Finding Closure Without Attending the Funeral

Q. I’ve been told not to attend my aunt’s funeral, due to a longstanding feud with my side of the family. I had nothing to do with it, and my aunt was always very kind to me. I’m very upset that I can’t say goodbye to her at the funeral home. Should I attend anyway and just sit in the back? Can they keep me out?


A. A funeral is a way to honor the deceased and grieve in the company of family members and friends. It’s a healing experience and an opportunity for forgiveness, although the latter is sometimes in short supply. The fact that everyone involved is grieving can get lost. Yet there is more than one way to say goodbye to your aunt and find closure.


You can call the funeral home to ask whether you can sit in a separate room where you can hear the service. Or you may be able to arrive early for a viewing, before everyone else shows up. It may be possible to watch the funeral online. 


Another option is to say prayers (or sit silently with your thoughts) at your own or a friend’s place of worship. You may even be able to say prayers at the same time the funeral is being held elsewhere. Call the office in advance if you want to talk to a clergyman, as well, or have someone pray with you. 


No, these alternatives are not ideal. But they can help you find a measure of peace. They are also options for anyone who has not been banned, but fears his/her presence may upset the family. A simple funeral can become very complicated in this era of blended and reblended families.


As for whether the family can keep you out, that depends on whether they notice you sitting in the back and/or whether they’ve asked the funeral home to restrict admittance. “The family is technically renting a building at the funeral home, and yes they can dictate who can and can’t come to the service,” says Ellen Wynn McBrayer, CFSP, CPC, a spokesperson for the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). In certain cases, the family fears that someone is unpredictable and will make a scene or otherwise disrupt the service. It happens. The police have been called to some funerals to escort a person off the premises.


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at


Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.


Image via Flickr Creative Commons / KirkOls 

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