How do you explain you don't want to attend a close relative's funeral?

Matchbox - '63 Cadillac Hearse
By: leapkye – CC BY 2.0
I moved one ocean away from my family recently, and my grandfather is about to pass. Here is my dilemma: social convention has it that you should attend a close one's funeral, but what if you don't want to?

I don't plan to attend for several reasons: time, money, but above all, I really want to avoid all the funeral-related drama, and hypocritical celebrations of how "great" a man he was. All the public and intimate displays of mourning are icking me out. I don't feel I can handle it.

But just because I don't attend, doesn't mean I will not honor what good memories I have of him in my own way, on my own, or that I will not support my family as much as I can.

So how do you explain you don't want to attend a close relative's funeral? Any ideas? Thank you! -Elodie

Oh man, what a bummer of a topic. But it's totally something a lot of us may have already, or will have to deal with at some point.

So how do you NOT attend the funeral of a family member?

Join our community!

  1. I would leave out the part about not wanting to go, and simply say that you cannot afford the time or money involved in traveling back for the funeral, but that you plan to honor him in your own way.

    75 agree
    • Pro tip : if you can, stress the "time" aspect, lest a well-meaning relative offer to pay for you to attend the funeral.

      30 agree
    • I just went through this, as my grandma passed away last week and I didn't come to the funeral. It would've taken me three flights over a day and a half to get there, and the same to return.
      My parents offered to pay for the ticket, but seriously I couldn't handle to spend three days out of a six day trip on a plane/airport, jetlagged and depressed.
      Better to mourn on your own.

      6 agree
  2. I didn't attend my grandfather's funeral and I lived one state away. Yes money was a factor. I also didn't much care for him as a person. I was also in grad school and working two jobs. The latter is what I told people. Also, I feel like one of the great things about being an adult is figuring out when we need to explain ourselves to others and when we don't. Learning to make that distinction is a great exercise in setting boundaries.

    125 agree
    • Wow! Those last 2 sentences were very powerful for me. I struggle with that all the time. You've explained it perfectly!

      29 agree
    • That is great, Karen! I saved your last two lines as the perfect reminder to myself when I need it! Thank you!!!

      10 agree
      • You're welcome, friends. Having grown up with an extremely dysfunctional family, one of the inadvertent lessons I learned from them was how to take care of myself, when to be there for others, and when I need to let others take care of themselves. No explanation needed.

        49 agree
          • I get really annoyed with friends and family who don't bother tp keep in touch and then years later they expect you to attend a funeral or wedding. I say if they can't be bothered while your alive, why bother when your dead.

            18 agree
    • I am struggling with this very issue today. My Uncle died last week. I went to see him before he died, and spent two days. He was aware and alert. I told him how special he was to me, and that I loved him. That's what I needed to do. He died several hours after I left. I don't want to go back for the funeral. I think being there BEFORE he died was much more important. He was well-loved and there will be lots of family and friends at the funeral. My intention is to not go, to send a card and/or flower arrangement, and then plant a tree in his honor (a Red Bud or a Sugar Maple), and name the tree Uncle Bob. I am not particularly close to my cousins. Your response, Karen, allowed me to feel not just OK, but GOOD, about this decision. Thank you.

      15 agree
  3. I would go with the practical reasons when talking to family about it. And though I know everyone mourns in their own way, if emotions ick you out, you might want to talk to someone about that and the ones you're feeling about the hypocrisy your family is showing.

    There is also a difference between "close" as in closely related and someone you are emotionally close to I think advice in how to handle this varies depending on which you mean.

    10 agree
  4. My father-in-law died recently. His only brother, who lives across the US, did not attend the services. I was shocked. They talked on the phone daily and were very close. I couldn't comprehend it but had to let it go and be there for my MIL and husband. I guess that some people cannot make it due to health, money, distance, etc. and aren't willing to negotiate these factors. I'm not saying that they should, either. Everyone handles death differently.

    7 agree
    • For some people, it just may be overwhelming. I am in that position today, after having my husband pass away three years ago… I just can't handle another funeral.
      Today, I nicely made an excuse, because I can't bear to go to the funeral of a woman I was very close to 30 years ago.

      12 agree
      • After My Brother's funerals I have only attended 2. Very difficult for me emotionally. It brings back all memory. I know the person but have not seen or spoken to them in years. I know attending is to support The Family, however even if they are my family member's (like a brother or sister in law) I don't want to go.

        1 agrees
  5. I didn't go to my grandfathers funeral. I said I didn't want to, I couldn't handle it and I didn't need to go to his funeral to show my love for him. I could do that on my own in my own way. There was no fuss or insult taken by my extended family by my reasons for non attendance, they understood.

    19 agree
  6. There's nothing wrong with not wanting to attend a funeral. I feel intensely uncomfortable at them, usually, and often it does nothing to help me heal. I attend, not for myself and my personal closure, but often to be there to support other family members/friends for whom this will help. Not trying to pressure you into going, just giving another perspective for why it might be worth your time to attend a funeral even if it doesn't do anything for you personally. In any case, I'd just apologize and say that you'll be unable to attend, and if somebody pressures you for a reason why, say that the time/travel costs are too much for you right now, but you'll be saying goodbye as well, from a distance. If anybody continues to pressure you, just apologize and say you've made up your mind, and you'd rather not have to continue discussing it.

    14 agree
  7. I've thought about this topic a lot over the years as I lost each of my grandparents in turn (I hate the term "passed"). It is such a complicated issue. For me, the logistics never changed; I never could afford to travel the six hundred miles. It was always a financial burden, so there's the "control" in this argument. But, as my feelings for the four of my grandparents spanned the spectrum, I offer my experiences up to illustrate my varied reasons for attending. Maybe the reasons I found will help someone else to sort it out for themselves.

    When my first grandfather died, it was a no brainer. I was with him in the room when he died, so of course I stayed for his funereal. He was a kind man and I respected him a great deal. My parents were in Europe when he had his stroke, so literally traveled to Ohio with a jar of coins on the seat next to me, praying I'd have enough gas to make it. When he died, I was already there, but I would have used the coins to attend his funeral, too, because he was the head of our family and there wasn't a year in his life when he didn't travel to visit us no matter where we lived in the world. It was not easy for him to have done that. He worked for the phone company his whole life. He had a third grade education. But he came because he felt a responsibility for us and he loved us and he felt it was the right thing to do. Being there for him was the least I could do. It was certainly the very last thing I could do for him.

    When my grandmother died, I was devastated. Even typing this out has me choking back the sob that instinctively rises in my throat. It's been nineteen years and I still miss her. She was the only member of my family who ever made me feel worth or love. I made the sad and mournful trek back for her funereal because there is nothing in this world that could have kept me away. I wrote her eulogy on a napkin in the backseat with my seven-year-old son beside me. It is no exaggeration to say that I would have hitchhiked to be there. She meant the world to me and I knew it was my last chance to show her how much I loved her. At the last moment, after the pall bearers had been called in to move the casket from the funeral home, they stopped. My brother turned and nodded to my son who then walked over and grabbed the front handle, leading the five grown men out into the sunlight carrying my grandmother to the church. Everyone who saw what happened gasped. My tiny son in his little double-breasted suit was bearing as much of the weight of the mournful crowd as his little body could stand. No matter what would happen to our family afterward as the world and time and distance moved us to separate corners, that moment was one that everyone remembers. I'm not a religious person, but I still believe that it is also the one moment that I know for sure my grandmother could see.

    And then the other side of the family began to die. When my grandfather on that side died, I attended his funeral more as an obligation. I really had no connection to the man other than blood. I can't recall more than a smattering of sentences passing between us during my whole life. I just felt like I was supposed to go. Even though he was essentially a stranger, he was a decent man, and so I went. I was sad that a man who had lived such a full life was gone. I certainly respected him as a provider for his family, but I didn't really know him that well. I'd only seen him a handful of times during my lifetime.

    I should interject here that my participation in these ceremonies is not an expectation that couldn't have been stalled. My brother has not attended a single family funeral. For him, it hasn't been a matter of being opposed to the concept of funerals. He has attended funerals of friends. He just doesn't, um, feel like he has to go. He believes the question is more about his own feelings rather than the feelings of the mournful. I'll say, people were definitely shocked when he skipped the first funereal. But now no one even expects him to show. On the one hand, he made a decision for himself and he doesn't care what other people think. On the other hand, he doesn't care, which I find exceedingly sad.

    My last grandparent to die was my mother's mother. This grandmother was not a nice person. End of. I have little to no feelings for her, even today, and not a single good memory. But I still attended her funereal. Am I a hypocrite? Some might say so. Certainly, everyone was shocked when I appeared. But, I'll be honest, I didn't do it for her sake. I went there to support my mother, even though my own mother and I also do not have a familial relationship. At best, we're tolerant of each other. But the thing is, I had empathy for her and didn't want her to feel like no one cared that she'd lost her last parent. It's not her fault that she'd inherited her mother's parenting skills. At least, in the case of my own mother, she is cognizant of her failings. That recognition means to me that she was a crappy parent simply because she was never parented, not because she was a sociopath like her own mother. So I went. I stood there and I was respectful. I watched my cousins cry and I wondered why they were shedding a single tear, but I kept my feelings to myself. And then I went home knowing I had done the right thing.

    I described these four very different funerals and my reasons for attending because, at the end of the day, I think it's about doing the right thing for someone at the very last opportunity you have to do so. If money, distance, logistics of any sort are not the reason for staying away, consider going. The funerals I attended of people I loved and respected and will miss until my own last breath were a place and a moment in which I could quietly honor them and all the love they created. For the funerals I attended for people I didn't necessarily respect or care about, I attended to show support for people that did love them because those people needed to feel comforted and, in my mother's case especially, needed to feel validated. Let's be real: Bad people are mourned, too.

    Funerals are ceremonial ways in which to honor those who've died and/OR the people who loved the dead. It doesn't have to be both. I guess my point is: It's not about you. [Please don't read that as a jab.] Just think of it as your last opportunity to be a good person for the deceased or their loved ones, even if you don't care much for the person that the deceased proved to be.

    15 agree
    • Thank you for posting this.

      I have been to a viewing were myself nor my husband liked the person, but went because we wanted to support the persons daughter and parents. In fact the viewing I am thinking of, no one really cared for the person (lots of stuff that is not important right now).

      I do think that while people can skip out on weddings and just send a gift, even for family members weddings (which happened, the wedding for one family member was a toss up of two Saturdays in May a few years ago. Since the cousin and her finance were being wishy washy on the day, we went ahead and made our own plans, which turned out to be the same weekend our plans were. Turns out a few other family members did the same thing, so a lot of his family never went to the wedding and just sent gifts). But with funerals, people are expected to drop everything and go to them.

      My brother and I were in the Navy around the same time and when my father died, he was stationed in Japan. There was no way he was going to get from Japan to Fl. in one day and people did not expect him to be there because of it. I happened to be stationed in Fl. so it was not a big deal to go from Jacksonville Fl. to Ft. Myers, Fl.

      People handle grief and dying different. I know people that even when they know someone is dying (cancer, other illness), years later when you talk with them about their father for an example, they can't handle it. Me on the other hand, yes, I miss my parents, but I feel they are better off gone vs. being sick with lung or breast cancer eating away their bodies.

      1 agrees
    • I just wanted to clarify something: I was only speaking about funerals, not viewings. With my lovely and amazing grandmother, the extended family was split on the idea of a viewing, so we compromised. The casket was closed except for the final fifteen minutes at the funeral home. When it was time, the funeral director cleared the room, opened the casket, and then invited people back in who wanted that experience (for lack of a better term). I declined, as did most of my immediate family. I also declined for my son. My cousin's daughter who was also seven, went in with her. She rushed out and excitedly described what she saw, so my child was curious, but I stayed firm with "no." That would have been the end of it, but then the director came over and tried to persuade me otherwise. He kept saying how "natural" it is blah blah blah, which made me so angry. I wanted to yell at him in no uncertain terms, but I just calmly told him to MYOB. Although, I may or may not have used an expletive. [Who can remember? The memory, as we learned this week in the news, can be tricky. 🙂 ]

      4 agree
  8. Somewhat of a different situation, but when my grandmother died, I flew across the country to attend her funeral. I refused to attend the wake, though, and borrowed my uncle's car to explore the town and have some alone time instead. My extended family was offended, and I think they expected my mom to "make" me go. I just made it clear that nobody was changing my mind, and it was not a group decision or up for discussion or debate. My mom and uncle were supportive of me, and I know I had an amazing relationship with my grandmother and one event or the opinions of distant relatives weren't going to change my memories of her. Is there one person, your mom or sister or anyone, who know that funerals just aren't your thing and can help defend your choice?

    3 agree
    • Interesting. I would happily avoid (religious) funeral services whenever possible, but found my Irish grandparents' wakes to be very therapeutic. I could have done without the open caskets to be sure, but the tradition of an open opportunity to share memories of the deceased is a tradition I appreciate. The viewing (sans wake) for my other grandfather, with everyone awkwardly milling around a small room expressing sympathy was awful. I was relieved when I learned that his wife didn't want an open casket OR a church service when she passed last month. I'm curious: what aspect of wakes do you dislike?

      2 agree
      • I'm with you on the wakes. We had one for my grandmother and it's by far my best memory of that time – sitting with her siblings, hearing stories. Funeral services can be very impersonal and generic (once a priest forgot my dead relative's name and started using those of his living siblings in the front row!).

        1 agrees
      • Mary, I have been and would go to other wakes. I was very closd ith my grandmother, even thoughwe lived so far away and would talk to her on the phone every other day. Her health declined over several months, and I remember the last time I spoke with her, she wasn't all there. It broke my heart. She weighed 90 pounds when she died. I just didn't want to see her that way. I understand that a viewing was therapuetic for others, but other family had seen her deteroration, and I just didn't want to see her so drastically different.

        I've been to other open casket viewings that didn't bother me, so I think it was just a combination of factors.

        • Ah, I can understand that. I visited my grandmother who just passed at least once a week for the last two years and saw the decline in intimate detail, but I was still greatly relieved that there was no open casket. She was already so physically diminished, and it's rare that anyone looks better in death. I didn't want to see it, and I didn't want her relatives who hadn't watched her decline to see either. The idea of people gathering around my own body totally freaks me out and is a large part of why I would request cremation.

  9. I don't personally understand funerals. Dead bodies ick me out. Religion icks me out, and I haven't been to a non-religious funeral yet. I don't think the deceased has any awareness of what is going on. I don't think going to a funeral, even if you don't want to, makes you a "good" person. Some people assume conforming to social expectations is equivalent with "good," but I don't personally buy that.

    I want to address your comment "public and intimate displays of mourning ick me out" because I don't think many have and that's something that gets me, too. I feel that when people are publicly announcing their mourning, to me it seems fake and like they are doing it for attention or to show off. I'm not quite sure how to deal with this myself, since I have to assume that not everyone is like that. Some people are more open with their feelings. My mother, for example, has a hard time *not* expressing whatever she is feeling. If she were crying at a funeral, it would be because she was sad and there was no filter to keep that in. For me, the best way to deal with this is to imagine myself as gracious. I am graciously allowing the dramatic people to put on their acts. I am graciously allowing the filter-less people to express themselves. I may find all of it distasteful, but I am *gracious* in allowing people to be distasteful. That may sound conceited (and it probably is) but it's how I deal with putting up with unpleasantness. That also works if you, for example, don't go. You can graciously allow anyone who complains to get their feelings out, even though you know they have no right to complain. You can graciously allow them to think whatever they want when you don't show up, instead of trying to explain yourself. (Because as Karen wisely said, you don't always have to!)

    14 agree
    • Seriously? You're going to graciously "allow" a grieving person to cry? It is not distasteful to cry at a funeral. What a wonderful person you must be.

      4 agree
    • It is not up to you to graciously allow people to feel whatever they feel or to "be distasteful". It's not conceited for you to think this way, it is out and out narcissism. You would have to imagine yourself as gracious, because you lack that quality in reality.

      2 agree
  10. I think this is an instant where you may need to set those uncomfortable boundaries. Give as much or as little information as you would like, since there's many factors involved, but sometimes you just have to be "that guy" and say "no, not doing it".

    You can be as delicate about it as you choose to be. "I won't be able to afford the journey" or "I don't feel comfortable mourning this way" or "I don't want to see X" but, at the end of the day, someone may get huffy and that's on them. You make your own decisions and live with your own consequences; family often forgets that people become adults and make adult decisions.

    10 agree
  11. When my grandfather died a few years ago, several states away. I actually found out that my extended family didn't expect for me to be able to come. In 'explaining' it and talking to them, I was surprised to have them tell me that I didn't 'need' to come. I didn't make a lot of money at the time and couldn't afford to take off work and travel for the event. They all knew my situation, and didn't expect that to change just because of the funeral. You may find a similar situation happens with your relatives.

    3 agree
  12. I feel like because you're an OCEAN away, that's a pretty good excuse in itself.

    Whenever I don't want to do something with my family, citing money or time commitments usually does the trick.

    9 agree
  13. I went to a viewing for a friend's mother. Her brother wasn't there. I asked. She said he just couldn't do it. I didn't question that. It's a difficult thing. Going to the viewing for his own mom. I don't blame him and wouldn't have wanted to do it myself. Totally respect that. Just say it's too difficult and you can't do it. Let people read into it what they want. That may not have been why he couldn't be there. It doesn't matter. Just say you can't do it.

    7 agree
  14. Just say "No, I loved Grandpa (or not), but I don't want to go the funeral. But if there is anything I can help with, let me know."
    My father died half a world away, and there was no way I could have been on time. But I spent hours on the phone with my mom. When my grandfather, who hadn't talked to my Dad in years, held a wake for him an hours drive away, I refused to go, because my father wasn't into the church at all. Apparently my relatives were shocked. No fucks given, really. I am able to be sad all by myself without showing it off and shaking hypocritical hands, thank you very much.

    13 agree
  15. You're an ocean away. I think this is one instance where you can say "I can't make it" and no one will question you on it at all. I don't think there's much to gain from pointing out that you don't want to attend, aside from hurt feelings.
    Gut-check who may need your support right now and give them a call. Let them know your heart is with them. Because funerals aren't for the dead.

    13 agree
  16. My grandmother died. I asked my sister when she wanted me to pick her up to go to the funeral. She said she didn't think she was going to go because she couldn't handle it. I kinda laid into her. "It isn't about you. You lost your grandmother and that sucks, but our mother just lost her MOM. She needs the support of her children who love her right now. She has always been there when you needed her. Right now she needs YOU." My sister went, and her presence was appreciated. She also left immediately afterward and noone commented on it.

    You have plenty of very, very good practical reasons for not wanting to go and most people will probably accept them with out comment. However, when it comes to a funeral your relationship with the deceased is frequently less important than your relationship with the mourners. It sounds like you ALSO don't feel that there is anyone who needs your shoulder as they cope with significant grief. If that's the case, then I don't feel you should worry about trying to overcome your discomfort. Give your practical explanations for not going, and repeat them ad nauseum to anyone who challenges you.

    4 agree
    • That works for some situations, but I know that when my very abusive grandfather dies, I will not be going. I will want to offer support to my dad and make sure he knows I care about him; but I cannot deal with the emotional mess that will come from it. Yes, funerals are for mourners, not for the dead, and it is important to support your loved ones; but not everyone can attend even for the sake of the other mourners, for financial/emotional/time/whatever reasons. You are no less important than the people around you.

      (My sister will be going to the funeral whenever that may be, but only because, and I quote, "I don't want to miss experiencing such a joyous occasion first-hand.")

      3 agree
      • "You are no less important than the people around you." – I think this is so true Gumdrop. Aren't we are dealing with our loss/or not, in our own way? Why should someone's 'needs' take precedence over our own. Here in the UK we don't really do viewings any more, it's not seen as something we 'have' to do at all. I think funerals should be for those that find it therapeutic but the attendees shouldn't be judgmental either if others can't face it. It's such a formal and public place to air sometimes very painful feelings and emotions. Personally I'd like a more private setting for such personal things and also to avoid family conflicts and dramas, as seems sadly usual in my family.

        2 agree
  17. When faced with a "should-I-shouldn't-I-but-I-don't wanna-but-but-but"…type of decision, esp. when it deals with people & feelings, one question I try to ask myself has become: "Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?" They are not mutually exclusive questions, or answers, by the way. The best result is when you feel you are right AND happy.

    Case in point: I have a younger brother who is acting like a real turd, and has cut off communication with our parents. He let it 'leak out' that he & his family wouldn't be at their house for Christmas this past year, but he'd sure like some visitors. I felt really defensive of how hurt I knew my parents would be, but I also knew I would miss seeing his kids that day. He got 'real busy' the last few days before the holidays, not answering e-mails asking him if we could talk about things (yep, classic avoidance). In the end, I sucked up a lot of misgivings, frustration and anger, and just stopped by his house for half an hour. What I got out of that was that I saw my nieces & nephews. I saw my brother. And yes, later on, I had the big classic family Christmas. I didn't get 'right', but I got some small grains of 'happy'. What he didn't get, was to play the victim, whine about how no one cared enough to see him, complain about his kids being ignored, etc. I let it be, and at the start of this month, I very gently let him know I'm here to talk about our family situation when ever he wants, but – if he chooses to not to try & fix things with my parents, despite all the olive branches they've held out, then HE is choosing – not me, not my siblings, nobody but him – HE is choosing to miss out on seeing his family at holiday times. HE is choosing to deprive his kids of seeing their other relatives. He was pretty ok with hearing that. I think in the 'heat' of the holidays, we all wanted to get out needs met, and it felt better to just go than to dig in my heels.

    I'm not saying that's what everyone else should do, but "Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?" is not a bad question to ask ourselves. If not going to a funeral feels right to you, and it adds to your happy – don't go. If it just adds to your happy – then don't go. If not going, though, feels all wrong, and/or makes you miserable – go. But as Dootsie Bug said, if you don't go – "Gut-check who may need your support right now and give them a call. Let them know your heart is with them." That alone is HUGE, and might make the whole decision making process, feel a lot better for you.

    6 agree
  18. Do you really even have to give an explanation? I personally don't like to go to funerals because it just brings up bad memories of when my father, aunt, and uncle all passed away when I was 15 within 3 months of each other, and since then, when a family member has passed away, I have never felt the need to explain myself and I don't think you should either, but if you feel inclined to explain why, then I mean, no one can really argue with not being able to afford the trip if you're an ocean away.

    5 agree
  19. No disrespect to the deceased or to bereaved family members and friends, whether I love them or not, but I just don't see the point in a funeral. It doesn't seem as much like a comforting cultural tradition as a spendy weird event vended by funeral homes. The bereaved have to be coached by funeral staff through the stage fright of acting their part in a strange ritual. They must participate or else they'd feel guilty that they've done something awful. It doesn't seem right when they're dealing with the death of a loved one already. Do people really find comfort in this and I'm the only one that sees it as creepy? Does anyone know a better way to show support for family and friends?

    15 agree
    • I think for many people the fact that there is a set ritual to go through is helpful. When you are recently bereaved, it can be difficult to know what to do and how to behave, and the funeral rituals give you a set of things to do which you don't have to decide for yourself. This is important because often a breavement will upset a lot of things in your life and force you to make a lot of decisions you didn't have to before. I think the rituals are more comforting if they are more familiar, though, so they can work the other way. If you're raised Catholic and familiar with the Catholic mass, for example, it may well be comforting to go through a full funeral mass. If you're not Catholic, or not really practicing, it may be more alienating.

      That said, I recently went to a wonderful funeral which was, I think, another way. A close family friend died after a long illness. He wasn't religious, and nor was his spouse. My father and uncle offered to organise the funeral, and although they initially considered getting a humanist minister they eventually decided that they wanted to just do it themselves. They ran the whole service, giving really personal memories of their friend, and inviting other people to contribute their memories. They finished the service by reading from an old letter their friend had sent. It was incredibly moving and personal and everyone there said it was the best funeral they had ever been to.

      I think that what I would take from this is that the right funeral is like the right wedding – it fits you. Some people want 'traditional' funerals just the same as some people want the big white wedding, and if that's what feels right to them, that's great. Other people don't feel that the traditional/formal model is right for them, and if so there are many other ways to do it. Also like weddings, you have to consider the needs and feelings of other people involved but you have to accept that it won't be right for everyone (to do a direct parallel, in both scenarios the wife's wishes might be paramount, whether she's marrying her husband or burying him, but it's usually also very important that his parents, siblings, close friends feel included and respected).

      I don't think it's bad not to go to a funeral, especially if there would be significant costs to you (financial or otherwise). My question would always be how much my absence would make a difference to the other mourners. I don't believe it makes a difference to the person who has died: either they won't know or (if there is some kind of afterlife where they can see what happens) they will be able to see or know your private mourning reagrdless.

      5 agree
  20. To me, there are three possible reasons to go to a funeral (or not):
    1) for yourself: you want to mourn, you want to say goodbye, you want to be around family & friends who knew the person. Or you'd much prefer to be at home, by yourself, to grieve. Or you just can't spend the time and money travelling.
    2) for others: does a close relative or friend – someone you care about – need you there? Can you be there for them long-distance? Or maybe there's someone there that you'd rather avoid?
    3) for the person who died: perhaps you know they would have wanted you to. Or you didn't like them anyway.

    I think being an ocean away is enough of a logistical issue that most people would take that face value. Long-distance last-minute flights are not things most people can afford, either in time or money, especially when you've recently moved over. Secondly, the process of travelling itself can be really exhausting and it means you're not really in the best shape to offer support, even if you do get there on time.

    If someone persists in protesting your decision, you could share how you are planning to remember the person e.g.: "At the time of the funeral I'll be lighting a candle for Grandpa in my local church" and/or offer to go with them to the grave/memorial service/etc. the next time you're back. Then just fend off anything else with your standard "I'm sorry you feel that way"-type responses.

    1 agrees
  21. I loathe funerals. I hate the religious aspect of them – so often the take-away is that the person who died was nice and all, but the really important thing here is that this is an occasion to worship the right god in the right way. Well, I don't worship, and I think the person who died is more important. So the funeral usually feels very exclusive and judging and belittling, which is not how one wants to feel when one is already mourning.

    And whether or not they're religious, I also don't do a good job of what seems to be the current acceptable way of mourning, which is to shed a few tears at the proper moments, and otherwise celebrate the life and the happy times by telling stories to each other. Nope, nope, nope. More like miserable, obvious sobbing the WHOLE time, which makes everyone very uncomfortable. And then inevitably someone wants to "comfort" me, which often means "condescendingly explain why I don't need to be crying." The whole experience is just invariably terrible, and has happened at EVERY funeral I've attended, whether for a very close relative or a distant friend.

    So my point is that it turns out that I'm not one of the people who can attend a funeral "neutrally" to support other people. And that's ok. I can be strong and helpful and supportive in other ways. And really, I don't care to be close to anyone who thinks that they know something about my personality or my feelings for the person who died or my care for the other mourners by whether or not I come to a funeral.

    Anyway, to answer the OP's question, I think it's absolutely fine to say that due to time and money constraints you can't attend, whether or not those time and money constraints are real.

    5 agree
    • God, yes, I SO feel you on the crying part! I wish I could "cry pretty" – like my sister.
      But NO! I cry like a toddler – heaving shoulders, unvoluntary sobs, snot, swollen eyes, red nose – and if the flood gates open, there's no way back.
      Funerals are terrible. I still go, and sometimes it helps, but it can be really shitty.

      I went to my best friend's funeral who died of leukemia, and my throat hurt so bad from trying to hold in the sobs, because you just DON'T cry more than the wife. You just don't. If you do, people assume you had an affair:
      "Look at her all in tears. Ts, ts. They weren't THAT close! …or were they?"

      There seems to be an accepted amount of tears for mourners, and I always cry more than my share.

      5 agree
      • i've lost my father and grandmother and didn't attend because apart from myself and my mother everyone else at the funeral i hate. these are people that didn't visit either dad or nan when hey were alive and didn't help them in their sickness.when mum dies i fear i will kill my brother for not caring when she was alive.i get some comfort that mum wrote my brother out of the will .i have feelings but only loved my nan,father and mother.only mum is left.

        1 agrees
  22. I have all but given up on going to any funerals.

    In 99% of cases the only relevant person isn't going to be there – well that's not true – their body is always there, buy they're not (if that makes sense?).

    I don't see that proximity to a corpse helps me contemplate my former friends and relatives one iota.

    6 agree
  23. You just don't go. I think the whole thing is nuts. People should be left alone to grieve. This custom we have of the grieving family having to stand in a reception line and try not to break down is rude. The loved ones are crying, then they stop, a friend comes by, crying and then everyone cries again. I do not attend funerals, or showings out of respect for the families. This is a custom that needs to go to the wayside. There are many ways to pay respects for the deceased…send food, a card, a phone call. Just leave the family to their grieving in private. I know this isn't the customary response, but I have no intention of having a reception line at my funeral.

    14 agree
  24. I actually told my mom – who I love dearly – that I won't be attending her funeral, and she's fine with this, completely understanding. Mom is 97, a real sweetheart who worked for, and gave to others, her entire life. She practically gave my brother and his wife her house, bought them a truck, etc. She also gave much and did much for my sister and her husband. Despite this, my sister in law, brother in law, and at times my sister, have been rude and unkind to her. Mom gets hurt, feels unwanted and unloved, but tries to put on a good face, and she makes excuses for their bad behavior. I do not, and have criticized them for it. What daughter in law, for example, tells her mother in law to "be quiet" when she tries to join in a conversation in her OWN HOME at a holiday gathering? I refuse to go to a funeral where these hypocrites are present. Instead, I told my mom that I'll arrange to have priests say a Mass for her once a month "forever", and that made her feel good. I'll also remember her always.

    2 agree
    • Undoubtedly, you are a beautiful testament to your mama. Her good works were not in vain, despite your ne'er-do-well in-laws.

      1 agrees
      • I agree with many of the comments here that attending a funeral is a personal choice. I also think that if you believe you will do any good by attending you should try to be there, by this I mean, will you bring comfort to anyone else (that's alive) in attendance? My Mother always said that she would rather spend her time with the people she loved while they were alive. And she did just that, visiting aunts, uncles and cousins every year and traveling quit a distance to see most of them. When they would die, my mother would simply say "They knew how I felt about them and there is not a need to go see them at their funeral." I have largely adopted this philosophy and whether its wright for everyone or not (and I wouldn't dare to presume it would be) it is however how I will choose when these times come. Each individuals feelings and circumstances will always play a part in deciding to go to a funeral or stay home. My take is this. Don't just attend a funeral because you think you have to and don't just not go because you don't want to deal with it. As long as you have had this discussion with yourself before you decide I would say your on the right track.

        1 agrees
  25. My father (stepfather, actually, but he raised me) is not well and it has brought me to the point where I want to make a decision about attending his funeral whenever that time comes. I have lived 1,300 miles away for the past 27 years. 22 years ago, my mother died and my relationship with my dad has grown more and more distant. There are no hard feelings, exactly. I just have very little in common with everyone on his side of the family and none of them (Dad included) have done much to stay involved in my life. I hardly know his wife, despite the fact that they have been married for 20 years or so.

    Returning back to my hometown following the sudden death my mother all of those years ago was very traumatic. When my grandfather was near death, I went back to see him while he was living, he died two days later, and I went home a day or two before the funeral. I was fine with that and I think everyone else was, too. It is now 10 years later and the mere idea of going back there for a funeral is making me physically ill. Reading through these posts reminded me that I do not have to go. I feel better and more at peace just knowing I have a choice. I have a brother and he is the only reason that I would attend but I think that he would understand. If he doesn't, well, I can't help that. I am sure he would offer to pay if money was a factor (it probably would be) so I don't want to just chalk about not attending to money. I need to be honest about my feelings.

    I truly think that there is no right way to grieve, as long as it is not harmful. A friend of the family recently had a celebration of life after her father died. It was a casual, shorts and t-shirt pool party. I thought it was perfect and decided then and there I did not want a funeral. So much of the stress and drama at these times comes from trying to meet the expectations of others. If you need the closure of a service or ritual, by all means, GO. Not everyone does, though, or at least not in a public way. It may be that planting a tree or making a donation to a meaningful non-profit is all of the ritual that is needed. We all can and should make our own choices on how to honor the lives of friends and families, without fear of judgment.

    2 agree
  26. I decided not to go to a number of funerals in my extended family. Why? I never wanted these days to come and I do not want to be reminded in public just how final it all is. I don't want others to see me in case I break down and cry! Now, I guess some family members might think I'm "troubled", "self-centered" or whatever if I don't go but I don't care. One family member told me "The number of people who attend a funeral indicates just how good of a person they were." I told him "That is not true. You can be a good person but only knew a few people in your life." They agreed. But the next time the subject came up they said the same thing. What a mental defective. I could care less what others think.

    4 agree
  27. I did not attend the funeral of a friend of my grandparents several years ago. I regret not attending. I use to visit when I was younger with my grandparents every few months before I became a teenager. I didn't really see them too much since then, but I remember he did visit with his wife a not more than a couple of years before he died. He was a nice man and was always smiling and laughing. My grandparents and uncle saw him when he was in hospital in his final days suffering with cancer. He died not long after. My grandmother said I probably shouldn't attend the funeral perhaps because it was a bit of a sad thing to see. I have never been to a funeral, but I will never miss another of anyone who I have any fondness for.

    I am not religious, and after thinking it over, I feel like it was dishonorable not attending his funeral. I also talked to his wife a couple of years later when I answered my grandparents phone. I did not even give her my condolences or mention her husbands name, I honestly did not know what to say, and also the fact that she doesn't understand English very well. The funeral was a chance for me to give my last respects to his personality in this life, and I did not take it.

    It is not good enough to shy away from these things, if death bothers you, you do need to get over your laziness or opinions about 'rituals', and consider how you would want others to honor you. Death is inevitable, and it offers us lessons to understand the important things in life, and puts other things into perspective. There is hardly an excuse, even if it's your own wedding or your children's wedding, it all needs to be put aside until last respects are made, then you still have time for marriage. It's not only about the family or others, but also about yourself. Once your wisdom grows, certain truths become obvious. In the end you will need to live with the choices you make.

  28. The non-religious aspect of a wake and funeral is to bring closure to one's own self (come to grips with the fact that they're gone) and to support the family. My response as to whether one should or should not attend a wake or funeral really depends on their relationship with the family who will be there and will need the support. Are you close to them and want to ease their pain?

    Now, that said, I cannot approach the coffin (anxiety/depression… not sure what it is, but the tears choke me so hard I pass out every time.) So hard to support a family from the back of a room, but they do acknowledge I'm there and thank me for coming as it means alot to them. And that is why I attend. I very much understand that there may be those who want to attend, but either for time/money or emotional reasons simply cannot. A phone call can mean just as much.

  29. I think grief is personal, attending a funeral isn't the only way to express it, nor is it the only way to honor someone. Support your family by letting them know you are a phone call away. Honor your grandparent by doing something in his memory. When my mother in law died, I planted a rose bush in a public garden in her memory. I'm the only one who recognises it, but it's there and I know it, when I walk past it I see it and acknowledge her. When I pass, I've asked for no ceremony of any kind. I would prefer my daughters to merely sit around and listen to Springsteen. As long as they re loving and supporting each other, I need no other accolades.

    1 agrees
  30. My father & I have been estranged for 15 years, I didn't even invite him to my wedding. He's now dying of cancer, I recently met with him because my brother said our Dad seemed to want to see me. It was an awkward meeting, he didn't say much & I had chosen not to poke at old wounds & to leave apologizes up to him if that was what his purpose was (it wasn't).

    I have no love in my heart for him left. I've mourned the Dad I stopped having when I was 10, when he left to have a better life (yes still bitter but for so much more than just that he left). The man he became from mourners. I was 11 into my adulthood is someone whom had no interest in his children.

    He has less than a year left according to the doctors, I'm now faced with the dilemma/debate do I go to whatever memorial service is held. I don't like my Father's wife, we've had words in the past & I've refused to see him in her presence.
    Do I let all sour memories & feelings die with him & attend the memorial as his daughter. Or do I avoid feeling out of place amongst actual mourners.
    If I don't go I know the families will just think I'm a bitter stubborn person but the man they know isnt the same man I know.
    What do I say if I do go.
    Dammed if I do, Dammed if I don't

  31. A distant Aunt of mine recently died. She was in her mid 80's and I met her once nearly 50 years ago. She had nothing to do with our family.

    That side of the family (my father's) I was never very close to due to geography & life in general. Most of my relatives, cousins etc. I haven't seen in over 30 years plus.

    Anyway at the funeral, which I did not attend, one of my cousins dressed down my 80 plus year old parents about my non attendance and not being there to "support the family".

    Well I'm peeved at him. My parents for one do not owe him or anyone else an explanation about my decision, nor in fact do I.

    Secondly, speaking of "family support", my wife and I never heard squat from any of these people when our son & daughter were fighting for their lives when they were 4 & 5 due to an incident they were involved in.

    Nor did my brother ever hear from any of them when he was fighting stage 4 cancer.

    Nor did we hear from any of them when my mother was fighting stage 4 cancer.

    Bottom line families are complex and your decision to attend or not attend a function, whatever that might be is YOUR decision and no one else's business or concern.

    Anyway I've invited my cousin to call me if he really needs an explanation and also so we can discuss his selective memory and his inappropriate conduct with my parents.

    1 agrees
  32. I would just tell them you're sick with the stomach flu or the flu and can't get out of bed or just that you've come down with "something". You're an ocean away, they'll never know. It's hard to tell people the truth because they can't handle the truth.

  33. I made the decision to skip my aunt's funeral (viewing and funeral). I was on the fence about it because part of me wanted to show respect for my adopted mother's sister (adopted mom passed a few years ago).

    The reason I decided to skip was because my cousin made a very hurtful remark 2 days before the funeral on Facebook. It was the deceased page (my aunt) where everyone was virtually gathering to share memories about her mom.

    I posted a photo of my aunt with her parents (my grandparents). Long story short, everyone loved the photo and commented in a positive way. It truly was something people found helpful.

    But that didn't last long…

    That's because my cousin decided to reply and announced to everyone via my post that she was "first born grandchild" and was loved the most by our grandparents. Remember, this was the funeral for her mom and on a page for sharing memories.

    Everyone saw what she wrote – including the other grand kids.

    After I read that, it sent me a message that I wasn't welcome and wasn't really considered part of the family. My brother also read it this way and also decided to skip. We did send flowers.

    I do believe in attending funerals. That said, there are times when going is more harmful than good. Here are a few good questions to ask yourself before making the final decision to attend.

    1. "Would they come to my funeral"? If the answer is automatically "no" that should tell you something.

    2. Was the person ever in your life in a meaningful way? How about the family of the deceased? If the answer is no, that should inform your decision.

    3. If you know you aren't really welcome or going to the viewing stirs up too much emotional pain that is deep and raw, it's something to consider. Screw being "nice" to people – particularly of those people have inflicted emotional harm upon you. There are limits.

    Thankfully, many people now a-days are opting for simple memorial services instead of the long drawn out funeral stuff.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.