louise May 2, 2011 at 3:25 pm

I don’t think it is every too late to send a note of sympathy, thinking about you, so sorry for your loss. Or simply, “There are no words….” If this had been me and I had received this information from someone I receive an annual Christmas card from, whether it’s been 1 year or 10 years since I saw them, there is no way I could not have responded. That’s the beauty of a card. That would be the least awkward. And for those in the techie world even an email (although not my personal preference) would alsoa provide that buffer that a telephone call or personal visit would not provide. The objective here is to acknowledge a loss. Especially a child. Certainly the extended folks have well meaning intentions no acknowledgement speaks louder than good intentions. Unfortunately, the result of no acknowledgement leaves a grieving parent on her own wondering if she has done something wrong by notifying them of her loss. So instead, we’re making excuses up in our mind as to how bad they feel and don’t know what to say. Who is ministering to who here? It’s apparent the writer is already left with bad feelings (turned inward) and second guessing herself because a simple acknowledgment of the greatest tragedy she will mostly likely ever face in her entire life. I must respectfully disagree on this point. Harsh, perhaps. But people need to slow down long enough and simply think how they would want to be treated. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO THOSE IN THE THROWS OF GRIEF IS TO REMEMBER THEIR LOVED ONE.

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Rayna May 6, 2011 at 12:28 pm

I would also like to say that those who go outside of their own comfort zone and send cards or notes or call often receive their own blessing from knowing that they have helped someone in need. Maybe the problem arises when people don’t realize that their cards/notes/calls/other gestures really do mean a lot to us. It may be just a pre-printed sympathy card with a signature on it to you, but to us it’s an acknowledgment that our son’s death meant something to someone else – if only for the few minutes it took to make a contact with us.

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Rayna May 8, 2011 at 9:13 pm

And, it’s never too late to send a card or note. Sometimes the things that are sent late mean more because, by then, sometimes people have forgotten (although in our case many, many people have continued to be exceptionally kind). We have gotten notes saying “I have been meaning to write you for months but didn’t know what to say.” That’s a very touching thing to say. So, don’t think that just because you didn’t do something in the beginning that it’s too late.

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Graceandhonor May 8, 2011 at 10:25 pm

My thoughts are with you today, Rayna, and I am very glad you have arrived on our blog with such open willingness to share the difficult experience of your own grief and insight on how best to respond to and support others in their time of need. You are making a difference for the better. Thank you.

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Louise May 9, 2011 at 1:12 pm

“Don’t back away because you are afraid of getting involved in another person’s sorrows and problems. No one is wholly adequate, but everyone has a choice: (1) stay involved and truly show love and help or (2) back away, afraid of making things worse.” ~ Dr. Larry Crabb

Day 324 – Stay Involved in Others’ Lives
“When you listen to somebody and he or she shares what’s really happening, the pat answers don’t work, and you don’t know what to say,” says Dr. Larry Crabb. “But it’s at that point when you don’t know what to say that if you back away, you lose the opportunity to touch. In your inadequacy can you stay involved?”

Don’t back away because you are afraid of getting involved in another person’s sorrows and problems. No one is wholly adequate, but everyone has a choice: (1) stay involved and truly show love and help or (2) back away, afraid of making things worse.
http://www.griefshare.org

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